Expert's Opinion

Effective Use of Social Media for HBA Brands

By Cheryl Swanson, Principal,Toniq | May 13, 2010

What can HBA learn from fashion's use of social media?

As 2010 settles in, it feels as if all the social media buzz from 2009 has quieted down to a hushed yet constant murmur. Could it be that social media has finally become integrated into mainstream marketing programs? Once the uncontrollable, stepchild of advertising, it is now the conduit for the voice of many brands, spreading viral messages instantaneously.

Make no mistake, social media is democratizing communication. According to Nielsen, visiting social media sites is the fourth most popular online activity, ahead of personal email. The advent of social media is shifting the power of the message away from editors and marketers to people. The recent Tonight Show debacle illustrated how the power of the masses turned a tame storyline of shifting talk show hosts into a not so funny, and very public, punch-line.

So, the question is, how can HBA brands utilize social media yet still exert some control over their message? By making it a dialog. The fashion industry has lately successfully leveraged social media to illustrate how consumer’s interact with their products. Since both fashion and HBA help consumers ‘self brand’ and put their best face forward, HBA can apply similar tactics. Burberry, for example hit a home run with their "Art of the Trench" campaign. Ironically, it was a popular blogger who started the trend of submitting images of everyday people sporting Burberry trenches but the idea spread quickly and there are now 3.7 million images on As a result, Burberry now dedicates 40% of its marketing budget to digital/online media.

Recently, the American Eagle store in Times Square displayed billboard-size photos of customers modeling new purchases in their "15 minutes of fame." Imagine your customers "test driving" a product and tweeting the image to their community? Historically, consumer-originated brand messaging carries more gravitas. Punch buggy anyone?

When composing the social media leg of your campaign, keep the content palpable so consumers will be motivated to share it with others. And don’t be afraid to leverage the voice of your audience, with risk comes (fingers crossed!) reward. Traditional advertising is becoming part of the white noise which consumers are accustomed to blocking out.By penetrating the mindspace on social media sites, brands put consumers in the driver’s seat. This results in better brand recall and a stronger brand relationship.

About the Author
Cheryl Swanson founded Toniq ( after leading several design firms to world-class status with her emotions-based, visual approach to brand strategy development. At Toniq, she continues to evolve her strategic expertise by seeking new ways to connect with consumers.

Swanson’s years of trend tracking, design management and research have coalesced in a theory of Brand Effervescence™ an innovative approach to brand building. This image-based approach is a synthesis of cultural anthropology, consumer trends research, marketing and design, and a study of the psychology of symbolism and color.

Toniq has used this process successfully for leading consumer packaged goods product development, retail and on-line brands, including: Target, Unilever, Lycos, Kraft Foods, Gillette, Ralph Lauren, Saks Fifth Avenue, Pepsi, Con Agra, and Nestle Purina to create or redefine brand personalities and visual positioning recommendations for new products and established brands.

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