How do you make a 130 year-old brand relevant for the digital age? That’s the challenge facing Nick Harris, Director of Digital Marketing & Strategic Alliances for Benjamin Moore, the venerable paint company. “From a brand perspective, you always struggle with new technology,” he says. Will emerging channels confuse or dilute the brand? How do you position yourself? And will it actually drive sales? But the importance of diving into social media was clear: “The conversation was already happening in those channels, and you just have to be authentic and real.”
The key to social media success, Harris believes, starts with the right team. “We hire people who understand the human condition,” he says. That means focusing on what customers are truly interested in. “We have to be helpful, and be there for what the customer needs. You can’t just do a ‘Hey, we’re on Facebook – ta-da!’ You have to offer something they’re not getting anywhere else. They might say, ‘Help me – I was thinking about doing this color gray, and what do you think?’ We take it incredibly seriously and they get a genuine answer from Benjamin Moore.”
Harris, whom I will be interviewing at the BusinessNext Social conference in Las Vegas next month, also advocates segmenting social media channels based on who is using them – and how. “Facebook has always been our centerpiece,” he says, drawing an audience representative of their core customer (females aged 35-55). “It’s had amazing results for us, lots of social traffic, and it’s a great place to listen.” Through that listening, Benjamin Moore’s social team has been able to pick up on popular buzz, learn which colors are trending, and act on that intelligence (Revere Pewter, for mysterious reasons, was a recent hit). He’s found that Twitter, on the other hand, “skews more professional – architects, designers” and uses it as a vehicle for transmitting breaking news.
It’s also critical to explore new online possibilities. “With Pinterest [and its visual focus], it’s almost like it was made for Benjamin Moore,” he says. In general, “You need a curiosity about all these new channels. We try to look at them and ask, ‘Do they really help further our relationship with existing customers or grow relationships with users we’d like to talk to?’” And the rise of smartphones and tablets looms large. “Mobile is constantly on our minds,” says Harris. “We’re very mindful of using social to connect people to the purchase path, and apps and mobile will play a significant role in that. You can haul out your phone while you’re on your deck, and there’s an opportunity in that moment.”
The world of social media is dogged by questions about return on investment and whether companies are getting their money’s worth. For Harris, results are critical, but he believes an obsessive focus on metrics is a distraction. In a similar example, he asks, “What’s the ROI of a cellphone? You know it has to have one, but it’s hard to quantify. We believe social amplifies everything we do; it’s like adding steroids and allows us to have campaigns work harder for us.” That’s particularly important because the average person paints only every two years. “In the 2 or 2 ½ years between painting events, there’s a lot that can go right or wrong,” he says. “Social is retentive and attentive” – meaning that Benjamin Moore can keep customers engaged and the brand top-of-mind when it’s time to buy again.
Unlike many large companies, Benjamin Moore keeps its social media efforts in-house. “I’ll tell any company: do it yourself,” he advises. “The learning is so rich; you can learn what the brand is really about. You can see things through the eyes of your customer.” Building a team in-house can be a challenge, however. “Social media may be more expensive” than traditional advertising, Harris admits. “There’s content to create or co-create, and that doesn’t happen without people. You have to invest there.” But the results for Benjamin Moore have clearly been worth it.
How is your brand succeeding in social media? What are your best practices?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on December 10, 2012.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.