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Is it time to rethink how we value brand strength?

1st Oct 2014
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Social media is redefining the relationship between customers and brands. According to a new report by MinedIntent: “Social media and the data it creates helps to scale intimacy, bringing large brands back into contact with people in a way that can replicate the best of the old corner shop culture, in place of a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’, or ‘speak to our call centre’, attitude to customers.”

So, if the customer/brand conversation is becoming increasingly critical, why do we still ignore it when it comes to evaluating brands – and in our perceptions of a ‘strong brand’? Should the business world reframe the way it values brands, factoring in recurrent good social connections and affinities rather than relying on an outdated set of values?

This was certainly our view at Intent HQ when we partnered with researcher and author of economic and social transformation, Hadyn Shaughnessy, to redress the shortfall. To do this we worked with the statisticians at StatSocial to gather data surrounding people’s relationships with online brands from 100 million Twitter accounts and charted the top 100 brands according to social affinity.

The data collected tracked back across 3,500 tweets per user and searched for signals of affinity such as the use of a hashtag or brand or product name and then followed this across blogs and other social sites. A true Big Data project in action.

The results are revealing – although some of the names at the top are predictable (Google, of course, Twitter, Instagram and Apple) – there are also some prominent newcomers nudging their way through. NASA, for example, appears, one slot ahead of the formidable tech trio, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook. Lonely Planet, TED, Disney and Whole Foods Market are also in the Top 20, brands that are overlooked on all the standard lists. Etsy, the online craft and vintage marketplace is ranked 19th, one ahead of Coca Cola.

The top 25 brands are:

  1. Google
  2. Twitter
  3. Instagram
  4. Apple
  5. NASA
  6. Amazon
  7. Microsoft
  8. Facebook
  9. Disney
  10. Starbucks
  11. TED
  12. Comcast
  13. Whole Foods Market
  14. Samsung
  15. Pinterest
  16. Nike
  17. Cisco
  18. Android
  19. Etsy
  20. Lonely Planet
  21. Coca-Cola
  22. Github
  23. Kickstarter
  24. Wordpress
  25. JetBlue

What can we learn from this? NASA does state that its mission is to ‘reach new heights…’. But obviously it wasn’t referring to a list of social brands. Nonetheless, this US government agency does work extremely hard at communicating and inspiring its followers in a way that puts many commercial brands to shame. Just take a look at its lively website and Facebook pages and you will see. Lonely Planet, Etsy and the other newcomers are also hot on encouraging customer interaction and participation in their social discussions.

While brands can interact in this way by being responsive and insightful of customer needs and attitudes, Big Data analysis and advances in artificial intelligence are now making it possible to do this at a deeper level. The web is a place where thoughts, passions, interests and insights are constantly shared. If a brand can tap into this the customer will, in fact, tell them what they want or need before their actual purchasing decision. For the marketer, it’s a case of helping customers do what they already want to do.

It sounds a simple enough task, but in reality, it can be hard to achieve.

To be fair, some brands are currently investing in detailed customer profiling, targeting and Big Data projects to find buying and demand patterns. But perhaps the data they are using isn’t the best for their purposes. Cookies, for example, are increasingly seen as a blunt instrument, especially now that internet users tend to delete or block them – or are using multiple devices where cookies are ineffective. The payload carried by cookies tend to lack context and only provide a snapshot of activity at any given moment rather than relating to anything else that could give it meaning. Consequently, the profiles generated by cookies tend to be totally wide of the mark.

However, new methods using machine learning to achieve this knowledge and empathy can now help brands increase performances by hundreds of per cent while spending less money, interpreting data points in the same way a human mind does, and enabling a new generation of segmentation and personalisation to drive performance.

But first the business world must catch up with the reality that social affinity is now creating the brand. It’s not just about charts and rankings – companies that don’t take notice are at risk of losing touch with their customers and losing out to more socially-minded competitors.

Jonathan Lakin is CEO of Intent HQ.

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