Building a Brand with a Social Heart

By Saadia Muzaffar

I had the great opportunity to attend Interactive Advertising Bureau’s intensive course on Social Media Marketing recently – and even for someone who’s intimately aware of the realm, it was still full of pertinent insights. The course was delivered by Ryan Wolman of the famed henderson bas kohn – Canada’s leading interactive agency. Wolman is the Creative Director at HBK, having overseen accounts for Tim Hortons, Coca-Cola, Molson, Nintendo, eBay, and LG.

One of the key concepts the course drove home was the true definition of a ‘Social Brand’. Wolman argued that we need a mid-shift in how we approach branding in today’s environment. It is counterintuitive to tack on a ‘social’ spin on to a brand that was conceived in a traditional manner. Great social brands have an inherent message that defines them in the consumer minds. For example, Tim Hortons has built a great social message into all of their messaging. When you think of Tim Hortons, you think of hockey, of Canadiana. The message is consistent across all media and all channels. Their print echoes their TV spots which echo their commitment to all things Canadian. The hallmark of a solid, well-thought out social brand is that its consumers become followers, they create permissibility for actions that would garner severe penalties for a ‘corporate’ brand. For example, for a number of years, Tim Hortons was owned by Wendy’s, a US chain. Shouldn’t that have been problematic for someone touting themselves as a purveyor of Canadian identity? But the loyalty built by Tim Hortons is so strong that people ignored the fact that the parent company was not from the land the brand champions.


In today’s competitive world, everyone’s a in a tizzy to create a Facebook page and check off the ‘we are social’ box on their lists. But today’s consumers are savvy and cynical, appetites are fickle, and a bolt-on digital/social branding attempt will most certainly not have the impact a well thought-out, socially conceptualized brand will. Whether you are a start-up or an established business, marketing to the masses or to a very small niche, it’s time you seek clarity in what will make your brand matter to consumers, what will create unswaying loyalty. That identity needs to go beyond the product features page in your catalogue. To see a great social brand in action, try going to Tim Hortons’ Facebook page and writing “What’s the big deal? It’s just a cup of coffee!” and witness the onslaught of followers who will zealously defend the merits of why Tim Hortons is so much more than a mere cup of coffee to them.

Saadia Muzzafar joins the RIC team as the Operations Coordinator responsible for building and execution of activities that fulfill RICC’s mandate. She brings several years of relationship management, corporate communications and operations experience mainly from the financial services industry.

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