The purpose of this blog is to present, refine, and advance a sensible and specific point-of-view about the best way for brands to take advantage of social media.
It’s useful to start by defining what a Brand really is.
Brand = Collective Emotional Response
A “Brand” is a kind of collective emotional response to something you can buy or otherwise benefit from your active participation. I’ve always liked this definition, in large part because it tends to shift people’s attention from their logo or print ad to something out there, in the hearts and minds of people we need to do something for us to make money.
Logos and print ads are comparatively easy, cheap and quick. But conceiving, nurturing and harvesting a collective emotional response in the real world takes time and persistence. It requires singular vision, tenacity, and iterative refinement. When successful, it creates an asset that endures over time.
Viewed through this lens, the massive potential of social media to engage, build and leverage a brand comes into focus. Where web sites are the print ads and (increasingly) TV spots of the digital age, social media has no analog in meatspace. There’s never been a way to touch individual people so directly, interactively and at such a scale as is now possible through active participation in social networking – initially in dedicated destination sites, but increasingly as a distributed feature across the web.
The impact of this shift on the art and science of marketing cannot be overstated.
Marketing = Scale + Mediocrity
Let’s face it folks… marketing has become what HR used to be, before somebody figured out we were spending more money on people than on anything else. It’s the place where arty intellectuals can travel, interact with like-minded pretty faces over cocktails, and hide from the accountability that has transformed every other corner of the 21st century corporation. Most marketing people are mediocre. Most marketing is the sexy part of sales without the pesky accountability, and it is worthless. Harsh, perhaps, but you know it’s true.
How did it come to this?
Modern marketing came about in an industrial age, when economic value was realized in economies of scale. If you could make a nickel on a cupie doll, you could make $100,000 on a million identical cupie dolls, as manufacturing technology drove your unit cost of production and distribution downward. The key to realizing this compelling alchemy was to get a million people to want the same thing, and modern advertising was born.
Needing first to grasp what had happened (and later to legitimize themselves) enterprising ad and media execs created the language and metrics of mass marketing. They distanced themselves from the responsibility for garish “sales” to refocus on things that “really mattered” – reach, frequency, cost per thousand – which also happened to be the things they could control. Budgets swelled, tipples tipped, and life was good for the marketing man (and he was a man back then.)
Fifty years on, the world has changed. Economic value is no longer locked in the factors of production, which have been commoditized by globalization and the relentless progress of industrial age technology. The reputation and clout of marketing people has waned. In bad times they are among the first to go; in good times their precious perks have been pruned. Our newspapers lament the dearth of US-born engineering majors at American universities, implying without subtlety that to raise a nation of “marketing people” is to cede our economic, cultural and military dominance to the populous and industrious East.
It needn’t continue to be this way. In its darkest hour the marketing function has an opportunity for redemption, brought about by the dawn of social media.
Social media presents the path of Marketing back to respectability. It is the path back to responsibility for actual Sales; to being the people within a company who truly understand the who, what, where and why of current and prospective customers. It presents an opportunity for direct access to the people outside the company whom we now know control its brand, its fortune, and its fate.
Social Media = Scalable Intimacy
Social media is not about CPM. It is about investing in relationships that create more measureable economic value than they cost. It is about engaging with the individual people who collectively decide whether to buy or not buy your product, like it or dislike it, recommend it or trash it, shape it or ignore it.
Marketing has been something you could do in a dark room by yourself and feel good about. Social media brings with it all the uncertainty and challenge of real human contact, but it’s a lot more real and a lot more satisfying.
It’s time to embrace the potential of social media to provide scalable intimacy to companies who need it desperately right now, and this blog is about doing exactly that.