If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.


[title quote attributed to Alexander Hamilton as well as Malcolm X in various forms, image bought from Shutterstock]

I’ve been trying to put my finger on the problem with so much of the social content brands put out into the world. Why does it seem so damned flat and soulless? Sure, they post the occasional uplifting quote I can get behind, but mostly I just skip over the rest. And it isn’t just that it’s too self-promotional (though much of it is “me me me”), it’s something more.

And then today it occurred to me:


The un-engaging stuff (pretty much everything else) just follows formulas and schedules and feels as alive as a silk plant. They get so close, but when you lean in to take a sniff, something is off.

But the stuff that we connect with, the stuff that makes us cheer and like and share and remember the brand, that stuff has a point of view. And that point of view is something WAY bigger than the brand.

Oreo‘s audience was merely humming along with their ‘cookies as a character’ campaign until one day, they posted this:


…and all hell broke lose. They chose a point of view that was both unpopular AND wildly popular.  They may have lost a few of their homophobic customers that day, but they gained a LOT of new (and renewed) customers who had long forgotten the brand.

And Coke, one of the most ‘liked’ brands on Facebook (baffling to me) has a dismally small amount of interactions with this type of post (which they do all too frequently):

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.43.33 PM

But when it comes to this type of post…their engagement blows through the roof:

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.45.10 PM441 likes/53 shares (small from an audience of nearly 75 MILLION) compared to 5,081 likes and 274 shares. (though still lower engagement than I Fucking Love Science, whose most popular posts get tens of thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of likes)

And though they aren’t my cup of tea (so to speak), Red Bull has a VERY strong point of view and has built an incredibly loyal audience (and business) from it. And it isn’t just about having a strong voice/tone. It’s about knowing who you are and not being afraid to stand up for something you believe in. Standing for something.

Because if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

And I see this happens to lost brands all of the time. You can smell a brand who is following a formula or just follows advice and ‘best practice’ guidelines. Their voice is forced and weak. They won’t take a position. They are afraid of what others think. They define themselves by what they ARE NOT, but refuse to own who they ARE.

One of my favorite people in the world, Nilofer Merchant, describes this in her concept of Onlyness. She describes it like this:

Each of us is standing in a spot no one else occupies. That unique viewpoint is born of our accumulated experience and perspective and our vision. This is your onlyness—the thing that only you can bring into a situation.

When you own that unique viewpoint, nobody can take it away from you. They can disagree. They can dislike it. But they can’t deny that you own that space. And what will surprise you is that you will find new allies when you own your onlyness.

But how do you figure it out? Is there an exercise? A set of steps? A workbook? A tool you can pay $24.95/month to figure out your onlyness? Can you hire a creative agency to craft it for you?

Nope. You have to do this work yourself. It’s your accumulated experience. It’s YOUR point of view. You can hire someone to help coach you towards it, but you can’t pay someone else to do it.

This is why, while social media gurus are a dime a dozen, social media is still so damned hard to do well. It’s not something you can outsource, automate, hire an intern to do for you or even get your marketing team to create a plan for.  If you are the founder or a senior team member, you need to be involved.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.30.16 AM

And for those of you who think this is lightweight and a waste of time? Keep trying all of that other stuff that isn’t working while you lose market share and talent to that other company whose success you can’t quite understand because your product is superior. I’ll bet if you look real close, you’ll smell something different. That’s the scent of onlyness. They stand for something. They know who they are. They haven’t read a best practices article in their lives because they don’t have to. They inherently know what to post and come up with great ways to connect beyond pushing out messages. They probably even like to hang out with one another on the weekends. And they don’t worry about who talks to the press, because everyone can articulate passionately what their brand stands for, who their customer is and why they love what they do. Nobody needs a laminated poster to remember the company’s core values.

If you want to keep copying companies with mediocre results to keep achieving mediocre-er results, go ahead. And by all means, read more articles by ‘social media gurus’ who haven’t ever built a community or a product. Continue to spend the time you need to figure out your onlyness on random useless noise making.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.31.36 AM

But you have a choice and it’s right there in front of you. You can stand for something. You can lead and be the example everyone wants to decode.

Be the case study, not the company that reads it.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: community, eMarketing, featured, marketing, social capital

Author:Tara Hunt

Strategist. Researcher. Interdisciplinarian. Founder, Lime Foundry + Buyosphere. Author, The Whuffie Factor. Speaker. Mother. Karaoke lover.


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

8 Comments on “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

  1. urskruz
    October 20, 2013 at 05:17 #

    Reblogged this on urskruz.

  2. October 20, 2013 at 20:43 #

    Fantastic post, Tara. I can think of some people who I will make read it.

  3. October 21, 2013 at 01:59 #

    Tara, since the examples you gave were of moral issues (Oreo, Coca-Cola) or lifestyle (Red Bull), I wonder whether some readers might assume that “taking a stand” requires taking a stand outside the company’s products and services. Oreo and Coca-Cola have no obvious connection with LGBT and gender issues, and Red Bull’s chosen association with daring and energetic activities is certainly consistent with the product but not exactly a slam dunk since one can easily be daring and energetic without needing an energy drink. For many other products and services, “taking a stand” need not require anything more than advocating an approach which the product/service supports. For instance, the company behind a cloud-based enterprise product might advocate that cloud is better than on-premise for their type of product, and that would qualify as taking a stand.

    • October 21, 2013 at 02:12 #

      Certainly some products lend to this naturally, but many don’t. In retrospect, I could have come up with more examples. Chipotle (sustainable farming) and Dove (real beauty) and Tom’s Shoes (charity) and Warby Parker (sustainable fashion + charity). The cloud example only goes so far. It works for Salesforce, for instance, because it’s leading the charge in getting companies to move to cloud-based SaaS, but just about everything is on the cloud now, so it’s limited. And then the ‘taking a stand’ has little to do with voice and meaning and more to do with selling a product.

      • October 21, 2013 at 03:53 #

        Yes, the cloud thing was just a made-up example. Dove is a much better example of where the position advocated has some connection to the product: use our product and look good in a “real” way. This also gets all the Dove employees, products, etc. to be in alignment with this stand, which is even more powerful than just the marketing. And as a consumer I see this connection too. I get suspicious when a company takes a moral stand that has nothing to do with the product: is it just a marketing ploy that’s no more genuine than a politician who takes a particular position simply because the pollsters say it will be popular? If the Coca-Cola company doesn’t walk the talk on gender equality, for instance, people will now notice that and quite reasonably give them a hard time.

  4. October 21, 2013 at 14:28 #

    Reblogged this on Tecnología y Práctica de Mercadeo and commented:
    De interés!

  5. October 25, 2013 at 17:50 #

    I had seen this post before but did not have time to read it thoroughly. Today, I did, and it was my time. Great post in every aspect. It makes the point ever so clearly that a little imagination and creativity increases interest in a product. Who strives to be noticed for the wrong reason?

  6. October 30, 2013 at 02:16 #

    Reblogged this on Little Fish and commented:
    Engaging content makes it bigger than just a brand


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63,438 other followers

%d bloggers like this: