Consultant: Social Media Has A Price

by , Jan 29, 2009, 7:45 AM
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Trends in Branding 2009 homepageSan Francisco-based consultancy SALT Branding has released "Trends in Branding 2009", a review of "some of the opportunities and threats facing businesses and brands in the immediate future."

SALT starts by advising brands to "stay on brand" in order to survive during a recession: "Tough times call for tough actions, but don't lose sight of who you are."

Citing Twitter as an example of a brand that emerged into the public consciousness in the 2008 recession while such established brands as Circuit City, Lehman Brothers and Aloha Airlines headed in the opposite direction, SALT nonetheless cautions other brands that "befriending" customers on social networks like Twitter and Facebook "has a price." That price includes providing consumers with financial discounts, inside information, sneak previews, competitions or incentives. The question brands need to ask about that price, SALT declares, is: "How high is it?"

SALT cites Mercedes-Benz as a brand that has succeeded in the social networking space by creating its own Generation Benz social network "to target prospective customers and learn what they value."

Social networks are also a leading player in what SALT terms the "engagement train," or allowing consumers to "sit in the driver's seat." This, too, has its potential costs, such as Chevy's user-generated video concept bringing much negative response to the brand. But SALT cites Dell's IdeaStorm and StudioStorm as two sites that have successfully invited consumers to act as "brand advisors."

Mobile phones are another technological harbinger for 2009, with SALT saying they "could be the best direct marketing tool ever invented.... What's happening now is changing not how we use the phone, but how it can use us." The report is particularly keen on mobile couponing ("imagine driving past a coffee shop and receiving a coupon for a free pastry with the purchase of a latté"). SALT cites Crunch Gyms, which used outdoor billboards to encourage viewers to snap photos of the ad from their camera phones and then bring the photo to the gym for a free guest pass.

"The next wave in mobile couponing," the report continues, "will encourage customers to scan product barcodes and receive offers directly at the point of purchase."

SALT also predicts that 2009 will see more numerical and alphanumerical brand names, as Xbox 360 has already proven successful. "We are simply running out of available, real words and the legal ability to use them," the report states, and numbers provide "increased potential for trademark and URL availability."

Brand names get trademarked, of course, but increasingly so do "unconventional new types of intellectual property, like shapes, scents and sounds," according to SALT, which points out that a record 401,000 trademarks were issued in 2008. "Expect the significant capital and resources invested annually in defending existing assets to increase," the consultancy says, because "protecting valuable trademarks is cheaper than creating new ones."

One successful trademark cited is Apple's unique configuration of a circle, square and rectangle on its iPod products. Apple is also praised for using "intelligent design"--another trend that SALT says will also increase in 2009--"to deliver better products, services and experiences that also help to make the world a better place." Other successful brands that SALT mentions for design innovations include Target, Whirlpool, LG, Johnson & Johnson, and Nike for its custom-designable Nike ID products.

Often tied in with design is another trend, dubbed "ethical consumerism." When consumers are "faced with two branded options," SALT says, "the one that offers them the opportunity to support their community or a good cause will increasingly win." Companies singled out by SALT include Target, with its "Do 5% Good" campaign, eBay's World of Good, and Project RED, which has partnered together with such brands as Apple, American Express, Starbucks, Gap, Microsoft and Hallmark.

Beyond such charitable efforts, SALT says that "finding the right partner can ensure that 1+1 equals a lot more than 2." Examples cited include Nike and iPod's development of the Nike+ brand to reach their common "on-the-go audience interested in enjoying their music while they exercise"--and Ford and Microsoft's development of Sync voice technology, to be installed in more than 1 million cars this year.

Buying a Ford is undoubtedly buying American, but while tough economic times inevitably lead to calls to buy domestic products, SALT notes that after "20 years of American leadership in the growth of the global market," very few products overall are actually manufactured in the U.S.

Yet American brands remain world leaders, so in 2009 "rather than 'Made in America ... expect to see much more in the way of 'Inspired,' 'Created' or 'Designed in America.'" To drive home the point, the report adds: "This was written on a Macintosh computer, designed by Apple in California." [And so was this Marketing Daily article].

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