After over one year of writing and editing, and with many bouts of writers' block behind me, my book Stand Out Social Marketing will be released on November 9, 2012 (you can download a complimentary chapter, courtesy of Awareness, Inc. here). As you can imagine, writing this book was a project that took significant time to complete and was made especially stressful with a young son at home and a daughter who was born three months into the writing process. The single most common question I am asked when people learn that I wrote a book is 'why?' While it was a life goal, the answer goes a little deeper and as I thought more about it, I decided to put my thoughts down on paper.
My work as VP of Marketing & Sales at Awareness affords me the opportunity to work with some of the world's largest brands in formulating their social marketing strategy. I have found they all share a similar dilemma. As brands get involved in social, they quickly realize they are not only competing with their direct competitors but with every brand and individual competing for the attention of the social audience. While they may state it differently, their biggest social marketing challenge can be summarized in one word: differentiation.
The basic human behavior of imitation is defining the playing field in social marketing: the innovators are being followed, liked, and copied. Like a team of young soccer players, brands tend to chase the ball around the field with little-to-no organization. As a result, these brands end up developing similar concepts, strategies, and ideas with subtle distinction, leaving the audience overwhelmed, confused, and tired.
Your audience is pleading with you to forge a distinctive path. Your fans crave innovation and distinctness. To be successful, brands need to move from increased similarity towards standing out with real differentiation. In short, being the same in social media is the riskiest thing you can do.
I set out to solve this challenge when I wrote Stand Out Social Marketing. I looked in detail at six key areas brands need to focus on to truly be different. I advocate that for brands to be truly different and stand out, they need a holistic approach to social marketing, (which, I have to admit, is a tough challenge for some brand managers who are still locked in traditional marketing thinking.) Let me explain what I mean by holistic.
In high school, basketball occupied 90% of my time. I played constantly and when I wasn't playing I was thinking about it and visualizing the game. Ken Pondelli, a local youth coach, gave me fantastic advice that I have since applied to nearly aspect of my life. He explained that to take my game to the next level I needed to see it through the eyes of a coach. As a player, my experience was limited to playing my position; as a coach, I would see the game more holistically and fully begin to understand its nuances. Ken was telling me I needed to shift my vantage point. I needed to see the game from a higher level to really comprehend it enough to improve. That small change in my thinking led to an immediate improvement and success as a high school player. I argue, and I hope successfully, that for brands to succeed the process needs to be the same - they need a new vantage point that helps them see the full context, before they dive in and execute on specific social channels.
Standing up to 'stand out' will help brands see the difference between simple mimicry and true differentiation. Today, the social media system operates as an echo chamber where the 'biggest ideas' from the 'most liked' and the loudest personalities reverberate through its walls. When a well-liked and followed personality shares his or her opinion on the next big thing, brands follow like the Borg to implement it without thinking through the consequences. Brands are competing in a landscape where similar ideas are echoed and, in turn, adopted by the masses making it difficult to rise above the noise. As a part of this machine, it's impossible - or at least really difficult - to identify areas for differentiation. Shifting your vantage point from social marketing to revenue generation is the key to differentiation.
Before the books hit the shelves, I would love your feedback on the concept. Do you think it's possible to differentiate on the social web? What keys to differentiation have you implemented as part of your social strategy? Looking forward to your comments!