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Friday, March 11, 2011

Whitepaper: What Happens When Facebook Trumps Your Brand Site?

Below is an interesting article that ran in AdAge last fall about a recent market trend where consumers are moving more and more towards social media and open platforms to discuss their affiliations and/or opinions around brands and products they utilize or have an affinity towards.   The article highlights the fact that traffic has shifted from the product and corporate marketing sites and moved onto the branded channels within sites like Facebook and MySpace.  A lot of this dynamic is a function of the increased investments by consumer marketers, especially the HBA and CPG brands, to accelerate their efforts, and thus marketing budgets, into the social media world.   Additionally, it is clear that the mass consumer truly perceives the social platforms as a casual and low risk way to interact in a friendly environment around their daily lives, without major disruption and/or risk.   What this translates to is users being more likely to engage around a brand of interest within their social environments, where there is not only a lower barrier to engage, but there is potentially socially redeeming value out of the interaction on these sites versus the corporate and marketing sites of yesteryear.  

The significant thing to note out of the study and data is the vast majority of the brands and products are mass market consumer packaged goods.   These are informal branded relationships and have more of a uncomplicated one-dimensional value between the brand and the consumer.   At the end of the day the value is actually spread to both parties, but on a totally different plane, where the consumer value is really socially oriented in building and developing their personal relationships, where the marketers actual value is around market knowledge, research, data, and creating more efficient ways to reach their audiences via paid media.  There are many benefits for the mass marketers to continue to 'go where the consumers are' and allow their customers to not only self-select, but to also engage in a perishable conversation around their brand affinity.   that being said, the article doesn't touch on the fact that the dark side to this story is when consumers leverage this same ecosystem to highlight their dissatisfaction with the brand or products, and though there are many players such as Microsoft and that are building rapid CS/CRM systems to support this shift, the risk is real.   Look at the recent Facebook fan page for Target and you can better understand and appreciate the crowd bulling that can happen when the message gets out of control in an environment like this. 

At the end of the day it is reasonable for brands such as Starbucks and McDonalds to build a strong social relationship with the mass consumer on these large social platforms.   These brands would love to be involved in the day (trusted) interaction with their friends and family, and want to be a part of the discussion, even if it is just a superficial relationship at best.   A brand marketer such as P&G with Pringles or Kraft with Jell-O or Oreos doesn't have depth to their relationship with their customers and is really looking for broad, but shallow associations.   The value of one person that buys chips or snack food is arguably as valuable as another person that buys snack foods, with very marginal differences in overall lifetime importance of each and every customer for these market segments.

What is missing is for all the other thousands of large brand marketers that are not on the top 10 list.   Though brands such as Nikon, Nike, Apple, Home Depot, Avon, Army, Visa, Rolex, BMW, Pottery Barn, etc... have a presence on Facebook, the value of their social media outlet existence, is limiting at best.   The idea of a one-to-one relationship in a high value, durable product group, or higher engagement/risk categories, is not only wildly cost prohibitive, but perhaps 100% impracticable to scale in a way that is sustainable.    

What this article has proven is brands have figured out that it isn't about getting consumers to come to you and building up a relationship by pulling them in, it is about pushing out into the market where the right consumers are engaged already and building a relationship where they already are engaged, loyal and trusting.   It is the same paradigms we saw when the Vertical Media Network businesses were starting to form at Adify in early 2009, but in this world the market economics have already been proven to be dramatically more favorable for all parties involved.     

This article has also reinforced the fact that we are not, based on the broadly accepted definition in the market, a social media solution.   Yes, we are enabling direct relationships between category influentials and the associated brands (this is small scale at best), but at our core we are not in existence to continue the development of the social relationships people have with their friends and partners.  We are not in existence to enable the daily lives and journal the thoughts and ideas people share within their social circle (note the recent important study out of HP Labs that says most social media is 100% perishable within hours of publishing).   We are building a long term framework that will string together the evergreen social trust relationships that exist between the influentials and their audiences, but we are much more trust brokers or enablers of a different type of social relationship that is founded on the content, opinions and ideas of the influentials.  

I would argue that the more we focus on social media as a definition of what we are, the more we are going to end up limiting what we are and what we solve.    I am not suggesting we need to change our go to market strategy or what we are saying in the market (I do think using Brand Safe Social Media is a good way to be tapped into the buzz around the space), I just suggest we need to remember that our primary mission isn't to encourage and empower the social relationships between friends and neighbors.  Our primary mission is to establish a fair and trusted relationship between brand marketers and online category influentials in order to enable the sharing of trust between the brand and the influentials audience.   This is really important as we are working internally, looking at the market, understanding how it is operating, and where we are going to add the most value that has the highest returns. 

Maybe this is overly simplistic in how we would differentiate ourselves, but being a vertical trust broker is much more descriptive of what we are doing than a social media platform.

Just a few thoughts I thought I would share.

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