Let freedom ring: How digital policies enable and inspire the people who represent your brand to the world

If you’re responsible for digital governance at your organization, pay close attention to case studies of companies like Nike and Intel to learn how digital policies can be used to support, encourage, and inspire digital workers

Kristina Podnar
October 25, 2018

If you’re even peripherally involved in marketing, you know how incredibly hard it is to gain audience attention in 2018. Just take a look at these statistics:

  • More than 50 million businesses have a Facebook business page
  • 94% of B2B organizations use LinkedIn for content publication and distribution
  • There are over $25 million business profiles on Instagram
  • A quarter of U.S.marketers run video ads on Twitter

And that’s not counting the millions of personal updates posted each day.

So it’s no surprise that businesses are always looking for a way to stand out from the crowd. Sometimes, that means being bold enough to do something no one else has done before...something that will shock or surprise your audience and create a social media buzz.

It’s not hard to come up with daring, expectation-smashing ideas. Simply taking a glance at trending Twitter hashtags can provide you with all kinds of inspiration. But then you run in the ever-present, self-preservation speed bump of, “Should we?”

If you’re lucky, you’ll find the answer to that question in your digital policies.

Digital policies let you push the envelope

You can’t push the envelope if you don’t have one! Without guardrails that tell you what you can and can’t do, marketers tend to keep doing the same old thing for fear of getting their wrists slapped for trying something different. Digital policies, on the other hand, can motivate you to see just how far you can push the boundaries without breaking them.

Need an example? There’s none better than Nike.

Nike and Colin Kaepernick  

Nike’s new ad campaign featuring former NFL player Colin Kaepernick rocked the worlds of both advertising and social media. Taking a stand on a topic that had created such vitriol on both sides was a risky move. And the backlash was immediate: Twitter went into a frenzy, with many people declaring that they would boycott Nike and burn or throw away any Nike gear they already owned. Some even posted videos of themself doing just that.

The intensity of those reactions led a lot of people in the marketing world to wonder what the heck they were thinking (as well as how they ever got that campaign approved!). I think I can answer that. While I’m not privy to all of Nike’s policies, I do know that they have a style guide for their football brand, and one of the top commandments is, “Be big, expressive, unapologetic.” So their digital policy -- as it relates to football, at least -- not only allowsrisk-taking; it encourages it. Nobody needed to get permission; they already had it.

As risky as it was, their bold move soon proved to be a smart one. The company has sold 61% more merchandise since the campaign launched. Merchandise discounts are down (which means they aren’t having to cut prices to get rid of excess merchandise), and the share price of Nike stock even got a nice little bump.

Moreover, take a look at these stats:

  • In the first hours after the campaign launched, Nike received more than $43 million worth of media exposure.
  • Also in the first 24 hours, Nike was mentioned 2.7 million times on social media, representing an increase of 1400% over the previous day.
  • In the first 72 hours, Nike received more than 5.2 social media mentions.

While I know it’s a cliche, you just can’t buy that kind of publicity!

However, it doesn’t take a campaign shocking enough to blow up social media to demonstrate how digital policies provide freedom rather than constraint. Intel marketer Scott Rosenberg wrote an article for the American Marketing Association in which he described how Intel not only implemented digital policies, but evangelized them in a way that inspired marketers throughout the organization. How? They transformed the organization’s marketing activities from something that resembled herding cats to targeted processes more along the lines of nurturing jaguars.

Just what did Intel do?

To start with, they got rid of the dead wood by setting criteria with which to evaluate their many types of content, and they dropped any content initiatives that didn’t meet them.

They also used those criteria to make sure that, going forward, all content being produced would be directly and clearly linked to business initiatives. That produced a few immediate results:

  • It freed up key talent to focus their efforts where they would have the biggest impact.
  • Digital workers who had been feeling like they were creating content just to throw it into the abyss were infused with new enthusiasm, knowing that their content actually mattered. No more fluff pieces that just took up space without making a difference!
  • It greatly reduced the post-production approval process. Digital workers knew what goals the content had to meet before they produced it, so they wasted much less time producing content that would never see the light of day.

Then, inspired by Lisa Welchman, author of Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design, Rosenberg took the next step: an extreme makeover for the image of digital governance. He and his team didn’t see digital governance as imposing rules; they saw it as providing support and enabling success, and they wanted the rest of the company to see it the same way. One of their main goals, for example, was to reduce boredom and anxiety and increase engagement by making sure all digital workers knew exactly what their work was supposed to accomplish, as well as why that goal was important. Making sure that employees knew their work mattered was encoded into their digital policies.

Intel’s over-the-top change management process for digital policies included things like:

  • Making sure talent and technologies were being used effectively.
  • Reassuring marketers that adhering to digital policies meant they didn’t have to spend time worrying about things like privacy, security, legal and regulatory issues, etc.
  • Enabling digital workers to focus on creating spectacular campaigns and customer experiences by eliminating the need to worry about things like evaluating the best channels, researching risks and best practices, etc.
  • Separating content decisions from the creator’s emotional investment by using clear, objective criteria.
  • Championing the “One Intel” tagline to keep everyone focused, first and only, on the customer experience.
  • Presenting the digital governance team as consultants rather than enforcers.
  • Giving digital workers a central resource for new technologies, current trends, best practices, etc.

While Nike’s approach to digital governance for their football brand was to inspire digital workers to be bold, creative, and aggressive -- and to not be afraid of taking risks -- Intel used digital governance to replace creativity-killing chaos with order and structure. By eliminating the need for front-line digital workers to spend time on necessary (but rote and repetitive) tasks, they freed them up to focus all of their talents and energies on creating the very best brand experience for Intel’s customers.

Conclusion: Digital policies should be a resource, not a constraint

Sure, some companies take a heavy-handed approach to digital policies and end up hobbling their employees. But that’s not how it’s supposed to be. If you’re responsible for digital governance at your organization, pay close attention to case studies of companies like Nike and Intel to learn how digital policies can be used to support, encourage, and inspire digital workers by giving them the freedom to do what they do best: represent your brand to the world.

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