I've been talking a lot lately about how to build great digital branding programs, and it's gotten me thinking about the best ones I've ever seen. Remember the Ford Explorer home page takeover on Yahoo from years ago, that actually shook the browser window as the truck drove across the screen? (It's so old I can't even find a screen shot of it online.) Apple reprised the idea for an iPod program about 18 months ago — as have many others — but the Ford one was both more amazing (I mean, the browser shook) and one of the first that really got people talking. It was incredibly bold in its creative execution but also in its media buy (while there's nothing special about buying home page advertising on the then-biggest website, just think about the monetary bet they put on that buy! It must've cost a fortune).
The Audi program that won a Forrester Groundswell Award last year was fantastic too — using a combination of online content and social media to raise awareness of the automaker's new A1 model. Why? It gave users a customized impression of the new brand (by letting them customize the car) and it was intelligently distributed through a huge number of social channels.
The Groundswell is now global. Social media has entered the mainstream in every single market Forrester regularly surveys — and in most of those markets, social media use is at 75% or higher. Australian, Japanese and Italian online users all show stronger adoption of social media than Americans do – and Chinese, Dutch and Swedish users have nearly pulled level with the Americans. And in 2010 Facebook reported that more than 70% of its active users were outside the US, while Twitter said more than 60% of its accounts come from outside the US.
The simple fact is that if your company has a social media program, that program is global — whether you want it to be or not. And this isn’t just a nuisance or a language issue. Failing to recognize the global nature of your social programs means you might be telling foreign users about products that aren’t available in their countries (for instance, Toyota UK reached more than 100 million people with a fantastic blogger outreach program for its iQ model; but it turns out that more than 95% of those people live in countries where the iQ isn’t for sale). Or you may be advertising discounts and promotions to which many users don’t have access (for instance, while Amazon’s Facebook page promoted a special price of $89 for the Kindle last November, a Kindle cost almost twice as much in the UK — and wasn’t available at all in most other markets). If you work in a regulated industry like financial services or pharmaceuticals, you risk running afoul of government regulators.