Although personal branding is not a new concept it has become of such importance that by the end of 2010 all companies would have to have built a strategy of defining and defending their image. Your brand is your face and your competitive advantage. It is the first source of building relationships with customers and acquiring their loyalty. As we have seen, with the economic problems and the rise and acceptance of social media, personal business branding has become vital for the survival of any business. It has to stand out and to prove its exceptionality on a daily basis. Competition is not the only problem that managers are dealing with today. Instead of conducting the traditional transactions offline, now they have to retrain themselves and start to use social networks for business more often. Yet, this is a problem considering the fast pace of change in modern technologies which could be a barrier for some companies to enter with a high start into the 2010 reality. Social media have transformed from an entertainment tool for teenagers into huge money-making machines where everyone wants to be. Having said this, here are some of the branding trends to bear in mind for the upcoming 2010.
1. New content models are on the rise
A huge amount of valuable information is made freely available across the web. Thus, people are becoming much more reluctant to pay for content while they tend to build a certain loyalty towards those providing quality and free knowledge. A recent Forrester report showed that only 20% of the American population are still willing to pay for online content, and the amount they were ready to invest on average was around $3-$4. Thus, it will become of growing importance in 2010 that companies (of all sizes) build their personal brands through a different model, based on consumer demand, endless supply of content and free distribution systems. People will learn most about your brand if they have constant access to what they want provided by your business. Yet, as all would still aim to make money, the concept of Regular (free) and Premium (paid and more extensive) should be taken into consideration. Moreover, subscribing for either provides your company with detailed characteristics of your main customers making it much easier to tailor the subsequent content to their needs. (On a sidenote, News Corporation announced that all its media property will be blocked from Google spiders starting 2010.) As has already become evident, 2010 will be the year of a major content shift, new business models and the fall of many media properties. Therefore, you can profit from this change by transforming your corporation site into a media property.
2. The year of building lists
2010 will be the year of small businesses developing and building upon their lists, including email and blog subscribers, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, LinkedIn contacts, etc. A survey carried out by VerticalResponse Inc, states that 74% of small businesses plan to increase email marketing and 68% will increase social media marketing. More and more social media have become as important as any other conventional way of building lists of people interested in a product or service and then to transform them into loyal customers. 2010 will be marked by fierce competition between the rising online marketing specialists to utilize these tools by understanding how they can be used to support overall corporate efforts.
3. A saturated web
Having a web page for your business will no longer be enough in 2010. Now, the world is forcing every single person to have their own website. A lot of high level business managers and owners have long ignored the direct dependency of their brand on the success of their own personal image. In 2010 and beyond, everyone in every company (anyone with a pulse) will have a website. Right now, there are over 1.3 billion Internet users with over 200 million websites and a forecast of a 40, 000 fold increase in the next 15 years. There are incredible disadvantages in ignoring the explosions of websites and blogs, such as lack of online visibility in the online clutter. Next year, there will be a lot more websites because of this.
4. Reputation management fatigue
During the past years, progressive companies have begun to review how their brand has been accepted by the general public using different tools such as Google Alerts, Twitter and Backtype. However, in 2010 that will no longer be enough as more and more consumers are making decisions based on what they read online. This will lead businesses to set aside time daily (not weekly or monthly) to follow, review and analyze the comments made about their brands. According to Opinion Research Corporation more then 84% of Americans say that online reviews influence their purchases. However, as the net is becoming even more demanding, simple monitoring would not be sufficient either. Brands will be forced to react to brand mentions in order to prevent negative word of mouth. Those who spend more time protecting their online identities and reacting to the customers´ opinions will win out.
5. Transparency will rock your world, literally
2010 will reveal all the internal secrets of the company, hidden until now from the final client and there is very little that you would be able to do about it. As search engines are including social networks and status updates any mention of your company and activity will be accessible from just about everywhere on the web. This will bring as many benefits as threads. Every time you act on any social media it will appear on Google and other search engines, especially as now you have the opportunity to synchronize and change all your social network statuses at once. This is happening since it is a revenue stream for social networks and because the “real-time web” makes search engines more relevant to the end user. Therefore, when clients start to comment on your brand it will make the first page of the Google search results. This is a real thread and it will grow in 2010.
6. Brand realization
Many people, even managers, do not have a deep understanding of what their brand really is. What is happening is that your online audience is giving you feedback without you necessarily being conscious of it. For example, Twitter lists have highly personalized brand categories. If you have been rated as an influencer under a certain topic (¨real estate¨, for example) it gives you a very clear perspective of how you are branded. Customers are beginning to make categorization decisions based on two things – your online profile and your tweets. Once you are present in about a 100 lists you will have a very good knowledge of whether you are branding yourself properly or not. There are useful tools (such as www.mustexist.com) which automatically follow brand development and get feedback from the audiences if they are doing a good job.
7. The cream will rise to the top and niches are inevitable
This discussion began with competition and with how the free nature of content would rapidly destroy barriers to entry and create a business sphere of unlimited choices. Yet, it is also true that not all will succeed in positioning themselves to become mega brands. In 2010 those who will prosper will provide added value to their clients and thus, will prosper, while others will make less money and have fewer opportunities. As big brands do have a reputation and resources to maintain content creation and distribution it will be much harder to compete with them, thus, the real fight would be focused on niches and ¨hyper niches¨. The strategists will have to really narrow down the target market, analyze it and provide that added value for it in order to stand out and succeed.
8. The value of information will increase substantially
In order not to lose in 2010 you have to be on top of the information wave as far as your industry and the latest technological developments are concerned. Do you know what FourSquare.com is? If not, search Google. Are you reading a minimum of 20 articles or blogs daily? If not, chances are the competition is and they are already establishing a relationship with prominent bloggers and media which would then benefit their business, not yours. You will enter into the world of anxiety and failure in 2010 if you are not open to new trends and updated at all time. The business world is moving too fast and if you cannot keep up, then you are out of business.
9. The video and mobile scene catch fire
72% of US Internet users watch online videos monthly, states Lightspeed Research centre. Videos are the most powerful way to brand your company since it closes the gap between ¨knowing about someone¨ and actually ¨knowing someone¨. This is a concept often referred to as ¨trust building¨ which in turn results in customer loyalty. Text and audio messages do not have the same impact as videos do, which is why this sphere will grow dramatically in 2010. Moreover, about 607.5 million mobile users will be using social networks within less then 3 years. Thus, businesses have to concentrate now to provide websites which are more mobile friendly. It also implies that a big part of the branding and spreading of the world will happen on mobile devices directly – almost as good as calling all your thousands of clients at once.
10. You will be judged by your voice, not just your resume
2010 will also bring a decrease of the importance of your resume. The resume focuses on what you have accomplished in the past and demonstrates what you are capable of. Yet, next year it will not be powerful enough to build your brand as it has been for decades. In addition to all the work experience and the credibility that you have already established, your online conversations will also count. If you do not blog, or comment on blogs or at least constantly update your social network status, then your profile and brand will lose. It will be your opinions and ideas that people will want to know about in 2010, rather then only past projects as nowadays those get outdated very fast.
My publication in SCIBC Business Review