Branding, advertising and social media

There were two articles this week/month on social media advertising that did not seem to overlap per se but are related.

The first is in HBR, March 2016 issue titled “Branding in the Age of Social Media.” (here) This article suggests that companies have spent billions on trying to build out their brands using social media but most of the money and effort has been a waste. The basic idea idea is that branded content and sponsorships in the past used to work because there were limited channels of distribution for the content and therefore most consumers had limited choices and had to watch what was shoved into those channels.

Today, it’s a bit different. The mulitude of channels means that consumers can filter out ads, shape their own customized content flows and create their own flow of entertainment content–much of it created by their friends. Rather suddenly, brands no longer could command the audience. The article mentions that most heavily branded companies such as Coca-Cola command less viewership than two guys sitting on a couch narrating video games (“e-sports”). Now, brand must fit into the flow of either “amplified subcultures” (groups of people with more narrow interests) or “art worlds” where new creative breakthroughs occur. Either way, you have to fit in via cultural branding where you align the brand around the culture of people in those two areas. So the brand can be there but only in the context of say, for example, the subculture of people who do not like smelly socks that come from running 10 miles a day. You have to create a story about smelly socks and positioning your laundry detergent as part of addressing the smelly socks problem (I made up the smelly socks example).

You essentially align the product/brand around a more specific theme that resonates with the target audience. Because the specific themes are more narrow, the amount of creative customization increases.

This is not a new concept. The article is really just saying that you have to create content about your brand/product that aligns with you target audience and is delivered to them through the “channels” that they watch.

I was also scanning Bloomberg Businessweek and their article “If You Don’t Know It By Now You’ll Never Make Millions on Snapchat.” (here) It described the “snapchat” phenomena, with its rapid rise, as well the challenge many similar companies have on maintaining their user volumes. The biggest issue is that they need to generate revenue and Snapchat is considered “expensive” advertising with little insights into “returns.”  One of the strategies Snapchat has taken is to focus their sales time on helping customers create stories to fit into their Discover channels and Snapchat’s model of perishable content. Still, a slightly talented musician posting just his daily musings and activities garners more views than all the biggest networks combined, daily. Ouch!

But it is just another lesson in what we already knew.  Find the audience you want to reach, find out where their eyes are especially now that they more choices about how and where they engage, tailor your content with a message and delivery that will engage them to watch, take action or whatever. Segment, segment, segment…

That’s about it. So yes, branding (and really just general advertising) has changed. It has to be more clever/entertaining, more thoughful and more tailored to a smaller group. You cannot rely on a famous name to push your product alone and you cannot count on blanket reach to communicate.

So there is not really a lot of new news here, just a recognition that we as companies and marketers have to be more clever because the easy ways no longer work and it’s possible to get a huge ramp (given the viewing numbers) if we put that cleverness to work.

Perhaps the real news is that some people in their current jobs need to become more clever quickly or find some clever people to help them with their branding/marketing. What is wonderful at least to me, is that the volumes of eyeballs in some of these channels makes them worth paying attention to.

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