How can your brand go from survival to significance on social, digital and in general? I asked this and other strategic brand questions to Jeremy Waite, author of Survival to Significance and Head of Digital Strategy, EMEA at Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

You can listen to the audio podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud (embed below) or keep reading for a summary of our conversation, a longer version is available at Link Humans. Questions by me, answers by Jeremy.

What are the 5 levels of brand leadership?

You have this level of survival where it’s called the location level. People follow you because they have to. They follow you because of where you are, it’s about place. A utility company, maybe a bank, maybe a mobile provider, maybe a broadband provider. You haven’t got a relationship with them. You might not necessarily like them but the customer service or because of the location of the store. Maybe a supermarket. That’s it. You follow them because you have to. So that’s in survival mode and typically the behaviour on that level is where everyone’s trying to compete against everyone else, it’s all market share, they’re just measuring likes. They’re just throwing everything out all over the place, measuring every single metric that they can. Push content all the time. Discounts, promotions, deals, you know what it’s like, right? We see that in social all the time.

But then something interesting happens, and they start to become successful and they say actually, you know what? Maybe we shouldn’t measure everything all the time. Maybe we should only measure customers, or our unique customers or unique conversations. Maybe we should start filtering out all of this noise and only measuring the important stuff and starting to have a conversation. So like Vaynerchuk, Solis and Sinek that are advocates for how to build customer companies, you know, Marc Benioff talks about that a lot. It starts to flip, so it’s not about the content anymore, it’s about the conversation. And that’s where I believe a brand starts to become successful. So that’s where you’ve kind of got this level of where people follow you because they like you, right? So there’s a certain position that comes with that.

And then really success, I break these down into three levels and say they follow you because they like you, then you go to a leadership level where people follow you because of what your brand has achieved and that might be measured by ROI because it’s commercial success. You’ve done amazing stuff, you’ve performed well, your marketing’s done well, you’re measuring the right stuff, you’re making money. People like that. Employees are inspired so they want to work with you. And that might be the commercial level of leadership but then there’s a level above that that I think’s the highest level of success which is where people love you. And this where you’ve got a genuine emotional connection with a brand. And you start to become loyal with them.

5 levels of brand leadershipSo this isn’t like where they follow you because they like you Facebook or they follow you on Twitter. They may be your favourite football team, it might be your favourite fashion brand, or your favourite actress or sports star. This is where there’s a genuine connection because you love them because of what they’ve done for you. And you can do all of that on your own. This is where you start to measure customer satisfaction, you’ve got people like KLM that just do an incredible customer service, great experiences, they’re measuring everything properly, NPS customer service resolutions. And that’s about as good as you can get on your own. Now what happens is there’s a level above that, but companies can’t get there on their own by putting in a good strategy or buying expensive technology. You can only get that by your customers putting you there. And I believe that’s a level of significance where you’ve got a cause or a belief.

And I’m trying to take this one stage further than Simon Sinek talked about years ago when he talked about what’s your purpose. Why’d you get out of bed? I’m like well, there’s a stand. Because it’s not enough to have a purpose, you’ve got to stand for something now. And what you stand for is more important than you what you sell. And whether it’s philanthropy, whether it’s giving back, whether it’s some kind of foundation model, whether it’s Mark Zuckerberg trying to create internet.org, or it’s Patagonia giving away all its profits, or Salesforce giving away all its time and product. That’s the level where people are genuinely inspired by that company. And regardless of what happens, they are incredibly loyal and they’re always going to love that company regardless of price. And they’re going to start causes, they’re going to start groups, they’re going to write books about them even if they don’t work there.

How do you build a successful brand strategy on social?

So that came out of my time at Phones for You really because we ended up working with people like Vodafone. There were models I started to see some of these big brands putting into place. And they really wanted to figure out, not only how do we reach our customers faster, and how do we understand what our customers are saying? And part of that is the technology problem. But really the bigger problems are all people problems and they’re all internal. So I started to say, and you know, this gain this isn’t new news, you talk about silos and you’ve got teams that don’t speak to each other, technology that don’t speak to each other, hashtag data that’s coming in from different sources that you can’t match up. And still brands have got massive problems with all these silos. So what I started to see, and then I started to talk about this a lot publicly, is that maybe you shouldn’t have a social media strategy. Maybe you shouldn’t have the customer experience, or some kind of mobile strategy. What if… because what was happening is each team was taking ownership of it. And the team that didn’t have ownership… so say it was marketing, brand, or PR, but the social strategy might be doing amazing things around LinkedIn that could have huge benefits for employees, HR should be involved in that. But the HR team don’t want to get involved in that because it’s a marketing thing. And we don’t get bonused on it, so we’re not going to do a thing. So I was like, I’ll tell you what we should do, let’s call this a conversation strategy and let’s have this virtual team where people meet together, whatever it is either face-to-face or virtually, once a week, once a month, it doesn’t matter but there’s a regular thing. And one representative from every single team comes armed with the one metric that really matters to their team, whatever that is, and it’s obviously a consulting process that you would go through to figure out just what that one number is. It’s almost like the money ball number. Because everybody’s got one number. There’s million of things they need to measure, but there’ll always be one thing that moves it no matter what department you’re in. And the conversation strategy was well, let’s get representatives from each team. If that’s just five teams, that’s fine. We’ve got operations, we might have HR, sales, there might be digital, it might be brand and PR. And then you have one guy coming so the brand and PR guy wants to talk about awareness and eyeballs and reach. The digital guys want to talk about the click-throughs to the website, conversions, downloads of the thing. Sales guys just want to talk about who converted, customer service, resolutions, did we respond in the first channel, did we respond fast enough? What was the outcome of that? So the conversation strategy for me was a way of let’s shift this away from marketing, because it’s not about marketing at all. This is digital transformation, to coin a word that I hate. It’s like what happens when all of this stuff joins together? Whether you’re a social enterprise, whether you call it a customer company. It’s like marketing’s too important to be left to the marketing department.

So let’s find a way to get every other team involved because then what’s going to happen is a beautiful outcome of that, that HR starts to love the marketing team, operations start to understand why social media’s really important. Then you start to get more budget. Then you start to measure things better and then when things get tight, which they always do at some point, marketing budget’s not the first thing to get cut because everybody understands the value of it and you feel like you’re playing as a team. So for me, there’s a really, really strong story in that that’s beneficial for any company.

What department should own social?

Gosh, I don’t know. We had a debate yesterday at a conference I was at that should social even been canned and we’ve been talking about that for a long time. There’s still this ongoing debate around is it social media, versus social business which seems a bit redundant. And my official title’s Head of Digital Strategy and like digital, everything’s digital now, that word shouldn’t even exist. It’s a marketing function, it always should be. It’s about people. There’s going to be a CMO who’s in charge of the emotional side of the business and how to reach people faster and how to understand what they’ve said. And social obviously fits perfectly within that. The bit that I see where it starts to get blurred is when you look at it from a tactical point of view. Social isn’t that sales channel that we thought it was back in 2010. Because it looks like you’ve got the huge reach and the massive audiences but yet it didn’t convert because that’s not what people went onto social for. They went to see the photos and chat with their friends and look at bull dogs and do whatever stuff that they do. And it’s a customer service channel. And that’s where we see massive successes now. It’s a conversation channel, it’s a way to engage, it’s a way to build a trusted relationship, it’s a way to enhance your credibility to a company and look like you’re real people behind the brand. And customer service is going to be the biggest benefactors of that. So that’s where, for me, service and marketing need to be plugged together.

And social is in that little Venn diagram in the middle where it overlaps. So to say it lives exclusively on one side or the other wouldn’t be fair. You need a CMO that understands that social impacts everything now.

What brands are significant and doing it right?

significant brandsI used the, it’s kind of a really cheeky idea of an example, Levi Strauss, one of the biggest jeans brand in the world, one of the best socially connected brands, huge company, done incredible stuff, patented the denim and riveted the jeans together. He didn’t want to do that in the beginning. He didn’t want a make a ton of money, even though he left his family and he moved over to San Francisco in the middle of the gold rush in the early 1900s. He wanted to invest in universities, in scholarships, and orphanages. And he was like, “How can I do that? Well, how about if I set up a business?”

Then he saw people’s pants were ripping when they put their axes and stuff in it. So he buys this new tent material, he makes this thing that ends up being denim and then they figure out that they can rivet them together because they start to become torn. And his friend comes over and says, “We can patent this, but I’ve got no money.” And he says to Levi, “You’ve got a bit of money because you’ve got a camping shop even though you’re not selling that much stuff. Do you want to pay for the patent? We’ll split it 50/50.” Levi’s Jeans are born. Now Levi starts to give away a ton of money and they’re doing amazing things. And it came from he wanted to make profits with a purpose, but his purpose came first.

So now my challenge is, if you’re making a ton of money, fantastic. You need to put those principles in place. But you’ve got to make sure it’s authentic and your intent is correct. But the brands that are doing the best stuff like Toms, like Patagonia, like Levi’s and Salesforce, even Nike when you look at their foundation stuff, it happened on day one because their company was built on a purpose and they knew what they stood for. And everything was like secondary. I actually believe, provocatively, a lot of people don’t agree with me on this, I believe Facebook’s exactly the same. There’s a reason why Zuckerberg’s investing so much money into internet.org. It makes no commercial sense whatsoever for Facebook to do that at the moment. Transactional brand, short term money, keeps stakeholders happy. The two-thirds of the world, that internet.org is trying to connect, are not going to spend any money on advertising, they’ve got no data plans. He’s trying to make people access Wikipedia by floating drones and giving Wi-Fi to everyone, or seeing a farmer that you can check your stock price and make more money to support his community. And that isn’t a financially driven incentive, that’s just we want to connect the world to make it a better place. And we can be really cynical, as we should be, because it’s Facebook, but again stories like that don’t get told often enough, I don’t think. And I don’t think people like Zuckerberg, and internet.org get enough credit for that sort of stuff.