Using Twitter to Build Brand Equity

Jack Dorsey, co-founder and chairman of Twitter, Inc., said that the definition of Twitter was “a short burst of inconsequential information,” and “chirps from birds,”1 which was exactly what Twitter was. But instead of just chirping, the micro-blogging social network service has become one of the biggest buzzes in 2009, capturing countless media headlines and stirring up conversations worldwide.

Apart from Twitter, the economy is also a main topic this year. While companies find their customers are spending much less money during the economic downturn, they turn to Twitter to help build their brands, promote their products or services, and keep in touch with both loyal and potential customers.

So how do companies use Twitter to build their brands? To answer that, let us first learn some facts about Twitter.

Twitter, founded in 2006, is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as “tweets”. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers, known as “followers”. The three-year-old Twitter, whose popularity is still proliferating as we speak, is already the third most popular social networking site in the world behind Facebook and Myspace.

Twitter is different from other social networking services because users do not need to send requests and get approved before they can follow others. A simple click is enough for a Twitterer to follow or unfollow any other Twitter users, who may be a celebrity, a politician, a company or an individual. Not only can users send private Direct Messages (DM) to a follower, they can also send public replies to whomever they want in the Twitter-verse. Because Twitter is text-based in nature, users must post pictures or videos through URL links, which enables Twitter’s interface to stay simple and clean. Even though Twitter does not and will not put any advertisement on its website, it is still a free service, which means businesses do not need to pay a dime to promote themselves and communicate with tens of millions of potential customers.

Labbrand believes that brand equity includes brand strength and brand stature. While brand strength is determined by brand differentiation and brand relevance, brand stature is determined by brand esteem and brand knowledge. Twitter can help a brand build up these four pillars of brand equity through different dimensions of interaction between a brand and its stakeholders. We will address four examples to illustrate the point. While the brands cited in the rest of this article may satisfy all four criteria, we will only use one brand example to highlight each measure.

Differentiation under the Communication and Design Dimension

Businesses strive to make their brands unique. Differentiation is strongly associated with a brand’s communication and design. Given the proximity that Twitter provides, twittering is undoubtedly a highly unique way for companies to communicate with customers. However, this advantage may not last for long due to Twitter’s fast growth, because when the majority of brands have their own Twitter pages the fact that a brand has a Twitter page will no longer be unique. At least for the time being, however, Twitter can contribute to brand differentiation. JetBlue Airways, an American low-cost airline, has differentiated its brand through Twitter communication. Since problems with flights can cause a lot of headaches, JetBlue has set up a service where customers can complain about flight problems directly to airline staff via Twitter. It is no wonder JetBlue has already attracted more than 1.1 million followers since the launch of its Twitter page in the spring of 2007. Today its account is often cited as an example of smart corporate twittering. Using Twitter to create an efficient customer service communication platform will contribute to JetBlue’s differentiation and overall brand equity.

Relevance under the Market and Consumers Dimension

Brand relevance is a measure of appropriateness and relates to a brand’s appeal. Relevance both drives and reflects consumer choice. Relevance basically answers the question of why consumers choose to buy a particular product. It can be called the cornerstone of a brand. For companies new and old, including small businesses, how to make their brand relevant is often difficult in a highly competitive market with diverse and demanding consumer groups. Yet, Twitter can give a brand the chance to build relevance and even loyalty among today’s consumers.

Teusner Wines, a boutique winery in Australia’s Barossa Valley, has only three employees, but its Twitter account (@Teusnerwine) has nearly 6,000 followers. Dave Brookes, Teusner Wines’ one-man sales and marketing department, believes that using Twitter is more about building relationships with existing and potential customers than selling products. Brookes sends friendly messages to those who are talking about Teusner Wines on Twitter. After keeping casual, relaxed exchanges with followers and avoiding product promotions, Brooke saw more people coming to the winery for tours and an increase in traffic to its website. Even though shipping restrictions prevent Teusner Wines from selling directly to individuals outside Australia, a number of people from United States and Canada have asked where they can find Teusner Wines at stores and restaurants near them, demonstrating that these potential consumers find the brand highly relevant. Moreover, Twitter users might like a brand and consider it relevant simply because it uses Twitter.

Esteem under the Products and Services Dimension

Differentiation and relevance are still not enough to build a successful brand. Eventually, customers need to decide whether or not they will purchase the product or service, and how much they like the brand. Since Twitter as well as other social media are strongly interactive, they are always linked to the esteem dimension of a brand. American Apparel (@americanapparel) has more than 40,000 Twitter followers. One of the United States’s largest clothing manufacturer’s unique ad campaigns was inspired by one of its own Twitter followers. American Apparel received a DM from a freelance photographer (Ryan Marshal @ThePanicRoom) chronicling his wife’s pregnancy with week-by-week photos of the mother-to-be in American Apparel clothing. The company liked the photo series so much that they used the images as the basis for an ad campaign showing cute and comfy looks for expectant moms. American Apparel also set up its ad on Marchal’s blog (pacingthepanicroom.com). They ran a unique banner ad for baby clothes, and the blog became one of American Apparel’s top performing sites for online ads.

As you can see, Twitter helped drive American Apparel’s product promotion decisions, and at the same time demonstrated the brand’s proximity to their customers, thereby building esteem.

Internal Effects – Esteem & Knowledge under the Culture and Behavior Dimension

Thus far we have discussed external brand interactions; however, Twitter can also enhance interactions between employees and the companies that they work for. This means Twitter also has internal effects on a business and their internal brands.

Just like a twittering company would appeal to its twittering customers, it will also appeal to its twittering employees. It works the other way around too; some companies test applicants’ ability to use twitter when recruiting new employees, since Twitter is considered to be a vital tool by many marketers.

As for knowledge, it measures whether there is a true understanding of what a brand stands for. No one knows better about what a brand stands for than its own top executives who get to decide what their brands mean. Normally, only a few privileged employees could directly interact with their top executives, but Twitter can help to change this. For instance, Zappos.com’s CEO Tony Hsieh is in charge of the electronic commerce company’s Twitter account (@zappos), which has nearly 1.2 million followers. Not only can customers contact Hsieh via Twitter, so can Zappos.com’s employees. Hsieh constantly writes his thoughts on business and Zappo as a brand like “Good businesses figure out how to continuously add value. Great businesses figure out how to continuously multiply value,” and “When your work is an extension of who you really are deep down inside, it’s no longer a job or a career. It’s a calling,” so that employees can better understand the brand and better serve customers. By building esteem and knowledge internally, Zappos will build a stronger and more valuable brand overall. (In July 2009, Amazon.com Inc. announced it will purchase Zappos.com, and the deal is expected to go through in the fall. It will be interesting to see if this acquisition will affect Zappos Twitter account!)

Conclusion

From the above exploration of Twitter, we can see that Twitter does have the potential to help businesses build brand equity. However, we are sure that the most effective way has not yet been discovered. The new-born Twitter leaves businesses a huge space to explore, innovate, and experiment with the most effective ways to twitter up brand equities.

1 http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2009/02/twitter-creator.html

Vladimir Djurovic is the founder and Managing Director of Labbrand, a Shanghai based innovative brand agency specialized in brand research, strategic and creative services. Labbrand website at: http://labbrand.com/ is also the portal to Labbrand branding blog: http://labbrand.com/english/news_and_articles.php/
and reviews of branding related hot topics, with a special focus on China.

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