This month's guest is Chris Klaehn, Partner and Director of Brand Strategy at Corey McPherson Nash (CMN). Chris joins Dave Fish, CEO, IMN, to discuss the role social media plays in branding. Klaehn references several examples of brands engaging in social media and also offers up tips on developing a social media strategy for your brand.
You can listen to the interview by clicking on the podcast icon above or you can read the transcript below.
FISH: Hello, this is Dave Fish, and today I'm speaking with Chris Klaehn, who is Partner and Director of Brand Strategy at Corey McPherson Nash – also known as CMN. As well as Corey, I gather, Chris. So if you could perhaps introduce the firm a little bit, that would be a great context for our listeners.
KLAEHN: Sure. So Corey McPherson Nash, we're celebrating our 26th Anniversary, and we are a national branding and design firm. We are based in Watertown, Mass., and we have clients in CPG, like Keurig and iRobot, in biotech and medical, like Biogen Idec and Momenta, and startups, like –
FISH: Pretty diverse portfolio there.
KLAEHN: Absolutely, absolutely. And we've always believed that the diversity in our client base is a benefit to our clients, so that we can bring in other thinking from other industries to their industry.
FISH: Makes sense. And for the listeners we'll mention a full disclosure note. IMN has actually been a client of Corey McPherson Nash, and we've done several assignments and been very happy with them in the branding and identity area, so we can offer a bit of endorsement. Today we're going to talk with Chris about something that's very timely, and that is the intersection of social media and branding. So maybe you could set a context for our listeners on that specific topic, Chris.
KLAEHN: Yeah, absolutely. It's interesting, over the past year we have not only embraced social media but consulted with our clients on how to embrace social media, and what it means. And I have to say, it's a challenge and it goes outside the comfort zone to truly engage with your audience. To truly tap into, listen, and engage, not just use it as a vehicle to further promote. Because, obviously, it is a tool to do so, but it's not really utilizing the tool to the best degree. And then there's various incidents that have happened with top brands that aren't necessarily the most attractive that creates a fear in some clients, because it really is a paradigm shift. But we've always believed that when you're working in branding and design, you always have your clients top of mind, but more important is your clients' audience.
KLAEHN: And this really gives such a wonderful and easy vehicle to have that conversation with your audience. Where you could only get it before through online surveys or through focus groups, both of which have their challenges to truly capture what's going on in a customer's life.
FISH: So one of the things that we've had as a topic on the podcast here has been the role of digital influence, which is certainly about engaging one's customers – and that's the emphasis they tend to place. It sounds like you guys are kind of advocating something similar, but also intersecting that with a brand in a bit more interesting way. Maybe you could elaborate on that.
KLAEHN: Yeah, everything needs to work within a framework. And I think if you look out at who is doing this really well, they open themselves up, but they contain it or control it or address it in a way that's totally relevant and appropriate to them. It really only strengthens that relationship with your customer and that loyalty. And it's very interesting, for the brands that have done it the traditional way, you can have a long leash of forgiveness when mistakes do happen. Because obviously as people and as companies we do make mistakes. But it's how you deal with that, and that really is the proof in the pudding. And I don't really want to focus only on the negative things, but I really think it creates a transparency, where it's not necessarily overly comfortable to have such a transparency, but if you create it within a framework, and you engage and listen and actually talk about the initiatives and the efforts and the products that you're selling, it really furthers the brand, it really enhances and strengthens the brand.
FISH: Do you have an example that you'd like to toss out to make it tangible?
KLAEHN: Oh yeah, I have a lot of great examples out there. But I have to – full disclosure – these are not my clients.
KLAEHN: But like Whole Foods. I think Whole Foods does a great job, on Facebook especially, where they do the basics of giving people – if you're a fan – you can get coupons and things. But they really engage people into how to use their different products. They have different recipes, different little videos showing how to cook certain products. They had a wonderful – one of their status updates on Facebook was about a bug on a banana that they found and how they dealt with the bug. And it was short, it wasn't very long. But in telling the story they told that, (a) that their food is organic, therefore not with pesticides, and so –
KLAEHN: – And then (b) their health policy, their cleanliness policy. And so it was a story that didn't slap you across the face and said, "So therefore come buy organic food," but it really enhanced what they're all about.
FISH: Understand. That's great.
KLAEHN: I thought it was just really well done.
FISH: And do you think about the various social media channels differently? For example, how do you think about the intersection of branding and social media when we're talking about Tweets and the strength that we have there?
KLAEHN: Twitter's very interesting, because in contrast to Facebook, it is anonymous. On Facebook we say our name, our true name, first and last name, with a picture. And so when you respond it's you. Now, some people can say pretty aggressive things, but still it's attached to your identity. In Twitter you can be anybody. And that anonymity brings out a very interesting human behavior on certain levels. But I do think, no matter what vehicle you use, it is that transparency that intrigues me. And it is the human behavior that intrigues me too, because you can fan a flame positive and negative. And when it goes in the positive way, when it further educates, it's really an amazing thing to see. A client I'm currently working with is Keurig, and they are a single serve coffee maker. They are currently the number one coffee maker in America. And their audience organically is passionate about this brand.
KLAEHN: Just incredible to watch and to get a pulse on what is going on. And it's really such an asset. Because there's so many brands out there that have a passionate audience base, and it's really, how do we take this asset and make the most out of it to further our brand, to further our business?
FISH: Got ya. Just to stick with the Twitter situation, I think it was either on your Facebook page or perhaps on your website, but I read an article that indicated that about 20 percent of the Tweets had a brand identity included in them. Do you have thoughts as to, you know, what that flow is all about and how best to engage it?
KLAEHN: You know, it's interesting, because I think the flow to your point, or the evolution, or the ebb and flow of this stream, is interesting to participate in and also to watch. And I think – to me 20 percent is low, but it really shows how many people are adopting it, and how many different types of segments are adopting it that are not expected. Like the elderly population that is embracing various social media and using it for different purposes.
FISH: OK, so let me bring it back around to any thoughts you might have about a framework for thinking about this, as you mentioned earlier.
KLAEHN: Well, I think the framework is indicative of – it's going to change depending on your brand. So a la that example with Whole Foods. Or if you look at Zappos, where their position is around service, everything about service, and so they have every one of their customer service staff have their own personal Tweet. So you really get to know the people behind the service, and they really stand behind that. You know, that's like an overarching approach. But the framework for the conversation would definitely depend on your brand and your unique aspect of your brand. And how to bring it out where you're not selling in a traditional way or in an overt way, but really telling them something. Because what we try to do with our social media is really reinforce thoughtful branding and design. So we'll tell you about a new client, or we'll tell you about certain things that are happening, but it's very sporadic. What we try and do is try to give you insight into how we think, what we're looking at, and what our thoughts are to certain issues that are happening. Obviously with Twitter we have limited space, but that's what we're trying to show, is to try and give you insight into the DNA of a company like ours. Which for a service company is really a lot of what you buy – you buy the thinking and you buy the talent.
FISH: Indeed. Absolutely. So in a way that sort of never really occurred with just the sort of website era, it really is about an opportunity to kind of externalize things in a way perhaps that reflect the essence of the brand.
KLAEHN: Yeah. And we also believe that, in the same vein, that you shouldn't hire somebody to do it for you. It really should be done by you. And it really should be done not by one person in the corner who does the social media, but it really should be done by multiple people within the organization, to really get that full feel, and to really have the organization have that pulse.
FISH: You know, that's a recommendation that we often hear. Do you have any tips for people as to how to really get internal commitment and long-haul dedication to that? I lot of people make a best effort early on, and then they kind of fall off, you know.
KLAEHN: Yes, and you know, the cobbler's children have no shoes. It's really – you know what it is – it's a behavior change. And those two words – behavior and change – are very easy for me to say, and they're exceptionally challenging to do. So I think, we've been using an analogy for the evolution of the Internet. You know, when that first happened, people were like, how are we going to do this? We don't have the money, we don't have the resources, we don't have the time. I don't know what it is, I don't know if my audience is on there. You heard similar challenges.
FISH: You're right, yeah.
KLAEHN: And so I think over time, you need to see that your current and prospective audience is using these tools, so it's actually reaching who you want to reach. Over time it'll become part of your organization. But I do think the expectation should be over time. I don't think this could or should happen overnight for anybody. But I do think conversations are happening about your brand, and you should definitely be engaging in them.
FISH: So it sounds to me like the inner hint there that you're giving us is, hey start, and then ramp up to a sustainable level of effort, rather than sort of over commit and fall flat out of the blocks, and that that's a perfectly reasonable way to think about things. Is that –
KLAEHN: Absolutely. And have metrics and a goal behind it. Don't just do it just to do it. Like, are you trying to increase your fan base on Facebook, as an example? If so, why? And if so, how? And then at what percentage? And are you succeeding at that, and why? Again, because of the beauty of this medium, the democratic nature of this medium, you can see which Tweets get re-Tweeted, you can see which Tweets get the most response. You can see everything. And in looking at that, where you're really actually capturing what you want to capture, it's a great, it's a wonderful learning tool, but it's no doubt an investment of time and energy. But I think it's getting involved, but where we're at now is how do you engage? What does that actually look like and feel like, and how does that success look? I think that's where the challenge lies.
FISH: Got ya. Hey, anything on the horizon that people should be thinking about? You know, sort of what's next in social media? Or anything that's sort of fallen by the wayside for that matter.
KLAEHN: It's so interesting about what will fall by the wayside. I actually don't have any predictions. I'm sure Forrester or somebody has a prediction on that. But I can guarantee you that things will change, and change rapidly. And there's a lot of different tools that live in different places that will come together to augment. You know, whether you're looking at LinkedIn and Tripit, where you can talk about what travel plans you have for work, and other people within your network meeting you in these different towns. A lot of the geographic tools. The founder of Twitter has just launched another brand where you can have your friends see what deals you're buying. So if you're getting a great deal from Filene's Basement you can let your friends know.
FISH: And just so our audience knows what that is, is that a launched site, or –
KLAEHN: Yeah, I just read an article about it this weekend. It's called Blippy, I want to say.
KLAEHN: You know, intuitively, from my own personal point of view, I don't really see a great desire to let everyone know where I'm spending my money. But, you know, who knows? So I think the point of what I'm trying to say is – this is an ever-evolving area – social media. And while certain brands certainly own it, it's important to try the different tools out there, and to see who is adopting, and really keep your eye on that, and making sure if your audience is there that you're there.
FISH: Hey, one other thing that may be of interest to some of our audience. For businesses that are very much local or regional businesses and have a strong sort of connection between their brand and their roots in a community or an area, are there any things that come to mind along those lines that are helpful or that you've seen happen?
KLAEHN: Hmm, that's great. Because that is a wonderful tool. That question makes me immediately think of politics.
KLAEHN: You know, and how social media has been utilized for various campaigns.
KLAEHN: And also within a campaign to – just the data mining, if you will, about who has voted and who still needs to vote. Obviously Obama was very savvy in that area. But you could look to Scott Brown's recent campaign used a lot of similar –
FISH: This has become the baseline technology, absolutely.
KLAEHN: Yeah, yeah. And getting that message.
FISH: Maybe some analogies to the political campaign use of these channels for local businesses as well.
KLAEHN: Yeah. Absolutely. Because all politics is local, all business is local.
FISH: Well, this has been great, Chris. So I think the takeaway here is that I'm kind of hearing you say, make sure that you sort of reflect the genuine brand essence in any social dialogs that you might have. And that in part is reinforced by using the real folks, rather than the quote "writer in the corner," and so on. And the other lesson I think I hear you saying is, you know, but go ahead and engage in the dialog, don't be shy about it.
FISH: Great. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.
KLAEHN: Well, thank you.
FISH: Very good.
Partner, Director of Brand Strategy
Corey McPherson Nash
Chris joined Corey in 1996, bringing with her a diverse background in politics, education and business. Her role with the firm includes establishing Corey’s interactive design business to leading its branding and messaging strategy for our integrated accounts (branding, marketing strategy and implementation), including iRobot, Keurig, Harvard Business Publishing, Museum of Science Boston, Monster, The First Years, VistaPrint, Clear Channel Entertainment, Rainbow Media, Liberty Mutual Property, and Nickelodeon. University clients include Notre Dame, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, MIT and Harvard.
Chris is a member of the New Repertory Theatre Board of Directors and the Advisory Board for Museum of Science’s Discovery Center. Chris’ work has been recognized with awards from the Massachusetts Interactive Multimedia Council (MIMC), Web Marketing and HOW Magazine. She has been published in a number of business and design periodicals including The New York Times, Graphic Design: USA, Electronic Media, The Boston Business Journal and Women’s Business.
Chris is a frequent speaker at events sponsored by the Broadcast Designers Association, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), the Direct Marketing Institute and the American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA).
Prior to joining Corey, Chris was a grassroots organizer and lobbyist for the New York Public Interest Research Group. She was also an English teacher in Slovakia.