5 ways Social Media is changing branding forever

Brand managers: Social Media is here to stay. Deal with it.

Beg to Differ gets asked three related questions all the time: should brand managers really care about this Social Media thing? Isn’t it just a flavour-of-the-month fad? Does it really change anything in the branding universe? The answers: Yes. No. Oh merciful heavens: YES! Here’s why.

Sea change: just another great turning point (Turner's Trafalgar)
Sea change: just another great turning point (Turner's Trafalgar)

1) Push marketing is dead (along with the other P’s)

Remember the old “Four P’s of Marketing” – Product, price Promotion, doctor Price, and Placement? They’re dead. Or rather, they all still play a role in marketing, but the big assumption behind them is dead – what I call the “Silent Fifth P”: PUSH.

It’s just not enough to buy a gazillion dollar ad on the SuperBowl and just watch your earnings roll in (although to be fair, it never really was). With the massive proliferation of content sources and the corresponding death of the old “big media” model, you just have to work harder today than you ever did before.

The trick for brand managers: learn to stop pushing and start listening to the real owners of your brand: your customers.

2) The owners are speaking; can you hear them?

Last month, Senior VP of Marketing Clyde Tuggle summarized the big lesson learned from the New Coke fiasco 25 years ago: “You don’t own your brand; your customers do.” (Great summary here).

If that was true then (and it was), it is painfully obvious now, as the owners of your brand have a louder and more sophisticated voice than ever. And when things go wrong for a brand like Toyota or United Airlines, you don’t have time for old fashioned PR damage control: these bad vibes are travel at the speed of human thought.

The trick for brand managers: make sure you are using Social Media to build a) communities of support and b) the capability to respond.

3) Crowd-sourced creative is changing the game

There is a lot of hand-wringing in traditional advertising and design circles about this stuff – witness this blow-up from our favourite brand design blog Brand New or the comments on this 2009 Beg to Differ post.

The dirty word being used here is “spec work” – that is, companies that should be able to pay a professional to do this stuff are instead using contests or other means to get creative work from a broader range of players. And while I’m a big believer in paying people for a good day’s work, I also think that the debate sounds a bit too much like the music industry going after 12-year olds who download MP3’s. It kind of misses the point.

The trick for brand managers: how can you use the power of crowd-sourcing (without burning too many bridges)?

4)  Open-source branding will change research

But the idea of  crowd-sourcing goes way beyond getting a logo from 99designs.com. It is actually changing the raw DNA of brands by throwing open the gates of the branding process to all interested members of the brand’s audience.

It’s similar to the Open Source movement in software – except the “code” being exposed is the values, character, and passions of your customers for your brand. (Great summary from Ryan Anderson here).

A couple of recent examples: this Google research cleverly packaged as a YouTube viral video, the A Brand for London project, or Fluevog.

The trick for brand managers: how can you tie open source ideas into your brand management routines? (Hint: call these guys for ideas).

5)      Humility is sexy again

Have you noticed the new tone in advertising lately – led by the newly humbled auto industry? It seems like companies are racing each other to out-humble each other. And that can only be a good thing.

The trick for brand managers: maybe it’s time to stop telling your customers how great you are. It doesn’t work on a first date, and it certainly doesn’t work in a relationship. The alternative? In the immortal words of Otis Redding: Try a Little Tenderness.