The evolution of human interaction has largely been informed by available technology. Early communities were created around shared interests and access to available resources. Then language and skin colour joined the mix. Today, the communities that exist are almost innumerable. They are mostly formed around shared or common ideals and access to opportunities for self-actualisation. This is the paradigm of social interaction in the 21st century.
We are social beings and communication is an integral part of our mechanism. Communication provides us with conversation value, and the level of this value is directly influenced by the effectiveness of the conversation cycle. Beyond this value, however, communications help us negotiate and renegotiate our roles in the lives of others and our roles within our immediate community.
Due to the proliferation of digital technology across every facet of human living, the concepts of communities, communications and social interaction have become somewhat virtual. The world has moved from being just one global village to a small network of interconnectedness. This network is readily accessible via several screens and mobile devices. This proliferation of technology and interconnectedness combine to unleash unimaginable opportunities for people to improve their lives and for and for businesses and organisations to tap into these communities for better interaction.
So what does this mean for brand building?
As social networks, social media and technology spread, the world of marketing and building strong brands would change. In my opinion, an entirely new vision and approach is required to harness the power of these new communities. Also known as social media communities, these communities are the clearing house for information about brands; information that is readily available to encourage patronage or to create some favourable associations for brands. And because they are a virtual representation of physical communities, they are made up of the entire spectrum of consumers: the advocates, the uninterested, and the sceptics. Whatever brand you’re marketing, your audience is generally made up of this lot. In order to fully exploit the advantages of the social media communities for building strong brands, you should take note of these points:
Consider the behaviour(s) of your audience before you begin engagement.
Members of social media communities have several types of behaviours that inform the value generated from conversation with them. They are: Conversation, Information, Advocacy, Identity, Affiliation, and Utility. Consumers converse when they talk about the brand or business to others; they are informed when they receive and share with other people valuable information about brands; they are advocates when they promote or defend a brand or business; they form an identity when the brand expresses them and their relationship with others to others; they become affiliates when they are connected to a community of people that is linked to a brand or business; and derive utility when they get value from engaging with brands and other people. What these mean for brand builders is that when identifying and creating engagement strategies for social communities, a careful consideration of these behaviours will draw the line between success and failure. This is because, the dynamics of these behaviours and the ways they relate with one another form the basis for creating tangible value that can be translated into actual purchase for brands. For instance, a brand with the core values of classy, trendy and luxurious may use Instagram to communicate these in order to drive identity with their target audience; or a fashion retail label may make use of YouTube videos of runway events to showcase and invite fans to order items on display.
Focus on improving people’s lives, not the benefits of your products.
Most businesses approach marketing from one of two paradigms. The first focusses on the product and its benefits with the aim of creating differentiation. The second considers the needs of the consumers and tries to make the product relevant to those needs. These traditional paradigms are however very limiting for brands that are serious about creating meaningful and rewarding engagement with their consumers. Businesses need to look beyond these traditional paradigms and begin to see the world from the perspective of the consumers. This means that they should focus not just on satisfying need, but on improving people’s lives: by helping people achieve goals, by improving processes and activities, and by making it easier to make decisions. This way, brands focus on what really matters; and when they do this their products or services begin to hold deeper value for the consumer beyond the intrinsic value.
It is not what you say, it is what is said about you.
One of the most important value a brand can generate from social media conversations is advocacy and referral. The 21st century consumer is bombarded with so much information it’s hard to consider the facts, so many options it’s hard to make even simple decisions. But this consumer has also evolved and is now more sophisticated than ever. They can see through the cloud of brand promises and value propositions. Most of their purchase decisions are greatly informed by what other users of brands have said about them and social media communities provide a veritable platform for accessing these kinds of information. For example, sellers of home electrical appliances now include product review pages on their websites and social media pages. It is through this medium the business is able to generate the conversation value that will translate into patronage for them.
Finally, and very importantly, businesses and brands must well understand the social processes that make customers share a brand or information about a brand with others in driving consideration, purchase, and loyalty. It is just not the amounts you spend on elaborate communication campaigns or the detailed attention you pay to looking great. Building strong brands require strong communities of brand believers; communities whose interaction translate into immense value for your business and for your brand.
Folu is a Creative Strategist at Headstart Consulting Limited. He writes about businesses, brands, innovation, and design.