In 1998, Al and Laura Ries published The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, and the marketing world went into a frenzy. Where the focus of marketing had been on go-to-market strategy (distribution, advertising, publicity, etc.) and driving sales, this book threw a wrench into everything by claiming that the ONLY thing that really matters is BRAND. All of a sudden, things like perception, awareness, sentiment, “cool factors,” recall, and other softer, more qualitative metrics came into play.
But the issue with branding was that most people didn’t really understand what it meant (and many still don’t). There was only a focus on logos, colors, “marks”, and “tone and voice” etc. There are 22 immutable laws, but people forgot everything outside of the graphic design department.
The major lesson is that brand guidelines are pretty limiting when it comes to a time where consumers are participants, content is is multimedia, loyalty is built by connecting through shared passions and experiences, and taking a stand is celebrated. Traditional brands with rigid guidelines and limited palettes just can’t do it.
But, once again, branding goes well beyond how you visually represent your product or service in a tweet or gif. It’s a new way of thinking. As we say here at Phlywheel, it’s not about a tool, it’s about an approach. In this video, I focus a bit more on the visual, but the dimensions of a social brand should be applied to the way the company interacts with the world:
A social brand has a personality
When I see “tone and voice” guides that say things like, “passionate, knowledgeable, friendly, etc.” I shake my head. Think about how you would describe a person…a REAL person that you know.
Knowledgeable isn’t a personality trait. How you present that knowledge is. Neil Degrasse Tyson is knowledgeable, but he presents that knowledge through his super-enthusiastic, geeking out voice. He gets giddy about learning. You can hear it in his voice and how he writes. Bill Nye the science guy is also knowledgeable, but he presents his knowledge through humor and sometimes a little snark.
Giddiness or snarkiness are “personality traits” where knowledgeable is an attribute.
A social brand has a point of view
Think about when Nike took a stand with Colin Kaepernick. You may or may not agree with that stand, but taking a stand helped them connect deeper with a specific audience. They made a choice. In Ries’ book, one of the laws of branding is “The Law of Contraction: a brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus”. Now, I don’t know if Ries would agree, but Nike narrowed its focus with that ad. They differentiated themselves in a crowded market.
Oreo also did this a bunch of years back when they published a “rainbow” version to show their support of LGBTQ+ communities. This created a huge backlash from their conservative followers, but enormously expanded their support (and increased their relevance) with their liberal followers. Honestly, Oreo had become a bit irrelevant in the sea of competitors and the anti-sugar movement, but this move reinvigorated the brand. Brands, however, do need to make sure that they are authentically living this point of view on a regular basis.
A social brand has flexibility
When you hear the phrase “digital-first” or “mobile-first” or the like, you may wonder what that means. It means that you design with either a digital or mobile experience in mind, THEN re-design for the other platforms. But that was narrow thinking. There are no more “firsts.” Now we have to think about ALL of the ways in which our brand will be experienced: mobile, desktop, app, browser, offline, online, social, video, audio, gif, on a listicle, pinboard, Twitter thread, vertical video, horizontal video, album, sticker, interactive, in a search result, as a postcard, a banner ad, packaging…okay…I’ll stop. You understand. But I should also add that this content has to come out almost daily, so you need to think about how it expands into an ongoing series without creating monotony.
A social brand is multimedia
This goes beyond your logo or visual representation. What does a podcast version of your brand look like, compared to your brand publication? How do you represent that personality, point of view, and flexibility when you aren’t looking at anything?
A social brand is hackable
People support that which they help build. If they can interact with it, personalize it, and feel some ownership, they are more likely to get behind you.