At a recent conference, I was asked what 2015 would be the year of. My response: 2015 will be the Year of Executive Awakening. Executives of organizations large and small will finally embrace modern branding. Even if just to play catch up, it still means that 2015 will be the year that the principles of social business will be embraced and promoted.
At the core of this shift from grudging acceptance to full endorsement are three branding essentials. But because old habits are hard to break, executives can still mess them up with traditional thinking and methods.
- Culture as a Differentiator. Creating a positive organizational culture reached acceptance at the executive level a few years ago. This thinking is now poised to reach the next level: nurturing culture as a top differentiator. Whole Foods, Zappos, REI, Costco and others have long understood this, but now every company I speak with has some sort of cultural initiative that is directly related to their brand strategy.
How to screw it up: Have senior executives who are poor leaders. This is best measured by low emotional intelligence (EQ), abusive and/or low ethics behavior and technology incompetence. Simply put, if your senior executives are out of touch jerks, your culture won’t be a differentiator.
- Creating a Social Brand. Over the past 2 years, brands have learned that social makes a far better word-of-mouth and listening platform than a promotional/advertising platform. Social Command Centers and Community Leaders have allowed brands to practice Real Time Marketing and actually talk with customers. From an internal perspective, most companies are fully embracing social as part of their recruiting and retention strategy.
How to screw it up: Command-and-control methodology and thinking. One of the most difficult shifts for companies in the Social Age is to move from top-down decision making to distributed accountability. Command-and-control delays responses, creates cumbersome policies and robs employees of the authority to engage.
- Content is still King. Effective storytelling has long been a branding essential – whether in advertising or PR. As social has seeped in to business processes, content creation was one of the first tools to be adopted. In 2015, content will mature as a format with more focus on actual storytelling: people, places, emotional hook, etc. Going back to #1 on this list, culture will be the primary source of stories.
How to screw it up: Fake or canned content. A negative or toxic culture has no positive stories – which leads to desperate behavior by marketers. As with everything these days, desperation is amplified. Any brand that decides to take the short-cut of fake or canned content will be exposed on social – creating far more damage to a brand than not producing content at all.
At the crossroads of all 3 concepts are senior leaders that have the decision to make to either opt in or opt out. The end of 2015 will tell the tale: the branding success stories will be companies that got these three essentials right. And most of the branding fail stories will be directly traced back to one of the “how to screw it up” points. Leaders: choose wisely!