LOS ANGELES, United States —The fact that many established companies struggle with social media does not simply reflect their inability to learn new tricks. It reveals a deeper lack of self-knowledge. Social media is a test that challenges a company to answer the question: do you know how your brand fits into the minds of consumers?
You must satisfy a specific need in the lives of your audience. And in their feed, you must not only remind them of that role, but have the perspective to also address how you fit into their mental mosaic of hundreds of others brands. A Tweet, an Instagram, a Pin — these are all bite-size opportunities to connect and get consumers engaged with the world you offer.
Ralph Lauren, for one, is a large, established brand that does this well. One of the key reasons is that the company has a deep understanding of exactly what its customers are buying from them: not the clothes, but the lifestyle — otherwise known as the brand. A brand is everything that is not actually for sale. Everything beyond the product.
These days, the fundamental difference between most products within a particular competitive set is negligible. If you did a blind test, wearing Nike on one foot and Adidas on the other, you would have a hard time telling the difference between the two. But with your eyes open, the difference is enormous. This is due to brand value. Abstract, but very real.
What is your tone on Twitter? What is your palette on Pinterest? Where do you fit in the feed? Answering these questions requires really knowing your brand. It requires a level of abstraction and introspection that many companies struggle with.
This is nothing new. There have always been weak brands and strong brands. Whether in print, television or online, the strong have the ability to conjure and communicate their values across different media, while the weak fumble around awkwardly, consigning themselves into irrelevance.
Social media is the canary in the coal mine. It is the mirror into which many companies look but see nothing looking back. This should spur a brand identity crisis, a furious struggle to recapture and restate the value that brought your company into existence in the first place.
Look hard at the social media Rorschach test. It can reveal cracks in your brand’s foundation and personality. It is the psychologist’s couch on which all companies must lay their head to be judged.
Grant Van Sant is a brand strategist and founder of Osso.
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