A Conversation with Siegel + Gale’s Thomas Mueller: How To Be An Adaptable Brand in A Social Era

Author: Melissa Trosterman

With restive audiences, technology in freeflow, cultures shifting, and an unforgiving business climate, brands have never faced greater challenges. Brands today must, literally, adapt or suffer. Social has enhanced this shift. How can major, worldwide brands succeed in this sea of troubles? We spoke with Thomas Mueller, Global Director, Digital, Leadership, Simplification at Siegel+Gale, (also host of a Pivot 2012 Studio Session on the Urgency of Simplicity) to learn more.

PIVOT: In your work with brands, have you noticed any defining characteristics that make a brand adaptable?

TM: At Siegel+Gale we see two types of organizations that deal with social in very different ways.

The first type of organizations is early adopters; not necessarily technology companies, but brands who realized earlier than some of their competitors that they needed to accept change and then address it. I am thinking of brands like Yahoo! or Bank of America, both of which Siegel+Gale had worked with for very many years. Yahoo!’s business was always built around consumers and advertisers, so the brand (especially in its early days) was in tune with audience expectations. By using the continuous feedback loop to constantly improve, Yahoo! led the category for a long time. It remains to be seen if Marissa Meyer can succeed transforming Yahoo! once again into a leadership brand. Bank of America is notable because for such a massive bank, it was quite nimble and responsive, quickly adjusting its approach to customer service to match the shift in consumer expectations. Customers can contact Bank of America through Twitter or use the call center.

The second type of organizations is start-ups. The entire brand is built around a social business proposition. One such brand is a recent client, called Beget, that uses the power of group buying to match individual preferences with the best possible hyper-local deals near where individual users live, work and play. Beget has constructed its internal organization and the external user experience around this hyper-local and social value proposition. The brand’s culture is nimble, iterative, listening and highly responsive and delivers the brand promise sought by overwhelmed users shying away from other online deal services.

PIVOT: What’s your secret recipe for making a brand stand out in an increasingly noisy social space?

TM: If we’d tell you it would no longer be secret, right? So instead let me share with you some of the key questions we commonly work through with brands, to help them stand out in the social space:

  1. What are the business or brand goals for the brand’s social media initiative?
  2. Who is the audience the brand is trying to connect with in a new, more frequent and deeper way?
  3. Where in the social media landscape is that audience already engaged?
  4. What interactions is the brand envisioning (awareness, promotions, service etc.)? What is the intended frequency?
  5. What resources does the brand have available to run this? Are they trained in social media?

PIVOT: Has the challenge of branding gotten harder or easier with the rise of social? How so?

TM: As I see it—both. Depending on the brand, its readiness, involvement and approach to audience engagement. For example, brands who prefer a guarded, “the less you say the better” and tightly controlled approach to external communications and interactions, the discipline of branding has become harder, as there simply is no rock big enough to hide underneath. On the flip-side, brands who long have taken a customer-first approach, who thrive on engagement, authenticity, communications, and frequency of audience interactions, there has never been a better time to be in branding.

PIVOT: When you design social experiences, what are the best things to keep in mind?

TM: There are 5 key points that we find essential to keep in mind in any social project we work on:

  1. Not all social media is equal: match the social platform(s) to the objective.
  2. Wherever a brand goes, the brands needs to be there with a purpose.
  3. It’s about engagement, not publishing: staff for frequency.
  4. It’s a process, not a project: try, measure, iterate.
  5. Always connect the dots, and focus on the total journey.
For more on this topic, follow Pivot on Google+. We’ll be posting live sessions from the conference there in coming weeks. For more on Siegel+Gale, visit their site here.

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