Social networks are not brands... A recent TechCrunch article quotes MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta as saying “Our users don’t know if we’re a social portal, a music site, or an entertainment hub.” True indeed, but a bit like Phil Jackson having a revelation that Laker fans don’t like it when they lose. No shit, sherlock.
The rest of the article contains a memo outlining a series of personnel changes, with no real allusion to an actual plan. Worse, Van Natta seems to only half understand the problem. He correctly identifies a lack of focus as part of the issue, but that’s part of a bigger issue is that MySpace has no brand, at least not one that anyone really cares about.
MySpace is not alone in this. In general, the social networks have become centers for connecting with people you know, and people you don’t know. As such, they don’t really stand for anything. They’re so all-inclusive that as consumers we don’t really care about them. That’s why it was so easy for MySpace to pick up most of Friendster’s users, and then for those users to migrate to Facebook. FB is sure to suffer the same fate if it doesn’t get some fundamental brand issues right.
Frankly, I don’t think either site was ever really a brand, but many companies that start out well enough lose focus along the way as they scale. The thinking usually goes that we can only grow by attracting more people, which generally means watering down what we stand for in order to appeal more broadly. This is exactly the wrong choice.
Both MySpace and Facebook should follow our simple plan, and so should you:
- Determine who you are best suited for. Picture the one person on this planet for whom your brand is a perfect fit. You need to know absolutely everything about this person — what he likes and dislikes, his values, how he makes decisions, who influences him and whom does he influence, plus all the regular demographic stuff.
-What can you do to make this person love you? Notice I didn’t say make him buy your product. That’s only the beginning. Your core target customer has to believe that your brand was made for him, that you get him. Sure, you want him to buy your product, but you want so much more than that. He’s going to talk about you so much that his friends make fun of him, he’s got your logo tattooed on his body. He steals your promotional materials from stores to put them up in his house. He starts his own blog about your brand (do not sue him for this). What’s are you going to do to make him do all that?
- Then you need to focus all of your company’s efforts against making this happen, day after day. It’s not just about your marketing slogan, your focus on the customer has to be woven into everything you do.
- Three small notes about this process:
1. The answer to the questions above not only impacts what products you make, but also what kind of company you are. 2. Part of defining who you are for is also defining who you are not for. There are plenty of things and people your core customer does not like. He needs to feel you standing with him. If your definition of a core customer is “anyone who will give me money,” you’re way off track. 3. If you’re thinking this means you’re only going to appeal to one person in the world, or one type of person, that’s not true. Brands that have meaning create a resonance that radiates out from the core to people who want to be like your guy, or who see a little piece of your guy inside themselves. When it’s done right, the radiation is powerful and can be far reaching. Think about how many people all over the world saw a little bit of Nike in themselves because they wanted to “be like Mike,” even though they never touched a basketball.
This is simple, but not easy. It involves some tough decisions that run counter to the popular idea that all money is good money. But the best and most successful companies in the world — Coke, Nike, Scion, Red Bull, Zappos, Apple, to name a few — are the ones who do this as part of their DNA.