Will Your Brand Dissolve Into The Blob-o-Sphere?

[October 4, 2011] 

On an intuitive level, offline PR events and digital sharing/commentary make perfect partners. It’s a global kind of thinking that can yield solid brand-building results because it revolves around concrete experience. Done right, you can achieve a natural confluence between what’s real and what’s digital and add a degree of credibility to your oft-repeated claims of “value.”

In terms of the digital/social side of this relationship, integrated campaigns give the social component of your efforts the focus they would otherwise lack. Visit the majority of branded Facebook pages and witness the wall of sameness that greets you.

Without checking the logo, you’d never know whether the happy couple posing with a car wants to share a car experience, a travel experience—or model the clothes they bought for the trip. Asking consumers to ogle such a faceless array of jpeg+text pairs on Facebook gives them no reason not to buy Brand X.

As I see it, this lack of differentiation is a major obstacle to marketing effectively in social space—where the boundaries between the real and the promotional ooze and run together like colors on a tie-dyed T-shirt. And recent developments are blurring the line further. Now that mechanical “Like-ing” has become the point of entry for many online promotions, the value of consumer advocacy has been dangerously diluted.

Jody12 Likes the chance to win 1 million dollars.
In a practice analogous to the selling of indulgences in medieval Europe, businesses that demand this upfront payment in “Likes” are polluting their own promotional ecosystem. Do John and Jill like your brand or merely Like it to enter your sweepstakes? If your only business goal is a higher head count, you’re wasting the opportunity to gather real time impressions of your impact on consumer culture.

Complicating matters, the hive mentality engendered by social networking—the “John-likes-Jill’s-repost-of-Jerry’s-comment-on-Judy’s-vacation-pix :-)” phenomenon—has a splintering effect on online communication. So if your goal in social space is to make a specific point about your product and make it stick, you’re wasting your time. 

The most you can hope to achieve is an increase in good will toward your brand. In that sense, as I see it, social space is far more suited to reaffirming the brand loyalty you’ve earned than it is to acquiring new customers.

To do is to value.
That is, at least. if you do the bulk of your communication with words, jpegs and the occasional moving picture. Give visitors something to do in your social space and it’s much easier to shape the discussion.

Now, if you hold to the utopian belief in “post-interruptive consumer engagement,” I suppose any talk of discussion-shaping will rub you the wrong way. Me, I believe consumers are realists. They know that anytime a brand walks into a Facebook page the subtext is sales. Video? Sales. Game? Sales. Cause? Sales. It’s the only reason a business spends money on anything.

So unless you’re a time-traveller from the ’80s when “live stamps” and cheesy handwritten fonts were considered sure-fire conversion tools, you must realize that consumers already know what your branded Facebook page is for. Once they’re there, you need to structure the experience for them—or they’ll wonder why they bothered. After all—as cellphone companies rejoice every day—aimless blathering is already America’s favorite past time.

Of course, structure comes in all forms: A loose set of premises may be all you need. While some brands consistently launch total immersion experiences in Facebook, the success of such flash-rich environments is still dependent on whether the interactions they make deliver what your audience values.

Give them something concrete to tweet.
Which brings me to Wendy’s, whose current Facebook activity page links directly to the offline 26-city tour that currently promotes their eats. Unassuming in the extreme, it does one thing well, i.e., give fast-food fans who attend tour events the ability to post their pix, vids, tweets and so on into the night. 

It makes, in other words, a tangible connection, not to attributes associated with the brand, but with the brand as they experience it offline. As such, it successfully integrates the offline promotion with the features of digital space many people crave almost as much as red meat.

OK, so it’s not the alpha and omega of social marketing but, as I see it, by limiting the scope of the conversation to a real-time event, it gives the incessant flow of digital chatter a shape, a function and, as a by-product, a welcome dash of meaning. It also helps Wendy’s share of the social sharing market from dissolving into a blob-o-sphere of aimless, undifferentiated communication.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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