Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Social Media As A Branding Tool - A Case Study

Many ad agencies continue to question the branding value of Social Media and remain reluctant to embrace it for their own branding efforts or to recommend social media tactics to their clients. This is not only short-sighted, it is simply not true according to Brad Nelson, Chief Tweeter at Starbucks. Brad recently shared his company's strategies and personal views on ways that Social Media enhances the brand value of Starbucks. His comments offer some interesting insights into how this market leader uses Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and mystarbucksidea.com to build their brand and how agencies should be viewing Social Media for branding.

According to Brad, Starbucks has embraced Social Media because of its growing popularity, but also because it works. He gave specific examples of how Starbucks uses Social Media as a key element in their branding strategy and also cited a recent Razorfish study in which 97% of Connected Consumers reported that a positive digital brand experience influenced their purchase behavior.

Starbucks uses Social Media five ways:
  • As standard operating procedure for any new launch or corporate policy initiative.

  • To monitor conversation and become aware of emerging issues that might positively or negatively impact the Starbucks brand or products.

  • To provide contextual and complete information around issues or controversies (i.e. to make sure that all facts are available as well as to give their brand champions complete information).

  • As a rapid response tool to issues or questions.

  • To put a human face on the company by providing information in a personal and relevant manner.
As part of his presentation, Brad shared several examples of how Starbucks has used Social Media. As part of the new product launch for Via, Brad related how an unplanned leak 30 days prior to launch was generating initial skepticism about the quality and taste of an instant coffee from Starbucks. Starbucks used social media to engage their audience, provide taste test results and promote their sampling strategy. They credit social media with helping to change public perception from negative to positive and shortly after launch, Via was being touted by the blogosphere as "the start of a new category", "the right thing to do for Starbucks", and "a product that tastes as good as regular Starbucks".

Starbucks management is confident that social media, in conjunction with more traditional tools, has played a significant role in the success of the Via brand. Social media has also been used as the primary medium in successful promotions for Free Pastry Day and Red Cup Day.

Brad also related an interesting story of how Twitter and Facebook helped with an international crisis management issue. An update to the Starbucks website has referenced Taiwan as a Province of China. This is a very controversial issue, and the blogosphere began humming shortly after it was posted. The issue was discovered and acknowledged within 3 hours, and fixed within 24 hours, just as the traditional media outlets were discovering the story. Starbucks' fast response made further reporting a non-story and traditional media outlets moved on to other stories. This is a great example of how listening and responding quickly can work to the advantage of any brand.

As more case studies come to light on the value of Social Media as a branding tool, ad agencies must listen and respond. Social media is not a fad. It is a legitimate way to monitor and converse with your brand's audience, and agencies who continue to ignore its power and presence as well as its branding potential will regret it.