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15 Big Brand Lessons From The 2013 Corporate Social Media Summit

There are all kinds of ways to judge the quality of a conference. Some people look at the venue, or the number of attendees. Other look at the list of speakers, or the keynote presenters. Across the dozens of events I attend every year, I have seen or used almost all of these metrics myself. But yesterday I discovered a new metric while networking with speakers and attendees of the Corporate Social Media Summit.

People brought their bosses. Some speakers from last year invited their bosses to come and speak this year. Others brought their peers or bosses to attend. Every annual conference wants to draw loyal attendees. Few manage to deliver so much value that a year later they become the desired destination for bosses and colleagues too.

That’s the best introduction I can offer to a gathering of several hundred attendees and speakers at the New Yorker hotel over the past two days to discuss opportunities, strategies and insights around using social media for big brand marketing. With over 35 of the biggest brands in the world gathered together, there were plenty of insights to come from speakers across two days of panel discussions.

Here are 15 highlights – curated from a combination of my own notes, conversations with speakers I moderated, and my reading the stream of tweets from the event (hashtag #csmny). Feel free to check out the conversation yourself and let me know if I missed anything …

1. “Reward Experimentation” – Outback

To celebrate an Australian golfer poised to win a big tournament, one of the social media team members at Outback steakhouse decided to give away free meal coupons to 5 lucky winners over Twitter. The next day, when he told CMO Mike Kappitt about the stunt … Mike asked only one question: “why didn’t you give away 500?” For many brand marketing teams, campaigns are meticulously scripted and managed – but Outback believes empowering staff will encourage more experimentation. And experimentation will lead to success. While not ideal for every situation, their steadfast focus on rewarding smart thinking instead of punishing innovators is a big lesson more brand teams could use.

2. “Context Matters” – Express

We hear often about second or even third screen experiences. “There is only one screen that matters,” explained Express Director of Online Marketing Eric Gohs, “the screen in front of us.” In this single screen experience, context is everything because the way you experience a brand depends entirely on where you are. If you are walking down the street or in a retail Express store – your entire experience will be mobile. If you are at home browsing, it may be more tablet or laptop. Either way, the screen you are on should offer the perfect experience for the context you are in. For any brand that has placed QR codes on airline magazines (generally read on flights without internet access!) … this is an important lesson to remember.

3. “Engage the Rogues” – Wells Fargo

Workarounds are a popular use of technology. As Wells Fargo SVP and Head of Social Business Strategy Nathan Bricklin shared, “if you don’t have tools in house, people find workarounds.” Often those work arounds cause collaboration problems, because people are not communicating in a streamlined way. The less collaboration you have, the more people reinvent the wheel in every department – a problem Wells Fargo faces daily across more than 50 different business units and departments. The solution, according to Bricklin, is to “embrace the rogues.” In other words, find the people in your organization who are creating these solutions and leading the workaround groups, and find a way to work with them to solve their problems. As long as you can find them early.

4. “Educate Your Lawyers” – McDonald’s

If there is a consistent tension that nearly every brand marketer in the audience shared, it was the sometimes strained relationship that happens between legal and marketing. As McDonald’s Senior Director of Communications Heather Oldani shared stories of how her brand embeds social across multiple departments, one key learning became clear – she has good lawyers. But how can any brand build such a positive connection with their legal teams when sometimes real business issues may stand in the way? The key is that more marketing teams need to take responsibility for educating their lawyers. Often marketing people assume that it’s the legal team’s responsibility to understand social media. It won’t usually happen that way. Instead, finding moments to offer shared learning and education, and gain great understanding of both marketing and legal team’s roles is critical to building a more successful working relationship.

5. “Embrace Data Gymnastics” – Footlocker

In one of the best buzzword moments of the day, Footlocker CMO Dave Lokes shared the concept of “data gymnastics” as a method for using sometimes incomplete or overloaded data to uncover big business insights – such as how consumers are moving from consideration to conversion. As big data continues to be a huge topic for brands, the idea of using data in new and unexpected ways to deliver business insights is a huge topic that was on the mind of many brand marketers attending the event. Similar to the clamoring from brands for better listening platforms several years ago – this new topic of how to understand and manipulate data was a consistent thread of interest (and confusion) for many brand marketers attending the event.

6. “Lose Control” – Mastercard

Mastercard doesn’t own the priceless campaign anymore. It may be a surprise to hear that one of the most iconic brand campaigns of the last several decades is now officially in the public domain – but it shouldn’t be. In an engaging keynote presentation, Mastercard SVP and Group Head of Global Digital Marketing Michael Donnelly shared a new way of looking at the power of the Mastercard brand. “Mastercard is a technology company,” he shared, and went on to talk about the many ways the brand is probably already a part of your life and powers billions of transactions every year. The theme across his presentation was not only that Mastercard doesn’t need to own “priceless” anymore … but that this may be the same future any brand that manages to build an iconic reputation can expect at some point.

7. “Follow The Passion” – Sears

People love what they love. For Sears, this led them towards creating a community focused on grilling called “Grilling Is Happiness.” On it, people can share what they love about grilling, when they do it, photos and plenty more. It was a perfect example of the secret truth of engagement that many brands have uncovered: follow the passion. For Sears, this means finding communities of people who love certain products, and encouraging that conversation by finding authentic ways to jump in.

8. “Know What Matters Most” – Dunkin Donuts

“Hell hath no fury like a customer who drives to a Dunkin Donuts which happens to be closed.” Among the many truths that might have come on stage at CSM, this was one of the most incontestable. As Scott Hudler, VP of Global Consumer Engagement from Dunkin Donuts shared in a presentation focused on using mobile for consumer engagement, the most imporant piece of information that consumers want to know about any Dunkin store location is whether it is open or not. So that information is front and center in any location search through their app. It was a powerful reminder that no matter how much cool and interactive content or experiences you might offer in multiple channels … there is still no substitute for giving your customers exactly what matters most to them. Even if it is as unsexy as listing opening hours.

9. “Tell Real Stories” – Chobani

Every company starts with an idea and nearly all of them have founder’s stories. Hardly any of them, however, involves a founder whose first step was buying a factory with a small business loan. On stage at CSM, Chobani SVP of New Ventures and Innovation John Heath used great visuals and powerful storytelling to share how the Chobani brand started, and the inspiration that led founder Hamdi Ulukaya to first buy that factory. He went on to share how Hamdi would later develop this new yoghurt brand that would grow over five years to be worth more than a billion dollars. The product is good, but the real lesson is that the story and the philosophy of the brand is what really powers the enthusiasm of their customers and employees on social media and beyond.

10. “Be Ready To Change” – Hertz

You may remember a time when Hertz first launched kiosks for renters to check in and get their cars, similar to the kiosks offered for checking into a flight at the airport. Consumers hated them – so the brand ditched them. It was just one moment in the evolution of Hertz to a technology brand that symbolized what they would need to react to over and over. In a dual presentation from CMO Bob Stuart and CIO Joseph Eckroth, there were plenty of insights about everything from getting marketing teams to work together with IT to integrating more innovative ideas through events like brand hosted hackathons. The underlying message is one that you’d expect to hear from a startup instead of a nearly hundred year old brand – embrace flexiblity, move quickly and be ready to change.

11. “Retire Content” – ESPN

It is one of the most common mistakes in social media for brands to believe that every initiative or effort must last forever. Instead, ESPNw Director of Social Media Strategy Katie Richman shared that content may be useful for some time, but then people can stop sharing it. When that happens, it’s time to “retire” that content. I often share on stage that the word “archive” is one of the most underused in social media. However you choose to describe it, the fact is content creation doesn’t need to be a black hole that sucks your time and effort forever. Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away.

12. “Find Your Rich Uncles” – General Mills

With this humorous description, General Mills Director of Public Relations Kirstie Foster shared the important fact that being able to try more innovative work and integration with social media requires finding someone on your management team who can be your champion (presumably male OR female!). When you have an internal champion, then resources, budget, and value all become easier stories to tell to managers and internal leaders who are hungry for results.

13. “Celebrate Your History” – KLM

As a nearly 100 year old brand, KLM has plenty of tradition. They find many ways to share this tradition online through social media – which has been a consistent thread of engagement for this completely Dutch brand. As they do, they find new ways to engage consumers and tap their excitement to be part of the greater community of KLM enthusiasts.

14. “Dig Into The Poo” – PETCO

With the popularity of cats online, the advantage PETCO has over other brands to find topics for engagement is almost unfair. Almost. In an entertaining discussion on stage, Director of Social Media Katherine Smith talked a little about the opportunities and pitfalls in this wealth of content. People love to share photos of their pets and engage with other pet lovers. Sometimes the result is cute puppy photos. Other times, it’s poo … literally. But that’s nothing to be afraid of. The greatest conversations come from honest dialogue – even if it includes that “accident” in the living room you’d rather not think about.

15. “Create a Dedicated Team” – Target

One of the highlights of the conference was the chance to look behind the scenes at Target’s new personalized discount app called Cartwheel. The app has been featured in the media over the past five weeks and at CSM Product Leader Alan Wizemann and Social Strategy Manager Sarah Peterson shared some of the key learnings from the process of building the app. Chief among them was the value of building a dedicated in house team within the greater Target team. Though there was plenty of collaboration, this team operated as a startup within the larger brand. They iterated frequently, listening to consumers and publishing weekly updates to the app. Their independence was encouraged … and the end result was a pioneering product that many competitors and the retail industry is looking at as a precursor to the mobile future of loyalty programs and deeper consumer engagement.

  • nicklasmattsson

    Great summing up, Rohit, thanks!
    Number 16 could be the most entertaining, insightful as well as playful – MSU, make shit up.
    @Kittykatsmiths great attitude that created Caturday ;-)

  • michelepearl

    Excellent and useful summary. I attended Internet Retailer last week in Chicago and heard excellent presentations by the Wayfair CEO, JackThreads founder and many more. Thanks for sharing!

  • agency spotter

    Love the idea of building a startup within a corporation or sparking the spirit of many startups to inspire ways to think differently. Good stuff! -Brian

  • KenHittel

    This is what we mean when we say curation.

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  • http://www.onqmarketing.com.au Quentin Aisbett

    Thanks for the summary Rohit…All great points but I must admit I love the notion of both experimentation and telling real stories.

  • http://warrenwhitlock.com/social-media-expert Warren Whitlock

    Great list and examples. I was please to see what I call serendipity selling at the top of the list.

    I hold that the numbers of direct marketing still hold, where the majority of engagements do not result in a sale but are not considered wasted if the ROI is good.

    We all knew that brands are judged by how much we bother prospects (the mail not opened, interruption ads. Today that has grown plus the multitude of impressions in social media has made push marketing more hated then ever.

    Planting many seeds, we know some will grow. Experimenting with new ideas and positive encounters will yield some response and the less measurable “good impression” in the minds of our future customers. We can count on the serendipity of sales.

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