The ability to instantaneously reach millions can be a great boon to marketers, but it can be an equally great bane, warns Avinash Kaushik, the Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google and the co-Founder of Market Motive Inc. He suggests that to use social effectively, companies must have a plan for missteps and live the brands they create.

Written by
Avinash Kaushik
Published
April 2012
Topics

A YouTube video titled "United breaks guitars" receives nearly 12 million hits. Kenneth Cole suggests on Twitter that last year's "uproar" in Egypt was caused by excitement over his new fashion line. An updated Gap logo becomes, overnight, the "New Coke" of the 21st century. Bank of America forgets how much consumers love small, nuisance bank fees. I'm sure with a little thought you could add hundreds of examples of your own. These are the signs that brand destruction is rampant in the digital world today. The ability to instantaneously reach millions can be a great boon to marketers, but it can be an equally great bane. The digital world giveth, but it just as easily taketh away.

The examples above are some of the big mistakes, well-known gaffes made by the companies themselves. But there are small, everyday, invisible gaffes too. And these can be as or more destructive to your brand as the major, self-inflicted gaffes we take so much pleasure recounting. Recently, I told 20 people that Nikon's site is slow and profoundly sub-optimal on mobile. (Guess what I had in my hand when I saw their sexy ad on TV? A mobile device!) Now these 20 people will tell 20 others - or 200 others. Today, even a single disgruntled or annoyed consumer has the ability to extend the reach of her message exponentially. This is the kind of "silent" but still highly efficient brand destruction that is occurring every day. And if it should begin happening to you, you and your company may not only have no control over it, you may not even be aware of what's happening.

Yet few companies have built organizational capabilities that take consideration of the new efficiency - and the swiftness - with which both brand destruction and brand creation can take place today. If, as my friend Mitch Joel likes to say, the distance between each of us today has shrunk to a mere six pixels, the same is now equally true of the distance between brand stories and their audiences. Never has it been more important for a brand to live its values, walk the talk, deliver what it promises, avoid saying stupid stuff - all while remaining real and accessible to today's digital and offline consumers. And it's a shame that so few companies have not built effective capabilities that take this new immediacy fully into account. Because the power that can so efficiently destroy your business is also the power that can boost it to untold heights. And that's a potential marketing impact that money can't buy.

Never has it been more important for a brand to live its values, walk the talk, deliver what it promises, avoid saying stupid stuff.

Kenneth Cole's brand recovered swiftly even after his insensitive tweet, because the number of passionate Twitter users today, while growing quickly, remains relatively small measured against the total consumer universe. But the challenge for your company is recognizing that soon everyone will be "social" in one way or another; if not on Twitter, then on some other forum, or in new ways we can't yet even imagine. One day, as that happens, the distance between us - the distance between our brands and our audiences - is going to shrink from six pixels to two, even one day seem to have disappeared altogether. How will you build the best future for your company in a world where the distance between your brand and your consumer approaches zero?