Deloitte’s recently released “American Pantry Study” confirmed what brand marketers have sensed for some time: The consumers lost to private label brands during the recession don’t seem to be coming back.
While the perceived higher quality of private label has contributed to this, more influential has been the dissipation of differentiation between major brands. If a shopper can't tell Brand A from Brand B, why should she think either is more worthy of her spend than a private label option?
Advertisers have always struggled to find (or invent) ways to set their brands apart from the competition. There’s nothing new about the idea that brands add value in the mind of the consumer through advertising. The whole notion of brand positioning in order to distinguish one brand from others pre-dates the private label threat.
What is new are some of the communications channels that are a growing part of the marketer’s arsenal. The biggest shift is, no surprise, brands participating in “conversations” with consumers on social media.
I’m not disputing the fact that when branded social media programs are done right, they can build affinity with different segments within a brand’s target. They can elicit a feeling of “This is a brand for people like me.” Branded social media can, in short, work.
A brilliant and timely tweet, or a superb social media promotion that engages millions of consumers with your brand, can definitely break through and connect in ways simply not possible with traditional advertising messages. I’ve seen social media campaigns have a strong amplifying effect on the dollars spent in traditional media, and I’ve seen social media campaigns help brands to rise from obscurity to fame.
But what I see more frequently is brands trying too hard to be current, straining to entertain. In doing so, they lose the distinctive personality and character that made them unique. Think about the people you know who think they are hilarious or always struggling to be agreeable and popular. Do you feel you know who they really are? Do you like spending time with them, or do you find them pointless and obnoxious?
Burger King got lots of reaction for offering a free Whopper to consumers who de-friended 10 Facebook friends. The negative backlash led to Facebook shutting down the campaign. What is it about Burger King or the Whopper that fits in with people shutting others out of their personal conversations? Nothing. It’s simply a case of a brand finding a way to get attention and testing the old axiom that no publicity is bad publicity.
Kmart, in a desperate bid to be noticed as it fought to turn its business around, developed a much-discussed video series featuring products that the chain would ship to you. The most viewed of these, “Ship My Pants,” got some 20 million YouTube views. Perhaps this risqué, juvenile image is what Kmart believed would see them into the future. It hasn’t worked as hoped, with revenues continuing to decline.
Forward-looking advertisers love the conversational opportunities that are inherent in Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and the potential to involve consumers with their brand with highly entertaining videos, contests, and other activities. But the obsession with attention grabbing and the real-time, reactive nature of many of these efforts are proving to be their downfall. As brands become more nimble, reactive, and clever, the identity of the brand itself is often lost in the conversation.
It’s not just about creating entertaining advertising, nor about participating in every conversation. It’s about standing for something clear and distinctive, and communicating that clearly and strategically. As long as every promotion, every tweet, and every post is motivated by that goal, your social media program will enhance your brand. If not, expect to say goodbye to more consumers – and maybe even your entire brand.