Social media enables small organisations to overcome historic ‘barriers to information’
So the answer to the question that has challenged me over the years is that brand managers need to develop an adequate understanding of how people feel emotionally about their brand relative to competitors. This is the most important area to understand. They also need to check that their product offerings are not handicapped by some rationally based weakness, but in many markets the scope to achieve sustainable, rationally based superiority is limited. Large organisations can simply commission conventional research to address this, but this option is not available to small ones, for the reasons discussed above.
This is where the new world of social media comes into play, because it enables organisations of any size to interact with customers and users to obtain information. However capturing emotional information, and then turning this into managerial guidance can be tricky. This is particularly the case for smaller, less experienced organisations for two reasons (at least):
- Their marketing staff tend to be less specialised and are often focused on day to day tactical issues. So they have less time or incentive to grapple with relatively abstract and strategic issues.
- Smaller organisations are less likely to have access to sophisticated marketing agencies that are able to convert customer understanding into publicity that effectively and consistently conveys appropriate emotional cues.
What can help to make it easier to interpret the information gained is to have a structure to fit it into. This is where something like the Aaker model can help. It provides categories that can be used to group together various snippets of information. As a first step brand managers can check that they have sufficient information in categories three, four and five. As this accumulates the snippets can be compared to see which ones support each other, which ones contradict (which may stimulate the posing of further questions), and which ones provide new learning.
As the amount of information grows this can be used to identify:
- Genuine competitive weaknesses that need resolving.
- Inaccurate perceptions that people hold about the brand that can be addressed by publicity.
- Any needs or emotions that no competitor is fulfilling, or is strongly associated with. These will provide an opportunity for a brand to appropriate these for itself.
In the next section I’ll cover the various ideas I’ve had so far about how small organisations can take advantage of the opportunities that social media provides.