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Effective brand management in the digital world

How do the appearances of offline brands in the social web affect consumers? What is important to them in their brand contacts in the social media? What content do they want? We pursued these questions with a comprehensive study.

Many companies are still practicing the proper target group address on the social web and are looking for the right instruments for building lasting online customer relationships. Based on the high number of users in the social media realm, it is safe to assume that this form of digital brand communication harbors immense potential. But how do the appearances of offline brands in the social web really affect consumers? And what are some important aspects to consider when taking the leap into the social web? To date, few sound studies have dealt with these questions.

This is why we launched our own study to investigate the challenges and limitations of brand management in the social web. In cooperation with the Institut für Handelsforschung Köln (Institute for Trade Research), we conducted a quantitative consumer survey and a qualitative expert survey.

The study shows:

  • How brands should behave on the web.
  • How opportunities can be used.
  • What mistakes should be avoided.

Some of the central insights from the study are:

  1. Manipulation does not work: People learned long ago not to believe everything brand communication claims.
  2. Consumers want authenticity and transparency: Consumers want to take a look behind the scenes and come to know and experience the responsible actions of companies – not just read about them. And they expect the answers to be more than canned text and buzz words.
  3. Brands must subordinate themselves to relevant topics: The relevance of topics is not determined at the superficial "needs level", but on the much more profound "level of life scarcities". Brands must subordinate themselves to the respective topics and infer their raison d'être and sustainability from them.
  4. Growth happens in the margins: Mainstream and average does not raise a single eyebrow in the social web. This is why companies need to pay more attention to niches and special topics.
  5. Recommendation is the currency of brand success: The number of likes and fans is not a success criterion. What counts is the users' willingness to risk their own reputation for recommending a brand.

The study also revealed what content is appreciated by consumers in the social web. Companies who use the social media for their content marketing should select their topics very carefully for three reasons:

  1. They are competing against high-quality content that does not represent any brand: Brands cannot afford to fall behind that content, but have to offer unique and credible topics.
  2. Consumers are more concerned with the topic than the brand. 70 percent of users read blogs, forums, or other contributions in social networks that report on brands because they are interested in the topic. Only about 55 percent are interested in the brand or product. So what brands need are good topics and clever storytelling, not product presentations.
  3. Social communities talk about topics, not brands. So if companies want people to talk about their brand – whether on the social web or in real life – they need topics that match their brand. They are a vehicle to get the brand into the conversation. The brand itself could be used for guiding the conversation.

The study design: In total, 1,037 internet users aged 18 or over were surveyed using an online questionnaire. The sample was half German respondents, and a quarter each were Swiss and Austrians. In addition, a qualitative survey consisting of interviews was conducted. 27 online experts participated in 35-40 minute face-to-face or telephone interviews. The surveys were conducted in January and February 2012.

Further study results: You would like to find out more about the study? Your contact:

Klaus-Dieter Koch
Managing Partner Brand Trust GmbH

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