The Brand Factor: Do Established Brands Have It Easier?

Social MediaDo big, well-known brands have it easier or harder than start-ups trying to make an impact and leveraging social media?  Jeremiah Owyang, the well known social media analyst from Forrester Research, recently wrote a very thoughtful post on the current challenges in social media.  I also recently attended Social Media Camp Boston, which had a number of enterpreneurs presenting on tactics they take to leverage social media platforms.  This got me thinking – what types of companies lend themselves to social media?  I see three major factors that can help to answer this question, among others:

1.  "Traditional" Marketing and PR
2.  Budget for Social Media Efforts
3.  Community Leverage

Traditional Marketing and PR

Many large companies and established brands have yet to embrace and understand some of the tenets of social media.  They are unwilling to relinquish control of the message.  They struggle with fears of engaging customers directly and giving them a voice – looking to avoid negative PR instead of embracing customers and engaging customers.  They term "audience" is still used prevalently because of the one-way communication mindset, where "community," "listening" and "conversation" are not words some of these companies would associate with marketing. 

In some ways, this parallels a presentation I attended at Forrester's Marketing Forum called "The Interactive Marketing Maturity Model."  Shar Van Boskirk did an excellent job capturing four levels of maturity in embracing interactive marketing, which I believe also applies to leveraging social media:

  • "Skeptics," characterized by little or no interactive experience and assessing if interactive has value for them
  • "Mavericks," organizations that have a few isolated team members that appreciate interactive and run stand-alone programs but lack support to improve current efforts
  • "Practitioners," companies who have several years of experience and are piloting emerging media, and
  • "Optimizers," who have company-wide support for interactive efforts and are working to optimize multi-channel (including offline) efforts.1

With very few "optimizers" out there in the big corporations, it can be difficult for those companies to bridge the gap and trully leverage social media.  They need to retain talent in the industry, like Ford's recent hire of Scott Monty and Nationwide's recent hiring of Shawn Morton.

On the flip side, smaller startup organizations can be more nimble and have few constraints around controlling the brand message.  A great example of this is Freshbooks, led by chief "magic maker" Saul Colt.  Their entire marketing approach is to build a community of passionate users and embrace their customers with open and earnestly helpful dialog.

Budget for Social Media Efforts

More traditional organizations will ask the ROI question.  As Jeremiah points out, it's difficult to measure ROI on "engagement" and no industry standard exists.  Larger established brands may be less willing to take risks – where startups practically need to take a risk to differentiate themselves.  An untapped, unproven landscape in social media is ripe for startups (even though they may be spending funding rather than profits).  Albert Maruggi of the Marketing Edge, thinks companies need to get past the ROI question, using magazines' spending $14 million to buy a baby picture of Brangelina's kids as an example.

I think it should be easier for larger companies to allocate budget (including resources) to focus on social media due to their scale and the relatively low barrier to entry of leveraging many of these tools.  Sometimes process and a lack of executive sponsorship get in the way.

Community Leverage

Another factor in determining whether big brands have it easier is whether they already have a community to tap into.  Nike's Jordan division is a well known and loved brand – leveraging social media platforms and tools should be easy since there are passionate fans out there who would willingly participate.  For crying out loud, people fight and even risk lives in getting a hold of the latest shoe design. 

Smaller startups need to build communities, one person at a time.  Melanie Notkin has done a terrific job at building a community over months leading up to the launch of SavvyAuntie.com, using her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.  It can be arguably harder to build a community than to engage one that exists, but I'd be interested to hear from folks who have more expertise on each before I decide on that one.

So which is it?

Do big brands have it easier or harder leveraging social media?  Are there other factors to consider?  Please take the poll and let me know what you think.

1 Source: The Interactive Marketing Maturity Model, Shar Van Boskirk, Forrester Research, April 9, 2008.
Photo credit: mrwilleeumm via Flickr

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  • Ann

    Very intriguing post, thanks. I was in the same session at SMC, and may have even been the first to bring up the subject of ROI. I’m a “maverick” hoping to be an “optimizer”
    A lot of attention is paid to the idea of the “fear” of losing control of the message. I don’t believe that’s always what’s holding companies back. I think there are many companies that are willing to try various things, but not willing to shift headcount and other resources away from marketing and sales activities that are the norm. So they experiment in small ways. One could argue whether that experimentation gives enough data to extrapolate to a larger corporate strategy. And that’s where the measurement and ROI comes in. Because if I can say that x sales resulted from these efforts, that’s great. But because most of our products are not purchased online direct through the corporation, there’s no convincing case that says my blog/forum/video is driving the sales of those products — when the ads and other traditional marketing are still in place.
    I think it’s perhaps and industry model and not a size model — companies with online goods and services where purchases are easily tracked through clicks will likely find more measurable and attributable results.
    (sorry, I think I made up a few new words in the post. It’s lunchtime).
    Thanks for the thoughtful commentary.

  • Ann

    Very intriguing post, thanks. I was in the same session at SMC, and may have even been the first to bring up the subject of ROI. I’m a “maverick” hoping to be an “optimizer”

    A lot of attention is paid to the idea of the “fear” of losing control of the message. I don’t believe that’s always what’s holding companies back. I think there are many companies that are willing to try various things, but not willing to shift headcount and other resources away from marketing and sales activities that are the norm. So they experiment in small ways. One could argue whether that experimentation gives enough data to extrapolate to a larger corporate strategy. And that’s where the measurement and ROI comes in. Because if I can say that x sales resulted from these efforts, that’s great. But because most of our products are not purchased online direct through the corporation, there’s no convincing case that says my blog/forum/video is driving the sales of those products — when the ads and other traditional marketing are still in place.

    I think it’s perhaps and industry model and not a size model — companies with online goods and services where purchases are easily tracked through clicks will likely find more measurable and attributable results.

    (sorry, I think I made up a few new words in the post. It’s lunchtime).

    Thanks for the thoughtful commentary.

  • Adam, thanks for the mention. I appreciate it. Hopefully I’ll be able to better address your question once I’ve been here a bit longer. I am on day 15 right now 🙂

  • Adam, thanks for the mention. I appreciate it. Hopefully I’ll be able to better address your question once I’ve been here a bit longer. I am on day 15 right now 🙂

  • the broader question raised by this excellent post is about fear and risk in American business. Is the need for predictability sapping creativity from companies?
    I’ve been in politics and government so I know you can make numbers justify just about anything. It is funny though how some people will cling to the numbers they are comfortable with e.g. Direct mail, print advertising versus the unknown of social media.
    One last point, social media is about relationships the softer stuff that many corporations can’t stand. Some corporate hallway whispers might be, “Why can’t I just make stuff, put it on the shelf and people buy it? You mean I have to talk to them?! Yeah I miss the old days,” I can hear them execs grumbling.
    Keep up the faith

  • the broader question raised by this excellent post is about fear and risk in American business. Is the need for predictability sapping creativity from companies?

    I’ve been in politics and government so I know you can make numbers justify just about anything. It is funny though how some people will cling to the numbers they are comfortable with e.g. Direct mail, print advertising versus the unknown of social media.

    One last point, social media is about relationships the softer stuff that many corporations can’t stand. Some corporate hallway whispers might be, “Why can’t I just make stuff, put it on the shelf and people buy it? You mean I have to talk to them?! Yeah I miss the old days,” I can hear them execs grumbling.

    Keep up the faith

  • @Ann – thanks for your comments. I agree it is a careful balance. In terms of ROI there is an interesting paradox: big companies can afford to experiment more, yet they are more likely to seek ROI for approval of efforts in social media before embarking on them. You also planted a great seed for a future post: social media for online vs. traditional companies and whether the benefits of social media can apply equally.
    @Shawn don’t sell yourself short 😉 Many folks will be watching for the impact a social media team can have for a company like Nationwide. Have fun and I look forward to hearing more down the road.
    @Albert Absolutely agree about the “fear factor” sapping creativity…and that the companies who get past that have experiments that are more impactful. A great example is Panasonic’s shaveeverywhere.com (which has since been toned down from it’s initial launch). Agree also about the hallway whispers. Even products that should sell themselves need one to one customer engagement. Thanks for your comments!

  • @Ann – thanks for your comments. I agree it is a careful balance. In terms of ROI there is an interesting paradox: big companies can afford to experiment more, yet they are more likely to seek ROI for approval of efforts in social media before embarking on them. You also planted a great seed for a future post: social media for online vs. traditional companies and whether the benefits of social media can apply equally.

    @Shawn don’t sell yourself short 😉 Many folks will be watching for the impact a social media team can have for a company like Nationwide. Have fun and I look forward to hearing more down the road.

    @Albert Absolutely agree about the “fear factor” sapping creativity…and that the companies who get past that have experiments that are more impactful. A great example is Panasonic’s shaveeverywhere.com (which has since been toned down from it’s initial launch). Agree also about the hallway whispers. Even products that should sell themselves need one to one customer engagement. Thanks for your comments!

  • Dean F. Skinner

    Quite honestly, I’ve flipped my POV on this at least twice, but I’m going to throw my hat in the ring for “easier” based on two primary factors and putting all internal/corporate obstacles aside:
    1) Big brands have an established brand awareness (and hopefully it’s positive)
    2) Big brands have an established audience/consumer base (and hopefully they’re loyal and even somewhat of an advocate for the brand)
    I go back a couple of careers from now when I was fortunate enough to work with the nation’s leading frozen food brand. We had a database of well into the millions that frequently informed us that they loved us and wanted more from us. A tremendous scenario and advantage, ripe for the picking for a social marketing/media initiative. Although I believe all consumers (particularly online) enjoy “the hunt and thrill” of finding the unknown/underdog brand and spreading the word amongst their peers, these brands are still starting with virtually no awareness, audience, history and success.
    So again…my vote is easier. Good topic, Adam. Thanks!

  • Dean F. Skinner

    Quite honestly, I’ve flipped my POV on this at least twice, but I’m going to throw my hat in the ring for “easier” based on two primary factors and putting all internal/corporate obstacles aside:

    1) Big brands have an established brand awareness (and hopefully it’s positive)
    2) Big brands have an established audience/consumer base (and hopefully they’re loyal and even somewhat of an advocate for the brand)

    I go back a couple of careers from now when I was fortunate enough to work with the nation’s leading frozen food brand. We had a database of well into the millions that frequently informed us that they loved us and wanted more from us. A tremendous scenario and advantage, ripe for the picking for a social marketing/media initiative. Although I believe all consumers (particularly online) enjoy “the hunt and thrill” of finding the unknown/underdog brand and spreading the word amongst their peers, these brands are still starting with virtually no awareness, audience, history and success.

    So again…my vote is easier. Good topic, Adam. Thanks!