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How brands might infliuence the social web

September 3, 2009

In a presentation yesterday, Aki Spicer, a planner/social media dude from Fallon said this:

In lieu of prepared answers or anything authoritative, your audience may look to The Social for answers. Don’t leave it up to The Social to own the conversation about you.

I think this is a really important point, and one that I want to disassemble.

Lets take the first part: “In lieu of prepared answers or anything authoritative”. That statement impacts the advertising profession.

Mass Marketing used to offer these authoritative opinions about a brand. Ads said, either directly or indirectly, that a product did something for the end consumer (or target market, or person). In marketing, we call that the consumer benefit.

To understand this, take your typical bottle of Shampoo. The product benefit of Shampoo is that it cleans hair. But the consumer benefit might be: “Makes your hair shiny”.

The difference is the two things is this: a product benefit is something the category has. The consumer benefit is something the product has, and better yet, it gives someone a reason to buy.

At its best, advertising offers the reason to buy. But in this fragmented, hyper digital era we live in, there’s often a “…lieu of prepared answers or anything authoritative.” Ad budgets aren’t big enough to counter that “lieu”. And even if they were, it’s hard to get true mass anymore.

It’s not impossible. But it’s harder. So it happens a lot less.

In response, the audience is going to the web. And asking their networks for their prepared answers. “What shampoo do you use? Why do you like it?”

That’s the second part of the first sentence. As marketers, we don’t need to throw up our arms and say “Damn. We can’t influence the way we did before”, because we still can. People still watch TV. People still buy magazines. We can still think about how to market to people, we just have to learn to listen better.

So while Aki says: “Don’t leave it up to The Social to own the conversation about you”, I took this as a call to listen. Listen to what people are saying about the brand now, and then give them a mechanism to share your message.

I hasten to add another heavyweight social media dude to this post, for fear of just link baiting, but I want to credit him. David Armano says we need to design for participation. I suggest we need to design all communications for sharing.

Instead of thinking about product benefit, think about consumer benefits. Tell the stories of the consumer benefits, because that’s the content that will shared. And when someone gets into the question on their “The Social”, the consumer benefit might influence the conversation.

This used to happen at the water cooler. Now it’s happening on the wall at Facebook (and in many other places). The only real difference is now you can, if you want, hear those water cooler conversations. And decide strategies to influence them.

Everything is different. And yet, nothing really is.

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