14 innovative ways brand managers can use social media

Social, by Jason A HowieEffective brand management is as much a social science as it is a creative art. Brand managers have the foresight to pinpoint unmet consumer needs and market opportunities that drive profitable brand growth. The numbers – top-line sales, gross margins, and market share – measure their success, but even with the most sophisticated marketing mix models, there is still much uncertainty. So, how can these forward-thinking marketers turn speculation into a science?

The brand manager today is an expert in the category, the competition and the consumer. The only data source that provides insight into all three of these areas is social media, but most companies still haven’t figured out how to use this dynamic asset in the right way.

We wanted to share a few examples from our experience at Crimson Hexagon to illustrate the most innovative methods we have seen brand managers use social media to transform brand planning and consumer insight-driven decision making.

Here’s our list:

1) Uncover consumer brand perceptions
A volume view of mentions on social media does not provide insight into consumers’ underlying thoughts and feelings. How do consumers perceive your brand today? What attributes do they relate to explicitly? Brand managers should use social media to uncover these nuanced consumer perceptions and discover how they evolve over time.

2) Gain new product category intelligence
Social media is an underused means of assessing consumers’ degree of market education and uncovering new category insight. What new discussions surround the product category in which your brand competes? Many brand managers forget that they can analyse online consumer conversations at both product and category levels.

3) Assess brand impact relative to your industry
You know the landscape and on which dimensions you compete. When a crisis hits, how does your brand fare versus the competition? What is the relative impact on the industry as a whole? Use social media to understand the relationship between your brand and the industry when it really counts.

4) Uncover and commercialise latent brand potential
What is your brand personality? Are you aware of all the different types of people who discuss your brand? Analyse social media chatter to determine whether your new brand messaging successfully resonates with the needs of your intended audience. Beyond reactive measurement, brand managers can also be proactive and discover the characteristics of their target audiences when planning campaigns and media buys.

5) Gauge emotions
Social media is a rich cache of emotional needs and aspirations. As we know, standard assessments of positive and negative sentiment are simply incapable of capturing degrees of emotional engagement. Instead, ask what specific emotions consumers experience with your brand. Does your brand elicit passion? Nostalgia? Courage? Social media can give rise to opportunities to monetise new forms of online brand engagement.

6) Inspire new customer acquisition and retention programmes
Every day, consumers talk about the impulsive and calculated shopping decisions they make on social media. For a brand manager, understanding nuanced buying motivations and switching behaviour are central to developing effective acquisition and retention strategies.

7) Learn about your competitors’ appeal and differentiation
With access to a treasure trove of public social data, brand managers gain a tremendous amount of intelligence on their competitors – and, more importantly, their competitors’ customers. Why exactly do some consumers favour your competitors’ products? How do they react to their new product introductions? What are the differences in appeal?

8) Drive brand extension strategy
If you are planning, or evaluating, a new brand extension, social media analysis can help you more deeply understand the relationships consumers have with each of your brands. Based on current, expressed use cases of the parent brand, is there extendibility potential into a new product category? Following a launch, how does the market react to your new brand extension?

9) Poise yourself for pre-emptive positioning
The best positioning strategies are grounded in an intimate understanding of consumer needs and perceptions. Based on consumers’ expressed desires, what areas currently represent fertile ground for new messaging? Brand managers also use insight from social media to inform the frame in which they position their products relative to the competition.

10) Plan and execute an effective rebranding campaign
With all of the risks inherent in reengineering a brand image, brand managers today need to equip themselves with the best analytics tools available to help drive a successful outcome. Sophisticated social media analysis can be used to inform overall brand strategy for a product or service, and to help align repositioning efforts with consumers’ desired value elements.

11) Identify and track key reputational risks
Reputation rivalry is a daily discussion topic in brand management. As you strive to build brand continuity in the rapidly evolving digital and social landscape, what are the reputational risks that should concern you most? Through social media, we have seen first-hand how consumers can forge new mental linkages with an unfavourable trait, creating an unexpected spill-over effect into other areas of the business.

12) Inform and evaluate sponsorship and endorser selections
There are many factors that contribute to the hiring of a celebrity endorser or the sponsoring of a marquee event; however social media offers a unique means to help determine whether a potential suitor will successfully appeal to your target audience. Do current (and past) discussions around this particular event or celebrity mirror the tone and experience with which you want to forge a brand association? Which of your options is the strongest fit?

13) Optimise brand portfolio strategy
Developing and implementing a winning brand portfolio strategy is one of the most challenging tasks for businesses today, and one that is often complicated by the fact that no single unit owns management of the entire portfolio. Which brands are perceived as leaders and laggards in their respective markets? Are you allocating sufficient brand-building resources to the brands with the highest potential? Tune in as the world’s largest focus group comments on your and your competitors’ brands to uncover new opportunities that warrant additional marketing spend and investment.

14) Understand how holiday ad campaigns influence sales
Same-shop sales are influenced by myriad variables and promotional decisions on the part of the brand, its creative agencies and media buyers. But social media conversation can be a terrific explanatory variable to help your marketing team understand the degree of brand affinity generated by your holiday creative. Did your campaigns stimulate intent to purchase among your target audience?

Jehan Hamedi is a senior manager of strategic market development at Crimson Hexagon