Strengthening the brand with social media

Today, we have the means to measure a brand’s social vitality, providing an added dimension to insights on brand performance. But when we compare brands top-ranked by the new BrandZ™ Verve Index[1], representing a summary of positive brand experiences mentioned by the engaged audience on Twitter, against the BrandZ™ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands 2014 rankings, they do not correlate perfectly. Google, the most valuable brand in the world, actually plays second fiddle to Twitter in the Verve ranking.

The differences exist because of the unique way people behave on social media. Categories like sports, fashion, tech products and entertainment are well represented on Twitter because people prefer to tweet about them. Certain brands may be very strong relative to their competitors, yet rank low on the Verve Index because that category may just be discussed rarely on social media. Brand strength and marketing can help dial this up (such as with American Express and Visa), but ultimately people are usually less interested in tweeting about their bank than they are about lunch.

Second, the unusual tends to attract the most interest on social media. Consumers with strong views – the activists – tend to shout the loudest, and so are heard at the expense of the less engaged. At the same time, people experiencing positive day-to-day experiences with a brand tend not to mention them, whereas they may feel compelled to speak up for extreme positive or negative events. Any social media savvy consumer knows that tweeting a brand as soon as anything goes wrong often leads to a quick resolution of the problem, leading to a disproportionate number of social media messages on negative experiences.

Third, the biggest determinant of a brand’s social vitality, after allowing for category, is the consumer experience and the presence of third party communications, amplified by brand strength. We have found that three types of marketing impact social vitality most strongly:

  • Sponsorships of sports fields, event spaces or sports teams, like Adidas’ sponsorship of Manchester United;
  • Buzzworthy TV commercials, such as the National Council for Problem Gambling advertisement that went viral globally for correctly predicting Germany as the World Cup winner; and
  • Catchy social campaigns connecting branding to personal experience, like  Coke’s Happiness From the Skies campaign, which deployed drones in conjunction with the Singapore Kindness Movement to deliver Cokes and messages of appreciation to foreign workers in Singapore, or Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign, which became one of the most popular YouTube videos for the Asia Pacific region in 2013.

Brands in different categories should leverage social media differently for optimum effect:


Technology brands are divided by those that have strong consumer facing brands and businesses versus those that do not: Google, Apple, and Samsung all generate a lot of attention, far overshadowing brands like Cisco or Siemens. The successful brands are characterized by a large proportion of third-party communications, primarily driven by new product launches and to a lesser extent, corporate observations (including investments and litigation). A communications campaign could be considered here.

Developing meaningful consumer experiences can also help. For some brands with a variety of popular consumer products, consumer experience plays a role as well: people register their use of Google’s large portfolio of products around the globe, while brands such as Apple and Samsung also attract commentary on desirable mainstream products, as well as on more experimental efforts, like wearables.

Financial Services

Financial services is another category primarily driven by third-party communications — consumer facing experiential commentary is minimal. However, silence does not necessarily mean indifference and comments can hinder as well as help.

Distinct from the rest of the category, credit card brands American Express and Visa both had success with consumer campaigns that reiterated the “rewarding” promise of the cards that other brands could emulate. In particular, American Express led the way here, with #AmexSync and #PassionProject. These campaigns succeeded because they had not only a clear consumer incentive but also demonstrated the brand’s forward looking approach to changing media and technology habits. These brands also have some of the highest brand contribution scores in their category, suggesting that their performance in social media and their overall brand strength may have a symbiotic relationship.

Retail & Apparel

These categories are already highly experiential, and are often driven by in-store experiences or a coveted item. This familiarity can augment the brands’ profile with other items of interest: mentioning Ikea in a joke about Miley Cyrus gives it extra comic zing; or one might feel closer to a celebrity through her H&M endorsements. However, first-hand familiarity is two-edged as it can quickly turn negative when the news is bad.

Oil & Gas

From a social media perspective, oil and gas companies are an example of where brands have to work extra hard to make social into a beneficial influence on their brands. Consumer interest in “pumping petrol” tends to be relatively low, whilst criticism can be swift when there are environmental concerns. Nevertheless, because energy is a potentially emotive topic, social media can be used to enhance brands in this sector where there is a positive story to be told.

Social media instruments such as Verve can signal where consumer interest and engagement lies, showing us the texture of the consumer relationship to a brand, such as how celebrities can impact lifestyle brands, or where activism can shape perceptions of commodities. Such instruments go a long way towards offering a new dimension and level of accuracy to the science of brand measurement, and will offer the most in-depth insights when viewed in the larger context of other rankings in the long term.

[1] The BrandZ™ Verve Index, based on Millward Brown’s proprietary Verve Score methodology, represents a summary of positive brand experiences mentioned by the engaged audience on Twitter. The core data is taken from the tens of millions of global Twitter conversations about these brands. In essence, the Verve score is a measure of the number of mentions for a brand combined with the favorability of those mentions.

The writer is Priti Mehra, managing director, Millward Brown Singapore