Forbes this week published an interesting post by Barbara Thau about the impact of social media on word-of-mouth. There are loads of insights in this piece – I particularly like the bit about premium packaging being so influential in the thrill of the purchase – but despite it all there’s also an inherent danger that the real point might be missed.

For all its potency social media is a force for good and bad alike. Let’s face it (and Barbara leans heavily on this argument too) social, in fact digital in general, is an amplifier. To hear the views expressed by some people you’d be forgiven for thinking that word-of-mouth is a product of digital. Clearly it’s not. We all recommended products and services to each other well before digital was a factor. Digital just means we can tell more people in a shorter time span. This is why it’s important – important enough in fact to have revolutionised the fundamentals of business way beyond the realm of marketing communication.

What decides whether social is your friend or your enemy is your brand, pure and simple. Because a well-crafted brand will define your product or service on every level and until you get that right, you’d be foolish to harness the social media waggon. If your brand isn’t working all you’ll be doing is using the undoubted power of social to tell the world how crap you are!

The most common cause of business failure is the inability to deliver your brand promise, or in other words, live up to the expectation the market has of you. It seems to be a natural instinct for business leaders to make promises before they’ve worked out if they can actually deliver them. I see that every day without exception and to some extent new start-ups are at least as guilty of this as the traditional businesses they scorn. This is partly due to the limited skills of those involved, but also because pressures, both financial and market-driven encourage businesses to go to market before they are ready. I’m not advocating over-planning, or delay for the sake of it – sometimes you do have to overcome your insecurities and take a leap, but more businesses need to pay more attention to their ability to deliver and that’s about smart brand development.

I still find myself drawn into conversations about branding that are based on the assumption that brands are an external thing – something about the relationship between a business and its customers. This is true in part of course, but before that relationship can get off the ground any brand has to establish a relationship with the organisation’s employees. That’s how you get to be able to deliver the promise that enables you to develop the customer relationship. If the customer relationship is good (and it will be if you have delivered) all the great stuff that Barbara points out is inherent in social media comes into play.

I’m currently involved in two major brand development projects and in both cases the companies concerned are prioritising their internal marketing. Neither plans to go to market with their new brand promise until they have confidence in their ability to deliver it. Social media plays its part in this process too of course. We are using a combination of social media platforms to engage, educate and train hundreds of workers scattered over a large geographical area, introducing them to the new brand, its inherent promise and, most importantly, helping them understand how as individuals they can influence and contribute to the delivery of the promise. The potency of social that Barbara’s piece is based on is our biggest asset in this strategy, but instead of using it to hasten the spread of consumer advocacy, it is helping us to speed up the process of internal marketing so that the organisations concerned can take their brand to market sooner. What’s more when they go to market they’ll do so knowing that when a customer (that they have invested a significant sum in enticing to their threshold) buys into the promise they won’t be disappointed enough to tell the world through social media that they are rubbish!

First published on LinkedIn June 2015

Phil Darby
August 2, 2018

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