The To Do's and the To Don'ts of Brand Engagement

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 The many faces of customer/brand value exchange enthusiast Troy Hitch

Brand engagement: When it's good, it's like cold lemonade on a hot day—exactly what you want and totally refreshing. But when it's blah? You might as well not have bothered. No one wants warm lemonade.

Genuine connections are what it's all about when it comes to the customer/brand value exchange, a topic close to the heart of Troy Hitch, SVP and executive creative director at Energy BBDO and Xi Chicago, and one of the mad brains behind the Webby Award winning Web series “You Suck at Photoshop.”

“It's about the balance of relevance to realism,” Hitch says. “You are a brand. You are a detergent or a delicious cookie snack. That doesn't automatically also make you a social activist, for example.”

In other words, do ‘dunk in the dark' à la Oreo; don't make incendiary and uncomfortable comments about the Arab Spring à la Kenneth Cole. But if you're shoe brand TOMS, which also donates glasses to people in third-world nations, then it makes sense to join a conversation about social activism. Just be smart.

And now some practical rules of thumb from Hitch, who's worked on everything from Bayer, SC Johnson, Frito-Lay, and Procter & Gamble to Exxon, Swiffer, and Impact Autism:

DO be authentic: “But be prepared for what that means. It's one of the things brands underestimate gravely and often. Once you start that relationship with the consumer, it's hard to back out of it.”

DO have a quick and nimble legal process in place: “It's the only way you can survive out there today. You can't gate check with social media or go through the ‘normal' processes. That's the big takeaway here; if you're going to leverage social, it requires a whole new process and brands have to figure out what that's going to mean for them.”

DO use social media like social media and not like advertising. “A post on Facebook shouldn't be subject to the same scrutiny as an ad. You can tell when a Facebook Wall feels like an actual living, breathing entity is engaging with consumers versus when it's a dumping ground for ad communications.”

And now for the fun part; what you shouldn't do:

DON'T drink you own Kool-Aid: “And don't get swept up in your own idea of your brand and what you think it means. Listen to consumers; they'll tell you what your brand means and what it's worth.”

DON'T get your head over your skis with your content: “Be relevant, but realistic. Have an impact, but make sure it's sustainable. You need to bring real conversation and make sure it's close enough to home and where the brand has a right to be. Don't overextend yourself.”

And lastly:

DON'T think you'll get results as quickly as you expect them: “Social is a medium that's different than other advertising mediums—you have to be willing to make a long-term investment. It's all relative, of course, but your value to customers and, ultimately, their value to your brand is going to aggregate over time. That's what a relationship is all about.”

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Founded in September 2009, Stirista is an integrated marketing agency that specializes in ...