How to Emulate the World’s Powerful Brands Using Social Media

By: Guest | February 1, 2011 | 

Natalie SissonNatalie Sisson is an intrepid traveler and Kiwi entrepreneur who currently lives out of a suitcase.

Don’t you just love to hate those big name brands who always seem to be getting right? You know the ones I’m referring to – The Apple gods, the addictive Starbucks and the sensual Victoria’s Secrets?

At the same time you have to love them because they’re doing a great job at furthering their brand reputation and personality. They’ve created a confident brand by simply knowing who they are, what they stand for and who their target market is. Because of this they then know what to deliver, what value to provide and how to do that.

Let’s take a look at some brand case studies that you can apply to your own marketing efforts using social media, a creative mind and a tiny budget!

Tw-eating Up Tasty Content

Whole Foods is the leading natural and organic food store in the world with nearly 300 locations in North America and the United Kingdom. They are the most popular retailer on Twitter and is a leading example of Twitter’s power to build millions of relationships a single customer at a time.

How do they do what they do?

  • Whole Foods curates their own content plus others!
  • They maintain over 200 Facebook Pages.
  • Manage more than 150 Twitter accounts.
  • They feed in fresh content, variety in the tone of posts, fun information and business updates.
  • They follow their ABCs on Twitter = authority, boundaries, and continuity.

Home is where the heart is

Home Depot uses social media to create lasting brand differentiation by:

  • Recapturing the attention of existing and “on the fence” customers.
  • Connecting with a completely new set of customers.
  • Engaging  associates in ways that are relevant to their lifestyles.

How did they do it?

The Home Depot used Twitter to be trusted, timely, relevant, accurate and appropriate. They also did the following:

  • Participate in online locations that aligned with their brand promise.
  • Started small but built over time.
  • Listened a lot, then tested and learned.

The results were that they created a face to match the brand and put down a building block for long term brand preference and a growing community that knows what the iconic orange apron represents.

Sharpen Your Tools

Sharpies (permanent markers) needed a brand boost.

Their goal was to use social media to increase brand loyalty and advocacy, plus:

  • Give Sharpie brand a “human” voice.
  • Showcase content from real users to inspire and encourage use.
  • Allow consumers to “see behind the curtain”.
  • Build community of Sharpie users, advocates and encourage their consumer input and dialogue as well as listen and learn.

How did they do it?

Sharpie found out who their loyal fans and fanatics were, then they sought them out. Smart yet simple right?

They looked at new media online including You Tube, Flickr, My Space, Facebook, personal websites and blogs. They also looked at traditional media like mags, newspapers, etc.

They then pulled together a blog strategy. They spent just under $2,000 on a WordPress theme, banner and WP guru to create their blog.  The results were a huge amount of hits, an increase in Twitter followers and YouTube channel views.

Sharpie’s key words of wisdom?

  • Listen and respond (talk with, not talk to).
  • Engage audience (tell readers what you’re doing and invite them to get involved).
  • Maintain integrity of the blog (never fake anything).
  • Demonstrate passion and authority.
  • Use lively, personal writing.
  • Offer something new and unique.
  • Link often, including to your competitors (give credit where due).
  • Acknowledge mistakes (You’ll be making them!)

To have a powerful brand remember it’s working out: the who, what, why and how. A powerful brand is the emotional connection that you make to your potential target market.

What these brands have done is to make their clients, customers and fans a part of their brand and allowed their brand to be defined, promoted and built on by their very community.

How can you start doing that today?

Natalie Sisson is an intrepid traveler and Kiwi entrepreneur who currently lives out of a suitcase. Over on her blog she’s intent on finding creative ways for you to run your business from anywhere using online tools, social media and outsourcing. She’s addicted to Ultimate Frisbee and Social Media. You can also find her at @womanzworld.

  • What a great piece! I love case studies like this as the takeaways are excellent: in particular I like the emphasis put on listening by these companies. Often smaller companies starting out just jump into the pond of social media and end up staying wet !

    We recently didn’t get an account with a prospect after the company decided to handle things “in House” for budgeting reasons. After they sent us their Facebook Page link and followed us on Twitter ten days ago I’ve been back to see how they’re doing. Typically they haven’t updated either since they launched their presence. Any momentum they gathered by reaching out to everyone in their community has been lost.

    If they’d listened to how other companies are using social media, maybe they would have gotten the idea more clearly.

  • Nice piece Natalie, to answer your question how I could start doing this today. I think the first step would be to assess what is being done. After that you can then decide what steps to take to get there. Certainly a worthy exercise that would most certainly result in abundant material for a blog post, but more importantly a much more successful effort in Social Media.

    What’s Ultimate Frisbee?

  • jelenawoehr

    This is a great post, Natalie! The thing I liked most was that you chose big brands, but their lessons are equally applicable even to sole proprietors building a personal brand. I’ll definitely be sharing this with the entrepreneurial writers I work with, who are using social media to self-promote.

  • steve_dodd

    Hi Natalie, this is a great post (and BTW, I love Ultimate Frisbee too, it’s great game). But, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were able to measure business impact? If so, can you share a bit more about that?

  • NatalieSisson

    @steve_dodd hey fellow Ultimate addict. Great that you play. Good question – I can definitely do some follow up research on their results.

  • NatalieSisson

    @jelenawoehr thanks so much. Yes I’m always conscious that we can learn from the best – both big and small and apply that to our own businesses. I believe Social Media gives us an even playing field in terms of the cost of entry to use these as amazing marketing, sales and customer service tools.

  • NatalieSisson

    @hackmanj Hey Joe. What is it? It’s only the best sport in the world with the coolest global community! It’s a fast paced sport similar to soccer, football and basketball all combined. 7 people on a field that’s 100m long and 30m wide who play for up to 1.5 hours running, sprinting, flying through the air, out jumping tall buildings – you know stuff like that. More info here

    My question was more posed at how can you start working on your brand attributes and messaging to really attract the right audience and cater to them specifically. I think asking your community and current fans is one of the best ways to get answers and take action.

  • NatalieSisson

    @jonbuscall I agree. It frustrates me when my clients initially say `we’re doing everything correctly, we post everyday about what we’re doing etc – then I go and look at what they;re doing and they’re just talking about themselves, not sharing useful info, asking questions and joining in the conversation. I wrote a piece on it here

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  • yarkhan

    Good Advice Natalie.
    Thing is, like some of the other readers said, clients are unwilling to adopt much that’s outside their comfort zone and pushing for that is half the challenge. Will you be doing a synopsis on “How PR and Marketing Affect the P&L and Balance Sheet”. Shoot me a line at and I’d be happy to share the link with fellow students at the MS Communications program at Northwestern.

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