Running BunnyOne of the greatest, and perhaps hardest to quantify, benefits of social media is in the area of branding. But then again, this is nothing new. Trying to quantify the value of your brand is exceptionally difficult – just ask yourself how many businesses actually have their brands’ value represented as line items on a balance sheet?

One of the crowning achievements of the marketing industry over the last 50 years or so is the general acceptance of the value of branding. For despite the slipperiness of brand “valuations”, businesses AND consumers clearly “get” brands and branding. On the business side, solid and established brands provide a ready platform for our demand generation and other marketing activities. And as consumers, we are more than ready to mould our lifestyles around those rare brands that we have come to love – indeed, in some instances brands are intrinsically linked to the way that we create our identities (just think, for example, of the tribes of car fans).

Yet despite branding’s elusive nature, a well planned and executed, continuous digital strategy can create a very real, very tangible brand platform. And this is where social media presents a powerful opportunity. As you begin to execute on your strategy, you create multiple points of conversation across your business ecosystem – what can best be called your “digital footprint”. The more points of interaction that occur across your ecosystem create points of connection and exchanges of value. And as these are personal networks (not broadcast), there is a weighting – with one-to-one relationships the exchange involves trust and reputation. This is FAT VALUE.

And the more Fat Value that is created in an ecosystem, the faster GRAVITY begins to take shape. So every piece of content that you create, every link that you share and every idea that you set loose allows someone else to benefit from their interaction with your brand. And in this exchange of benefit, you are fulfilling your brand promise and creating branded experiences. And if you have your strategy right – this gravity will eventually begin to pull participants towards your brand.

This sounds great in theory, but making gravity takes a great deal of effort. In fact, branding in the social media space is more like a marathon than a sprint – hence the need to beware of those selling or offering quick viral wins. As Amy Mengel suggests, while the lure and attractiveness of a quick, viral hit is great for the adrenaline, the subsequent fall from attention is usually just as fast:

Despite the excitement it generates for a few days, the video your brand launched that “went viral” on YouTube may be entirely forgotten in a few months or weeks and ultimately do nothing for long-term growth.

A great example is Skittles. Remember Skittles.com? For a day or two – maybe even a week, Skittles.com was hotly reported across the web. Blogs were alight with idea that a brand would reflect not itself, but the consumers who were talking about the brand and their products. They did this by featuring their Wikipedia page, Twitter stream or Facebook group. David Berkowitz explained:

Here’s the message Skittles is sending: What consumers say about the brand is more important than what the brand has to say to consumers.

skittleschart

But where do brands go after the high? Freddie Laker at Ad Age wondered what would happen next, and this chart from Google Trends seems to indicate that this great experiment went nowhere. Then again, the Facebook fan page boasts 3.5 million members. It makes me think that FAT VALUE – those brand exchanges that take place between PEOPLE networks happens in places that even Google can’t adequately penetrate.

Now that is a fascinating thought.