There was a time when media companies--and by that I mean magazine and newspaper publishers--employed entire "reader services" departments for each publication. There, dedicated operators would answer readers’ questions via a 1-800 number about products seen in the magazine. Just as advertisements today would never forgo mentioning their Web site addresses, years ago advertisers would always identify their 1-800 numbers in campaigns. How else could consumers get in touch or know who to ask?
Now there are electronic robots scrolling Twitter and other social networking sites searching for brand mentions and customer concerns. Once a brand mention is found, a dedicated team of community managers is instantaneously alerted and go to work answering consumer questions or rewarding consumers for positive brand references via Twitter, e-mail, Facebook or other forms of social media. The distance between the seller and the buyer today is short.
It used to be that brands sought partnerships with publications to publicize their offerings, host events or write about their products. And many publications did and still do an excellent job at providing these services to help promote a company’s products to specialized audiences. However, the dynamics of buying and selling has shifted the power from the media over to the brand and consumer.
Now, in order to launch a new product, a brand needs to extend its identity in many more channels and to many more audiences. Thus in addition to promoting itself in worthy publications, a brand must have a strategic digital marketing strategy, a solid list of target--and often splintered--consumers, and a multitude of social networks to engage them. Many marketing activities are now direct-to-consumer instead of company-to-consumer. In fact, new research predicts that spending on Internet-based marketing is expected to overtake print ad budgets in 2010 for the first time. For these reasons, traditional media is now adapting to this new marketing reality.
Today’s savvy consumers will respond to a brand that speaks to a need they have identified, resonates with them on an emotional level, or solves a problem that they maybe didn’t even know existed. Brands today are actively harnessing social media platforms to create content and communities to find their brand loyalists or advocates. Once identified and engaged with, brand advocates do the marketing campaigns for them. These brand advocates might enter an online contest to help name a new product or create a new food flavor that then gets produced and distributed. They may select music they want to appear in a videogame. And they can decide to tell all of their friends and networks about how they have taken control of their brand relationships in this new marketing paradigm.
The new model of targeting brand ambassadors is about two-way, open, social engagement and not just top-down and inside-out pushing of products. It is as much from the outside in--from consumers back to the brand. While most brands are implementing social communications programs using one or two social platforms, only a handful are thinking holistically about managing communications across all media and touch points. The requirements are now to communicate who you are as a brand and what you stand for through social media in a far more consistent, strategic and global way. After all, unlike traditional media, online content and experiences are inherently open and accessible everywhere around the world.
Brand identity can’t afford to be lost in today’s intricate, fragmented and always-on marketplace. It demands social savvy we call “Social*ID” to coordinate communications across the breadth and depth of a brand’s social media engagement, no matter how fledgling or far-flung. This includes using traditional as well as new media or what we call “inline.” Those brands that embrace this holistic approach will reap the rewards of consumer loyalty, engagement and dialogue. Those that don’t will be the new social outcasts.
Harris Diamond, CEO of Weber Shandwick, Forbes. April 15, 2010
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