Brand building on social

Knocking over the current beliefs on audience growth, engagement KPIs and micro-targeting

‘Social media’s ability to drive short term business results has been proven beyond any doubt over the last few years. For many brands social is a tactical channel, good for driving short term spikes. Social has been and still is, a huge focus and many brands are now able to measure some form of tangible ROI from social.'

You can use social media to build a brand. There are a few requirements and rules to follow to make it a success. Perfectly captured by Callum McCahon, Strategy Director at Born Social. Callum has done his research and homework on how you can use social to build your brand. A shameless copy-paste-editing of his work, enriched with an interview. Callum is not only an expert, he is also a pretty awesome dude.


Callum McCahon, Strategy Director at Born Social
For whatever reason, the brand-building rules are usually ignored when it comes to social strategy. There is that curious belief we can't learn anything from the past 
Callum McCahon, Strategy Director at Born Social

Five rules of brand building

‘The tools for social might be different, yet in reality, it isn’t that new, shiny and different. The fundaments did not change. The ultimate job is to influence decision making. Take a long term view and set your strategy as the brand building doesn’t happen by accident.’


1. System 1 and system 2 - Daniel Kahneman in ‘Thinking fast and slow’

Our brains work in two different ways. 95% of the time we think fast, using system 1. Like being on autopilot, responding immediately and using instinct and intuition.

The other 5% we think slow, using system 2. when we have to stop and think to arrive at a rational decision. This is based on logic and takes effort. It is about rationality and reason. This is where the more rational campaigns work best: talking about a product, pricing, and reasons to believe. This is where the short term sales activation campaigns are the most effective.

Yet, if you want to build a brand, system 1 is the place to focus, where we spend the majority of our time. You want to influence this fast and automatic decision making.










2. The long and the short of it - Les Binet and Peter Field

Short term sales uplifts come from sales activation campaigns. These are rational and designed for immediate response. Short term sales uplifts don’t lead to long term growth. To build a brand for long term growth, you need to involve the creation of memory structures that prime consumers to want to choose your brand.

In short, long term brand building is to focus on the long term brand growth. This is done with brand-building campaigns. Designed to generate fame and prime us emotionally. Long term means long term, a matter of years, not months.





3. Cultural imprinting by Kevin Simler in ‘Ads don’t work that way’

In his article, Kevin makes the case that advertising doesn’t work through inception, by planting ideas in the subconscious. Advertising works through cultural imprinting. A shared understanding within a society, of what the brand means.

The mark of a strong brand is when everyone has the same understanding of what the brand means and what it stands for. In short, brand building has to work on building and reinforcing the collective understanding of the brand.

The catch is that this cannot be done on a one-to-one, personalized level, as everyone has to buy in on the same idea. Brand building is about building a collective understanding.


4 Growth through penetration by Byron Sharp in ‘How brands grow’

His book explains how advertising really works, by building a set of 7 rules about how brands can achieve growth. Two are important for social.

First, brand growth comes when you gain more buyers. Most of them are light buyers, who buy occasionally. Growth is not about getting your existing and loyal heavy buyers to buy more. Combine this with ‘growth comes through penetration’.

So, if you want to build a brand, you focus on reaching all the potential buyers in your category, continuously and in the most efficient way possible.





5. Be distinctive also by Byron Sharp in ‘How brands grow’

Second, be distinctive and to stay on top of mind. Distinctive brand assets are crucial to brand building and need to be reinforced time over time. Get noticed and do this consistently. In this way, you increase the mental availability of a brand, that the buyer actually thinks of your brand in buying situations. It takes years to build this recognition by being distinctive.

Being distinctive is more than your logo. It is your brand cues like color, the tagline of the specific style of advertising. Unique to your brand and famous to be linked to your brand.


Impact on current beliefs for social

Keeping these 5 rules for brand building in mind, the impact is huge on the current beliefs for social as a channel. From audience or follower metrics to engagement KPIs and micro-targeting beliefs. If you want to use social to grow your brand, a few pointers by Callum.


1. Audience growth doesn’t build brands

Applying the ‘brand growth by increasing penetration’ by Byron Sharp means to focus on reaching all the potential buyers in your category, not only the heavy ones. Yet, by nature of the characteristics of social, it is mainly the heavy buyers, or fans, that follow a brand. Meaning, if you want to grow your brand, you need to think beyond growing your followers. Focus on all your potential buyers in your category. Think broad and use the media budget for reach.

2. Engagement doesn’t build brands

The engagement rate is a common key metric on social. If you zoom out, think about who are the people who are most likely to engage. Your heavy buyers, your fans. And to actually engage, you can presume these are probably the heaviest of the heavy buyers.

Even Facebook doesn’t see the value of engagement as a key metric, based on research:

- less than 1% of people engage on Facebook. Most communication happens in the dark social

- engagement and clicks bear no correlation to brand metrics as recall, awareness or purchase intent. Just because something is engaging, it doesn’t mean it is effective.







3. Micro-targeting doesn’t build brands

Think about ‘cultural imprinting’, for a brand to grow, it needs to exist in the collective consciousness. All of the potential buyers need to have a shared understanding of what a brand means and stands for. Micro-targeting with personalized messages conflicts with building this shared understanding. Point made.


How to build a brand on social


The creative is not about the creativity and execution itself. It is about the right types of content. You need a threesome: fame builders a few times a year, short stories a couple of times a month and distinctive cues a couple of times a week.

Fame builder content. To build brand fame. By making work that creates an emotional reaction and touches your heart and soul. This is the ‘hero’ piece of creative. With your most effort, time and budget allocated. You need like once or twice a year. Make it outstanding. Relative long-form for social, optimized for full screen. This builds a collective understanding and reaching all your potential buyers.


Short stories.  Pretty self-explanatory. The objective is to tell a story. These work to reinforce brand fame, and integrate the distinctive brand assets. Short means short, like 10 to 15 seconds. Best produced in an integrated production with the fame builders. For alignment and for optimization on the production budget.


Distinctive brand cues. The goal is to keep your brand top of mind and foresting the mental shortcuts (in system 1). It takes creativity to balance the recognizable distinctive brand assets and be creative for social platforms. Notice these brand cues only work as a reminder and cues, if you have built the brand fame and short stories.





Pay to play. Organic is dead. Quoting Born Social 'media means first to make sure to reach most of the potential buyers in your category, at the right frequency at the right costs. Second, you need media to ensure that you are reaching these people in the right places in order to achieve maximum effectiveness.' For more media details, see Callums great deck, slide 27 and onwards. 



A no-brainer this is super important. Though, when it comes to social, most key metrics are very short term and campaign-only focussed. As a brand, you need to break out and keep the long term brand building metrics in your view. Track your metrics over a longer period of time and over several campaigns. This goes for your creative and for your media.






You can build a brand on social, if you understand the game, keep a long term view, and have a strategy and planning in place.

Amazing work on 'Brand building on social' by Callum of Born Social to bring the work of Kahneman, Les Binet, Peter Field, and Byron Sharp together and apply this to how brands are built on social. Please reach out to them for more information and how they maybe can help you. shout@bornsocial.co.uk or +44 (0)2033933290.

I am not affiliated with Born Social or Callum. Sharing this because this is too good not to share.



Keeping the 5 rules for brand building in mind, the impact is huge on the current beliefs for social as a channel. From audience or follower metrics to engagement KPIs and micro-targeting beliefs. If you want to use social to grow your brand, a few pointers by Callum.