Imagine a car showroom in Mumbai with zero infrastructure or real estate rentals. Or an impromptu fashion show to unveil a freshly inspired designer line. Marketers now have the ability to create virtual versions of the real at less than a fraction of the cost.
There is little doubt that social networks have overtaken brand websites in getting consumers what they seek. The nature and depth of the interaction varies from person to person and from category to category. But brands that create the right social experience have gained enormously in terms of loyalty, endorsement and sales.
Little wonder that social media is on every marketer’s wish list. But its role is still loosely defined. While traditional media has well established metrics, social media is weighed by popular measures of success such as ‘likes’, posts or tweets instead of more important brand objectives. It is no surprise then that social experiences end up being one dimensional, undifferentiated from others and centered on familiar platforms to achieve familiar objectives.
|GETTING THE PLAN RIGHT
Dos and don’ts on social media
- Start with the marketing objective
- Understand the nature of the social relationship sought, is it superficial or ‘deep’?
- Keep the outcome in mind while devising social experiences
- Look for audience specific cues to micro target
- Use personal response to build commitment and loyalty
- Devise objectives based on the platform. For instance, likes on Facebook
- Assume consumers want a social relationship
- Expect the same experience to deliver across categories
- Fear addressing complaints personally
Understanding social media can be challenging. Different social experiences meet different marketing objectives. An experience that drives brand advocacy in one category simply creates awareness in another. An experience that encourages brand participation for one person does very little for someone else.
The right strategy is a must to navigate this complex environment and learn what social relationships can deliver for brands. Do they make people want to spend more time with the brand? Do they make them feel valued as customers? Or do they encourage people to recommend the brand to others? Besides understanding the social experience that users want, advertisers need to define the marketing value that these experiences can deliver to brands. Knowing the value of an experience means the marketer can build a social media strategy designed to meet a marketing objective, rather than starting with how to exploit an existing social platform. In short, this knowledge is vital to make social media a legitimate platform for brand development.
Socialisation of brands
Brands are the new friends on our Facebook pages. With online hangouts increasingly becoming the centre of the consumer’s social lives, their interaction with brands has increased in terms of the number of transactions as well as complexity. Like human relationships, the nature and intensity of brand relationships can vary. The consumers may seek only superficial relationships like expecting discount vouchers or accessing entertaining content or deep involvement like helping with product development or being part of a brand community.
The most common mistake advertisers make is to assume that consumers necessarily want a relationship with their brands. Instead they need to probe further and understand the kind of social relationship consumers seek. Such relationships can be superficial-for instance, ‘let me know when your product comes out’— or deep — for instance, ‘I want to play a role in developing products’. It is important to know where the brands stand on the relationship scale to make a fair estimate of the investment to be made when creating the social strategy. For example, computer software consumers are twice as likely to be interested in opportunities to learn something new about applications as in accessing sponsored events.
The journey of a consumer interaction can be divided into three broad stages: discovering the brand, taking action to acquire and use the brand, and finally, becoming part of the larger community of brand users who subscribe to the brand’s values and recommend the brand to others. Each of these stages is activated by distinct drivers.
All marketing activities including social experiences trigger one or more of these drivers. Integrating social experiences into the marketing plan allows advertisers to understand their relative value vis-a-vis other activities. The drivers that are used to define mass media communication objectives can also be used to identify social experiences that can be created.
One can then define the value of the social experiences in terms of their contribution in activating brand drivers.
Though all social experiences have some impact on the brand drivers, the impact varies significantly. It is therefore important to devise a social strategy based on those experiences that maximise returns on the desired drivers. For example, giving people access to news about a computer software brand drives awareness and education but little else. Discount vouchers stimulate transaction and trial but do little for the computer software brand elsewhere. When it comes to driving commitment and inducing consumers to find out more, one needs experiences that build deep relationships, like co-operating in the development new products.
A one-size-fits-all strategy doesn’t work for social experiences as category differences also influence the outcome. A social experience that delivers a certain outcome in one category may deliver a very different outcome in another. Each category has its unique dynamics, making it necessary to fine-tune the social experience.
For example, allowing consumers to help in product development in the computer software industry can help meet a variety of objectives like driving loyalty and inducing people to seek more information about the brand. But in the movie industry, the same activity can deliver awareness and education but not much more.
Knowing the value of social experiences allows advertisers to start with the objective and build a strategy from there. As the same objective cannot be fulfilled in the same way for every category, most of the social strategies that look similar today should in fact be different. For example, if our objective is to make people feel close to the company, there will be different ways to do it in each category.
Product development is the best route in computer software. Providing opportunities to build knowledge and skills can bring people closer to a fashion label. Easy access to content can increase the musician’s fan following and good service can impress customers in computer hardware.
Targeting is key
Data on social behaviour also helps advertisers find the key audiences in the online mass, their profiles and preferences. These insights can be used to tailor the brand communication to the requirement of the targets. Each consumer segment has distinct expectations which call for different sets of marketing activities.
While some companies see social media as an opportunity to use paid and owned media to drive earned media, many others don’t. Habituated to the controlled environment of traditional media like television and print they are still wary about social media and the lack of control of either the conversation or the content being shared about and around them. A natural fear of amplifying negative vibes around a brand is a concern. It takes only one negative comment to swell into a threat to a brand’s reputation. However, in reality, being open to complaints and personally responding to issues is the biggest opportunity that brands can get to connect with consumers. Customers feel valued even by a simple response to their concerns.
Social experiences though powerful need not be complicated. Even a response to complaints can drive more loyalty and advocacy than any rewards programme could.
More than ever before, advertisers need to know the value of social experiences in meeting their challenges. For this advertisers must stay continuously invested in understanding the fast changing dynamics of the social world. Experiences rooted in social media strategy that builds connections with the consumer as well as delivers value for the brand will surely result in a winning proposition for both.
The author is media director, Lodestar UM