Credit: Tranchis

I remember seeing Old Spice brand products on store shelves and in ads when I was growing up.    I didn’t give those colognes and soaps much thought at the time, but what I do remember distinctly is that they were designed to be worn by men of an advanced age group.   

The Old Spice brand retained its old-fashioned image after Procter and Gamble bought the company in 1990.  But in July 2010 – to support an intentional shift in branding – the company launched a social media campaign that greatly appealed to young people with a handsome, shirtless actor (Isaiah Mustafa) in funny Youtube videos and related “Old Spice Response” messages that were directed to Facebook, Twitter, blog-sites, etc.  To say the campaign was a hit is an understatement.  It had more than 6 million viral video views within 24 hours – more than Obama’s victory speech – and year-over-year sales were up 27% during the following 6 months. 

One could argue that Old Spice failed to target specific customer segments or collect data about customer needs, but they certainly got a lot right.  While they established a brand strategy that shifted the appeal of Old Spice to a younger demographic, they realized that marketing is no longer about control.  In the social media world, marketing is now about participation.  Old Spice engaged its market with compelling videos and messaging, and the market took it from there – with consumers owning the conversation that promoted the new brand image through social media platforms.  While time will tell how well they sustained loyalty, they certainly created conversations and possibly advocacy that had a bottom-line impact. 

In my role in SAP, I work with many companies that are grappling with how to transform their marketing strategies amidst the rapid growth of social media.  Like Old Spice, the first thing to recognize is that the brand can no longer be developed solely by generating creative advertising and using traditional outbound media channels like television.  Social channels need to be considered and integrated in any overall brand strategy.  And at the end of the day, your company is no longer the sole source of truth about your brand: brand ownership is shared with your market. 

If you don’t properly incorporate social channels, the market may do it for you, and probably not in the way you hoped (imagine thousands of consumers talking about your brand with a megaphone).  So – when appropriate for your strategy – build content that is sharable and may be discussed in social channels in a way that aligns with your intended brand image.  Remember that the brand is about the customer’s experience and the sum of all news reports, advertising, web interactions, off-line conversations – so set the stage for favorable on-line experiences with your brand that will be more likely to predominate in social media conversations.  Those discussions will be among peers who trust each other, above all. 

If you’re at the early stages of social media engagement, then start by just listening. Find out what people are saying about you on social channels, start monitoring conversations and measuring things like favorable sentiment on Twitter, and determine the starting point for the brand perception that’s out there.  You can use this information to determine how you intend to position your brand going forward, consider humanizing your brand so it has personal appeal that resonates with your market, and start sharing helpful information in social media channels.  Don’t forget to ensure your organization is fully on board: you can then commence an honest and open dialogue in social channels that is fully aligned across marketing, sales, and service. 

If you want to affirm a luxury brand, or alternatively demonstrate that you’re the lowest cost, or (as with Old Spice) devise a shift to a younger crowd, make sure the social conversations you foster are consistent with such brand strategies.  You don’t control the conversation anymore, but so what?    If you’re orchestrating all your creative energies to integrate social channels, fully aligning your organization to the new world, measuring and monitoring the effects of your promotions on various segments, and encouraging advocacy, you can win on this new playing field – and maybe faster and bigger than anything you ever thought possible.