Change the Conversation: How to use Social Media to Co-Create Brand Success
by Dave Walker, Senior Vice President, Ipsos ASI
Did marketers ever really have full control of their message? Possibly not. Consumer influence and co-creation are not new. Brand marketers should have a strategy to engage consumers and participate in a two-way conversation.
Last year, when reflecting on “How Social Media is Changing Brand Marketing,” eMarketer noted that four in ten brand marketers globally think social [media] creates new challenges to maintaining brand integrity.1 eMarketer went on to say that social media is scary for brands because “marketers are no longer fully in control of the message.” But, did marketers ever really have full control of their message? Possibly not.
One example where consumer feedback on social media impacted a marketer’s message is The Gap logo change. Wanting to make Gap more modern and contemporary, the organization introduced a new logo on Facebook in October of 2010. The organization was hit instantly with negative feedback, including the creation of websites like MakeYour OwnGapLogo.com. The new logo did not at all reflect the brand that consumers identified with – “their brand” had a ‘classic’ Serif look, not Helvetica. After a failed attempt at online crowdsourcing to develop an alternative, on October 11, 2010, less than one week after launch, Gap reversed its decision.
Remember, it has never been a oneway conversation from brand to consumer. Consumer influence and co-creation are not new. As long as marketers have asked consumers to make a brand their “own” – which was long before social media – it has always been a part of consumer psychology to join the conversation. Many of the presocial media exam ples reflect consumers disagreeing with marketers’ decisions – perhaps this was the only conversation they thought they could influence. The British Airways 1997 “Ethnic Tailfins” (for which even Margaret Thatcher demonstrated her disdain), and the 1985 New Coke launch are just two of those examples. But, there are other examples. The Levi Strauss & Co. Archives currently holds hundreds of “letters to Levi’s” about consum ers’ love of the brand, collected over the company’s 150+ year history, and which are now used as design inspiration.
Why do consumers join in? Because a brand isn’t necessarily the tangible product or service that is marketed. It is the ‘marker’ to the associations and experiences about the entity that consumers hold in their head or heart, together with the promise of an emotional benefit from using it. And, of course consumers, not marketers, own and control those associa tions and experiences (this is why we at Ipsos ASI focus on understanding and measuring them).
Yes, marketers are accountable for the brand’s business results. And to achieve growth, they might need to envisage a new brand promise, image, or identity, thereby creating new associations and experiences for consumers. But, consumers will determine what that change means to them, and whatever it is, it must be relevant. If not, consumers will always jump into the conversation and resist the change.
Looking at The Gap, British Airways and CocaCola, one could argue that the brand marketers focused on the wrong thing, and in doing so forgot the consumers’ role in the brand. They focused on what they were changing – albeit a logo, tailfins, or a new cola formula – and what they should have focused on was what the change would mean for the brand and its consumers.
In these cases, consumers rallied because after developing associations and loyalties and making the brand their “own,” the marketers had neglected them. The marketers had assumed they would and could control the change and the brand promise inmarket. They had not thoroughly assessed how consumers would perceive the change, and interpret what it would mean to shaping their brand experiences. They had overlooked what was most meaningful and iconic to their loyal users. And they had forgotten that consumers, in the end, owned the relationship to the brand.
So, if consumer influence is not new, what has the impact of social media really been? First of all, social media has enabled an instant feedback loop between the brand and the consumer – in a very public and visible environment. Now consumer influence can instantly impact, and even redirect, decision making. But perhaps more importantly, consumers now strongly believe in their ability to [positively] influence, and are demanding a response.
According to an Ipsos MORI study from 20102, the over whelming majority feel that discussions on social media channels can impact a company’s reputation and license to operate, while half feel that companies should take criticism in social media channels seriously. Nielsen’s Social Media Report from Q3, 20113 further highlights their influence: 53% of active social media users follow a brand (versus 32% who follow a celebrity) and they are 47% more likely to be heavy spenders on items like clothing, shoes, and accessories.
Brand marketers should believe in their influence as well. Social media has provided the forum in which passionate consumers can easily and positively cocreate, rather than just disagree. The twoway conversation is now possible. Nokia leveraged its “Concept Lounge” in 2005 to solicit consumerdesigned ideas for the Nokia Benelux Design Awards (the winner was called Nokia 888 and was a wrist band phone). Dell operates Ideastorm.com | Dream it. Share it. Make an impact. which has received over 10,000 consumer ideas. Dell also provides a monthly “Ideas in Action Update” to let its contributors know what ideas have been fully or partially implemented.
And, social media is also a supplementary source of realtime and unfiltered information to understand how consumers are talking about brands and what they are actually talking about. Cocreation and ideation can come from detecting trends. A very recent example of this is Nike’s MAG (Magnetic Anti Gravity) shoe launch – “the most famous shoes never made” (back4thefuture.com). The MAG shoes are inspired by Marty McFly’s footwear, designed by Nike for Back to the Future II.
The development of the shoes was not an internal Nike deci sion; it was catalyzed by the 2005 grassroots fan campaign “McFly2015.” It took six years, and a few missteps to get to the September 8, 2011 launch. And what Nike learned along the way from communicating with its consumers, was that the “power laces” showcased in the movie were iconic.
With social media influencing the design of the shoe, Nike leveraged social media to support the launch. Influential footwear bloggers were invited, and even flown to Los Angeles, for a moviethemed launch event held at the iconic Clock Tower. They started the buzz before the launch event even took place.
Embracing the co-creation power of social media and leveraging consumers’ vision for the brand is a good thing for marketers – it means they alone do not need to constantly reinvent the brand. After its 2009 packaging event, Neil Campbell, president of Tropicana North America did acknowl edge that consumers can communicate with marketers “more readily and quickly.” Seeing the positive in the situation, he noted that “for companies that put consumers at the center of what they do, that is a good thing.”
And, if brand marketers do not like the consumer conversa tion, then, as Peggy said to Don Draper on Mad Men last season, “If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation.” Changing the conversation is still mission possible. But brand marketers should have a proper plan and strategy in place to engage consumers. They must embrace social media and learn to participate in a twoway conversa tion, rather than simply doing a better job researching the right oneway conversation. And, when the right systems are in place complemented with the expertise to focus on the consumer, and what is relevant to them within their vision of the brand, brand marketers can impact change.
- MiresBall and KRC Research, State of the Brand Report: Building Buzz, Building Brands, August 23, 2010
- Ipsos Mori, Reputation Council Members, Winter 2010
- Nielsen, Social Media Report, Q3, 2011
Ipsos ASI is the advertising and communications market research company you can consistently count on for the best quantitative and qualitative results that point the way to the most profitable actions. Ipsos ASI is part of the Ipsos organization. Founded in Paris, France, in 1975, Ipsos is the only independent, publicly listed research company that is controlled and managed by research professionals. Ipsos is a leading global research company focusing on six core specializations: Advertising, Marketing, Media, Opinion and Customer Relationship Management research, and Data Collection and Delivery. With offices in 66 countries, Ipsos conducts research in more than 100 countries. Visit their website at www.ipsos-na.com
Other content shared by Ipsos
The American marketplace is constantly evolving and understanding consumers has never been so complex. To help clients better understand and reach consumers, Ipsos Public Affairs is pleased to announce that the 15th edition of the U.S. Diversity Markets Report is now available. Read Article »
by Gail Aitchison, Ipsos
While the majority of global consumers still perceive store brands to be the same as or better than national brands, a one year trend analysis indicates that their positive perceptions toward store brands may be starting to decline slightly. Read Article »