Our theme this week is measuring the value of social media. After crunching the hard numbers, we’ll spend some time on SM contribution to brand equity, which has always been a bit mysterious in its own right! To help unravel the social media-brand equity value proposition, I’ve enlisted my friend Jamie Lee Wallace, who posts this guest blog for {grow}:
Let’s start by getting on the same page and going old school. Back in 1989, Dr. Peter H. Farquhar was a leading academic at The Claremont (CA) Graduate University and the author of several important books and articles, including Managing Brand Equity. His insights still hold up in an era where the buzz of social media can make or break an emerging brand in a matter of hours! Farquhar wrote:
“A well-known brand can enhance the perceived value of a product. For example, a brand can assure customers of consistent product quality, differentiate the product from competitive offerings, or facilitate customer’s purchase decisions. In many cases, the principle source of a brand’s added value is the set of associations customers hold in memory.”
In layman’s terms, brand equity is your brand’s “street cred.” Its foundation is an aggregated series of associations (positive or negative) that people retain about your product or company. What is the implication for social media marketing?
Let’s look at the three stages to building and managing brand equity (italics are mine):
 
Introduction – Introduce a quality product with the strategy of using the brand as a platform from which to launch future products. A positive evaluation by the consumer is important.
ElaborationMake the brand easy to remember and develop repeat usage. There should be accessible brand attitude, that is, the consumer should easily remember his or her positive evaluation of the brand.
Fortification – The brand should carry a consistent image over time to reinforce its place in the consumer’s mind and develop a special relationship with the consumer.
Now let’s consider these points and the potential benefits of today’s social media tools:

 

 

Positive consumer evaluations: Consumers now have powerful ways to voice their opinions about your products and services. From personal blogs to review sites to the comment sections of industry-specific blogs and news aggregators, consumers are becoming ever-savvier when it comes to letting you (and everyone else on the Web) know how they feel about your company.
 
 
–> The impact of social media — Engage these voices (whether positive or negative) in their natural environment (the social Web) to ensure that the bottom line associations customers have with your brand are positive ones. Use these connections as an opportunity for informal market research, to start building your brand’s network, and to increase customer affinity with your company.
Make your brand both memorable and accessible: Gone are the days when “cut and dry” was all you needed to win new business. Today’s consumers (B2C and B2B alike) are aggressively raising the bar when it comes to the definition of a positive brand experience. In today’s fast-moving marketplace, you need ways to stand out and facilitate customer collaboration.
–> The impact of social media — Use today’s social tools to keep your brand top-of-mind with existing and potential customers while simultaneously giving them an insider look at your company and what you stand for. Leverage repeated points of contact to create valuable ambient awareness. Provide your audience with valuable and useful content to share with colleagues. Try new media tools like video and podcasting to make your message more memorable and viral.
Consistent Image: One of the key tenets of successful content marketing (a big part of B2B social media marketing) is consistency. In their upcoming book Trust Agents, Julien Smith and Chris Brogan explore the concept of trust. Current discussions around the topic focus on the importance of “consistent reliability” in the development of trust.
–> The impact of social media — If you start a corporate blog, publish posts consistently. If you participate in industry forums, engage consistently. If you moderate a customer community, interact consistently. Be there for your customers and they will learn to rely on you. Increase your influence by nurturing their perception of you as an expert.
Special Relationship with Product: Customers no longer tolerate being “just a number.” They demand one-to-one interactions, ultra-responsive customer service, and the ability to engage in meaningful dialog with the brands they buy.
–> The impact of social media — Use social media tools to grant companies and individuals “backstage access” to your sales staff, idea labs, and customer service. Make your customers part of your team by listening well, encouraging collaboration, and taking actions that prove the authenticity of your words. The ultimate benefit of such efforts is a deeper relationship that leads to that holy grail of marketing – brand loyalty.
Farquhar probably could not have foreseen the revolution just a few years ahead of him but his thought process and research are just as fresh and meaningful as we seek to fortify brands in 2009. Sometimes you have to filter new tools through old concepts in order to clearly see the potential.
What are your thoughts on brand-building with social media tools? Do they carry as much clout as traditional media? Do you think they surpass traditional media when it comes to delivering on the elements outlined above?
Jamie Lee Wallace is a versatile strategist and copywriter with nearly 20 years of varied experience and a passion for working with clients where business, the social Web, and real life intersect. She also has way too much fun blogging Savvy B2B Marketing with her five “Savvy Sisters.”
This article is part of a series on social media value measurement issues:

Part 2: Social media ROI shock treatment

Part 3: Irresponsible social media measurement research

Part 4: Social media impact on brand equity

Part 5: The most important question to ask in social media marketing

Part 6: A double standard for social media marketing?

Part 7: Yes, it IS about the money!

Part 8: Creating a measurement plan

Part 9: Measurement is like a bartender

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