Thursday, June 12, 2008

Should “Tony the Tiger” Use Twitter?


Tony the Tiger, Ronald McDonald, the Jolly Green Giant – all are part the pantheon of famous characters that have helped companies personalize their brands over the years.

Today, through the power of social media, employees from rank and file to management are also getting into the act of helping to build more informal, more personal relationships with their customers.

Consider Twitter.

Now I have a confession. I follow others on Twitter, and others follow me, but I have to admit I have been slow to embrace this technology and the 140 characters it provides per posting.

But I have gained a new perspective after talking to Dave Eckoff the other day. He is a Twitter enthusiast.

He told me about Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Hsieh is an avid Twitter fan. His tweets have gotten a lot of recognition form bloggers like David Armano.

In another interview with Toby Bloomberg, Hsieh revealed that over 300 of his employees are using Twitter. His primary goal: “Our main motivation for getting our employees to join Twitter was to help improve our company culture.”

Hsieh told Tim Brunelle, “We’re interested in forming lifelong, meaningful relationships with our customers, so the more engaged our customers are, the more likely that will happen.”

And then there is Jim Long founder of Verge New Media and a television cameraman for NBC News who tweets regularly about life on the frontline covering breaking news.

So popular are his tweets that Connie Reece commented on his blog that his use of Twitter motivated her to start watching Meet the Press – a welcomed response for the network news executives who continue to experience declining viewership.

And finally there is the example of Comcast and Frank Eliason from Comcast Customer Outreach who uses it as a touch point to assist customers.

Rethinking Traditional Brand Strategies

Traditional advertisers could learn a thing or two from Tony Hsieh, Jim Long and Frank Eliason.

It occurred to me that what is good for CEOs, cameramen and service reps could also be true for company mascots or spokescharacters. If Twitter can take companies to the next level of customer interaction, maybe it can inspire brand managers to make their characters and products more engaging.

Maybe it’s time for these advertising icons to enter the social media age and start microblogging.

Now I was reminded that character or fake (depending upon your perspective) blogs have been the subject of much controversy. But maybe it’s time to revisit the topic in light of the customers-as-friends phenomenon made popular through social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.

In addition, there was a story in the New York Times this week on how companies are updating their characters to appeal to today’s Internet savvy generation.

Imagine getting regular Twitter updates from:

The Jolly Green Giant who can share nutritional information and the challenges of being too tall particularly when sitting in coach on airplanes

Or Pop ‘N’ Fresh – the Pillsbury Doughboy – who can discuss recipe ideas and his feelings about being regularly poked in the stomach

Too much information? Perhaps, but putting aside Tony the Tiger’s possible use of Twitter, social media has important implications for brands.

It comes down to brand integrity. While social media helps build stronger connections and extends the brand, it can also tie specific individuals to products and companies. The challenge of course is determining how close that relationship should be. What happens if that individual leaves the company? It is not as simple as starting a new ad campaign. Customers will have invested in this individual, and it may be disruptive to the brand experience.

Of course, advertisers face similar brand challenges when companies end relationships with celebrities and athletes who endorse their products. Customers can make the transition, but in the case of social media you want to avoid having the employees become larger than the brands that employ them.

Food for thought as you eat your morning cereal and read on Twitter tales of that silly Rabbit and what he really thinks when he can’t get hold of that box of Trix.

Let me get back to you.

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Posted by Dan Greenfield in 14:37:00 | Permalink | Comments (8)