Twitter and brand strategy


For brand builders, the current media frenzy about Twitter can only mean one thing: either it’s the last stage of massive fad fever before Twitter implodes, like Oprah’s latest diet, or Twitter actually enables people to enrich their lives in new dimensions–in which case brands better pay attention.

My bet is that it’s more of the latter than the former. There are revolutionary brand platforms waiting to be be built on Twitter—but only if brands take a strategic approach to Twitter, one predicated on creating customers through innovation and value delivered. This means moving beyond the routine marketing and PR uses of Twitter that make up most brand uses at the moment.

Twitter is an innovation challenge for brands

Twitter is a form of networked communications that’s fast, direct and highly granular, with the power to link individuals and groups through their immediate experiences. As such, Twitter stands as an innovation challenge for brands, which have typically been built on non-collaborative broadcast models. To leverage Twitter’s potential we’ll need to create new structures of brand interaction, new forms of brand value, new brand relationships and new Twitterized brand platforms. All this will require new brand strategies to incorporate Twitter’s unique strengths.

Don’t pour old wine into this new bottle

For brands, the last thing we want to do is to pour old wine into the new Twitter bottle. That would cripple its potential. Approaching Twitter as just another marketing, advertising and PR outlet, as a linear descendant of direct mail, email and blogs,  is poor brand strategy— as we’ll discuss below.

Twitter changes the context of brands

Twitter is important because it can change the context of brands, from one-sided inducement and persuasion (in the classic model) to a two-way street of shared experience, shared values and shared discovery. In the big picture of things, brands are collaborations in context. Twitter enables brands to create more collaboration, and more context.

Structurally, Twitter has the potential to turn brands inside out, transforming brands from symbols and icons to a seedbed of customer innovation, where what customers co-create with the brand returns more value than the purchase price. In this process, Twitter can grow customer value in a non-linear dance, which is much more agile and adaptive than regimented brand campaigns from the top.

Non-strategic brand uses of Twitter

To date, most brands have used Twitter for standard marketing, sales, promotion and publicity purposes. For the most part, this really has been putting old wine in new bottles.

  1. Companies can” listen in” to Twitter via keyword scanning tools to monitor how their brands are being mentioned. Simple enough. Most companies already monitor the Internet for this purpose.
  2. Brands can monitor Twitter to discover customer problems, and can respond promptly and directly, as needed. A quick, useful response can also help personalize the brand, faster than email or blogs. However, reactively chasing random Tweets across the Twitterverse is not exactly a brand building strategy. Some examples and caveats here.
  3. Brands can try to generate “followers” on Twitter, stringing them along via short messages. It isn’t clear yet how such a following ever becomes a brand community. (A key question: what are “followers” actually following? And why have followers when you could have co-creators?)
  4. Some brands use their Twitter connections to send out marketing and sales messages, as if Twitter were just another form of direct mail, or spam. This is counterproductive.
  5. Some brands may be tempted to use fake Twitter personas to gin up publicity. This tosses Twitter authenticity out the window. Some attempts in this direction have been egregiously lame.

Twitter’s “celebrity mode” certainly won’t last long.  Nielsen reports high rates of Twitter defection after initial celeb-fueled excitement. Twitter’s value lies deeper than the glitterati.

For an overview of standard marketing and PR uses of Twitter, see two Mashable posts here and here.

Twitter as a strategic brand circuit

To maximize the value of Twitter, brands will have to move beyond Twitter as a “line of communication.” As Umair Haque cogently notes, Twitter is an immense circuit, and a live one, constantly creating new pathways, junctions and connections. From a brand perspective, it’s a strategic circuit,  connecting the brand and customers, and customers themselves, with the capability to flow information, context, emotion, value and innovation in every direction.

The brand goal in using Twitter is to develop, feed and grow these new Twitter circuits, and be nourished strategically by what the circuits return. Twitter enables brands to change the game by changing the customer—in the deepest context possible.

And yes, these are multithreaded circuits, with multiple layers and vectors of value.

Twitter as a “network construction kit” for brands

As we’ve noted above, Twitter is a live circuit that empowers a brand to become a highly granular context platform for customers. It’s the brand tuned to the pulse of customers. To envision what this might be, we can tune into Internet pioneer Dave Winer, who discusses the game-changing potential of Twitter here and here. “There will be many Twitters,” says Dave, and he’s absolutely right.

Via Dave’s analysis, Twitter emerges as a “network construction kit” between a brand and its customers–without the formal drag of email and blogs.

A brand scenario for Twitter use

Imagine this scenario: In a few years all mobile phones are smartphones. Your brand has its own Twitter-like application, which runs on millions of smartphones. When customers use this application they will be connecting with others on the same wavelength, through you and with you. The identity of all these interactions will be that of the brand and its customers, a shared identity with the brand as chief enabler.

Your brand as Twitter client software

To imagine what your brand application on Twitter might be like, you don’t have to go far. These days the rage in Twitter is third party applications that provide users with a slicker and more powerful interface to Twitter functions. These apps are called Twitter “clients,” meaning they run on user hardware, desktop and/or mobile.  TweetDeck is one. Tweetie is another. They’re pretty spiffy now, and will have more capabilities in the near future. Imagine that your brand has a similar client app that you make available to Twitter users. Their gateway to the Twitterverse is now through you—assuming that you’re relevant enough, in a full cultural context, to sustain it.

Twitter: a foundation for personal brand applications

In one of the true serendipities of software, Twitter becomes a foundation for personal brand applications, the future of brands in the post-campaign era. Personal brand applications are 24/7 brands that work from digital devices and are personal, portable and persistent. They’re ambient enablers, and they move with customers as a second skin (and ideally, as a second sense.)

Twitter enables new contexts for your brand

What will your brand on Twitter enable? Anything it wants that will 1) drive the business forward and 2) create customers beyond the reach of competitors. Twitter will empower higher levels of brand mission. It will enable brands to move “off product” into culture at large, where brands can create new contexts of products, customers and value—amid new contexts of culture itself. These can be finely-tuned, intense, purpose-driven circuits, or they can be laid back and generalized. That’s a cultural decision for the brand.

Image:  Twitter

3 Responses to “Twitter and brand strategy”

  1. Tom Asacker Says:

    You are indeed a talented writer and observer of the evolving intersection of technology, culture and brand evolution. So, how ’bout the best example you can find today of what you are trying to communicate relative to Twitter. Thanks in advance.

  2. Brian Phipps Says:

    If I knew of any such implementation I would have (happily) discussed it in my post. I think we’re still too early in the game. Also, we shouldn’t forget that Twitter is designed for an IPO, not brand strategy, and it will take some heavy bending in a (mobile) client side app to create the real-time collaborative/context engine that brands need. A brand is a song, not tree-full of tweets. Maybe Six Apart will do something with Pownce that brands can use.

    On a related note, see also:

  3. Brian Phipps Says:

    UPDATE: See Six Apart’s new Motion: This is a step in the right direction, but the real focus has to be on value creation, not brand monitoring and message control.