Brand Evangelism is a Delicate Beast.
EyeforTravel's Ritesh Gupta
Monday, 5th October 2009
Lonely Planet's Venessa Paech on leveraging the passion of brand advocates -

Complete transparency and a genuine desire to build a dialogue or platform around a given community may sound an ideal approach towards social media marketing but it's quite tough when it comes to planning and execution.

Such initiatives should give consumers an ability to share their passion for a brand/subject.

Venessa Paech, community manager, Lonely Planet, feels one should think about "how you can empower your audiences to tell their own stories, in relation to your brand".

Venessa, who is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Sales and Marketing in Travel Asia Pacific conference, to be held in Sydney (November 18-19), spoke to EyeforTravel's Ritesh Gupta about making brands an integral part of a community. Excerpts:

Many companies are scared of losing control of their brand. Specialists say it is imperative to understand that brands no longer have control of the message. However, what brands gain in return, is the ability to leverage the passion of their brand advocates to reach people they cannot reach in a credible and relevant manner. Considering that consumers are today's publishers, what factors need to be taken into consideration when creating a social brand strategy?

Venessa Paech: Think about how you can empower your audiences to tell their own stories, in relation to your brand. How can you make that task as smooth, compelling and fun as possible? Seek out and find those influencers. Talk to them – ask them the same question and take their advice on board. Show them respect and collaborate with them to enrich the end result for everyone.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for any brand moving into the social media space is to ask themselves if are they ready to engage the consumer genuinely. Once you have opened the doors, there's no looking back. How can one be relevant to the consumer through social media platforms?

Venessa Paech: The perceived risk is still high, but it's an illusion of sorts. People are talking about your brand all over the web. If you don't have visibility over those conversations, and aren't prepared to weight in and assist where it's appropriate, you've no control over argument or perception. If you can host a conversation, add value to an existing conversation, help someone in need or simply understand what people are talking about and why, you're already a step ahead. The gesture of participation itself carries weight. If you step up to the plate with the right attitude (we're here to share in the conversation and add value), people will cut you considerable slack. If you're not interested in trying, or you do so in a bullying, non-altruistic fashion, you may do more harm than good.

You can't force relevance. If your audience inhabits a particular social network online, then it might makes sense for you to be there too. Look for the ways you can add value to their current experience with that space and your brand.

Travel companies have blogs being run by their employees (in terms of postings about products and services). How do you think employees can be turned into brand evangelists? Why do you think companies dont take advantage of the enthusiasm of their employees and customers nearly as much as they should?

Venessa Paech: We have long established traditions that tell us certain people and roles get to play gatekeeper. Certain people have ‘permission' to talk to customers, to media, to clients and so on. These traditions are gradually eroding. We're starting to recognise that it's smart to embrace conversations that are naturally occurring, where and when they are occurring. This logic extends to brand evangelism. Rather than anointing traditional spokespeople brand advocates and forcing an uncomfortable, inauthentic ‘transformation' into ambassadorship, pro-actively seek out those people in your organisation that are natural evangelists, who already live and breathe your brand message or ethos.

Look outside the box – if your receptionist adores your company and is always telling her social networks how great the business is to work for, how proud she is to do the work you do, there's your evangelist, waiting to be empowered. There's no reason he or she shouldn't enjoy equal air time with your head of PR.

Brand evangelism is a delicate beast. Encouraging your employees to engage in conversations about your product can be a wonderful and powerful thing, but only if it's real (they have to have genuinely have tried and endorse what they're claiming to). And personal context still matters. Set clear guidelines, parameters and expectations so people can be empowered to get on with it. Give them robust resources if they have questions about how to engage, how to manage negative feedback, mitigate risk or manage other issues. Be clear about what you expect, invest them with clear purpose, then let them be themselves within that frame.

And whatever you do, don't send them running out onto forums and social networking sites to arbitrarily talk up your brand. Those websites and communities will blacklist you as incompetent at best and a spammer at worst.

How can one ensure that social media campaign reflect their brand's personality?

Venessa Paech: Make sure you have a strong grasp of your brand values, personality, tone, etc, and make sure anything you're working on within the social web resonates honestly with those attributes. You'll often work with partners in these campaigns; make sure it's a shrewd fit – that your qualities and goals align and complement each other. Recognise that everything will be read as a reflection against your brand, whether it's designed to be or not -- the quality of the content, the fact you're working with YouTube not MySpace,  whether or not you're permitting or inviting comments and feedback, how well that feedback is managed, and so on.

If you're stuck, look to other marketing and messaging successes and isolate why they worked (beyond the form the exercise took).

Remember too that you can modulate that personality for the social spaces you're playing in without compromising your brand integrity. Bottom line – be honest about who you are, who you're dealing with and why.

Venessa Paech is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Sales and Marketing in Travel Asia Pacific conference, to be held in Sydney (November 18-19).

For more information, click here: http://events.eyefortravel.com/smapac/agenda.asp

Reece Gladstone
Regional Director, Asia-Pacific & Middle East
Global Brand Awareness & Marketing Tools at 4Hoteliers.com ...[Click for More]
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