Why the best way to grow your brand is to focus on “We”

I wanted to share some insights from a recent interview I did for Speaker magazine about how to develop effective branding strategies and enhance engagement by focusing on “we.”

We First has helped many organizations — from Global 500 companies to nonprofits — to effectively pursue “the art of inspiring customers to champion your brand.” The funny thing about Fortune 100 companies and associations is that they are not so different: they are both groups of people connected around shared values or a common purpose.

You can listen to the full interview, but here are the key points relevant to anyone in any industry looking to better tell their company’s story in ways that build their business:

Why should you think about business “We First”?  I was inspired to explore a new “We First” line of thinking after reading a speech that Bill Gates gave to the World Economic Forum in January 2008. At the time, Gates was both the world’s richest man and its greatest philanthropist, an irony that intrigued me in light of his message. He described a new logic for why companies should accept responsibility for developing solutions that address the many crises that plague our planet, especially in the developing world, where poverty often precludes sufficient profit to merit corporate participation. At the heart of his appeal was the undeniable logic that brands cannot survive in societies that fail and so by supporting our communities, we also ensure our own well being.

Should you build your business around yourself as a “personality” or “celebrity” or focus on your community?  Traditional media, like television, rewarded the celebrity brand (think Martha Stewart). But now something has happened for the first time in human history: media is in the hands of citizens and consumers. Social media has given everyone a voice and the barriers to becoming a thought leader are very low. So as I’ve personally experienced in my journey from leaving the global ad agency world, to starting out on my own, to building the We First team, it’s incredibly important to build your brand around meaningful values that are much bigger than just one person. By aligning around shared values and a common purpose, you can inspire your customer community to share your brands with others and build your business and social impact together.

How do you effectively encourage your community to share your message?  If you only talk about yourself you will never unlock the power of social media. Social technology is all about community, and if you build your work around values and a new vision for the world, you can act the chief celebrant of your community that in turn supports your message. So it’s no longer about driving a personal or company monologue – social media is about creating a dialogue and finding those who are inspired to come along with you because you all serve a shared vision. It’s this ability to inspire your community to effectively act as an extension of your marketing that you start to truly benefit from the power of social media.

How have you used social media to grow the message of We First?  Blogging has been a very important tool for defining the brand. Many people do not understand their purpose- they know what they do, but they don’t know why they do it. Or they can’t articulate that purpose in a way that is meaningful to their customer community and the world. The phrase, “You can’t read the label from inside the jar” sums it up perfectly. But when you start to externalize yourself, through blogging and videos and speeches, you start to connect the dots and force yourself to clearly define the concepts and values that will make you different and successful in the marketplace.

Another underused tool is video. It’s so powerful and innately shareable. Two days before the book launch of We First, a team of very generous colleagues helped me to create our short-animated vision video at little cost, simply because the creators were so behind the message of We First. We had 38,000 views in the first 48 hours and that sharing dynamic was a concrete and authentic demonstration of people rallying behind a message that reflects values they care about. The support and passion that video engendered was really inspiring and was a key part in rallying members to our We First community over the long term.

What are best practices when trying to leverage many types of media to push out your message? It’s no longer a question of what content to create and share on your own. Now it’s a question of what content you and your members can create together to celebrate the success of the community. For example, you may ask members to create short videos about key learning experiences that they can share on Facebook, Twitter, or Vine; this creates a valuable peer-to-peer discussion. But remember: once you start a dialogue with your members on multiple channels, you need to maintain it, and that takes dedicated resources and a content calendar.

How can executive-level social media engagement help leverage a brand? Isn’t it fascinating that CEOs like Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Tony Hsieh tweet? Why do they do that? The most important reason is that it serves as a permission slip for the entire organization to act as a social brand. It’s not about an obsession with technology, but rather, staying in contact with your community.

As for how CEOs get started, they first have to accept that they must now share control of their brand story with their customer community. You can start slowly by sharing company news, press releases, or talking about the core values or vision of the company — safe stuff. Once you start that conversation, you can invite members to share their thoughts, and you’ll be astounded by how excited they are to have a voice that is heard.

Taken together, these various points all drive at the same message – in the social business marketplace the most effective way to build your brand is to genuinely serve your community through the content and engagement you create. If you demonstrate true concern and actions for their well being, they will take you and your business much further than you could ever do on your own.

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