Opinion: Winning the social intelligence war

Embrace complexity and interact with your clients – or you’ll be left behind, says Designate chairman Adam Hill

I saw a presentation recently from someone from “a US govt. agency in Afghanistan”. His mission: get factions joined up. So he commissioned a “mapping exercise”:

Gen. Stanley McChrystal said of this image, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war”. Well McChrystal is history. And my agency man was dealing with a similar problem to many brands.

Our world used to look pretty binary: USA v USSR; Pepsi v Coke; Beatles vs Stones. But like warfare, the world has become asymmetric. Promiscuous consumers have more power, more choice. Different audiences use myriad different terms and reference points.

It’s complicated. And if your messaging is clustered in the traditional, easy-to-understand, paid-for space rather than the earned, social space, your brand could fail to cut through.

We’ve moved from an ‘age of deference’ with a handful of authority figures to an ‘age of reference’ in which the customer is elusive, in which people are increasingly difficult to classify, and in which they have public conversations about us within their peer groups. They define themselves by reference to other groups or intermediaries, not big brands.

And brand loyalty isn’t about audience; it’s about your performance in this nebulous space where customers rarely say thanks, but failure is amplified (Google “epic fail”).

So how do we understand, let alone cut through? Start by taking the word “media” out of the equation – business must be social. Your business has to:

  1. Excel at effective conversations
  2. Ruthlessly socialise its advertising content

‘Effective conversations’ means leveraging two-way communication to support brand values and counteract anything that works against them.

And what is socialising your advertising content? It’s creating content with enough utility or entertainment value for your audience to let it interrupt their lives, personalise it and pass it on. Make it shareable, interactive, self-sustaining and most of all participative.

It can go wrong. Google “Pepsi Scienceblogs” to see how an attempt to make something in the mould of Eurostar’s Little Break Big Difference campaign caused a backlash. Google “Dr Pepper two girls”. Trust matters.

Now compare this with me tweeting my annoyance at getting chewing gum stuck on my new jeans on a Virgin train. Within the hour I had contact; within 24 an offer of paid dry cleaning. Get social at every level. Good vibes travel.

How do you win the war? It’s not really a war – it’s about hearts and minds. It’s social.

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