Jeez there’s a lot of stuff on this. Brand Channel has a debate going but so does just about every other marketing and digital marketing blog. My colleague, Jonty Fisher is worth following on Twitter. He sifts through a lot of this and tweets the best.
I see the issue in very simple terms. PR and word of mouth have always been very important to brands ever since Julius Caesar said he personally liked the spears made by Maximus Minimus and a few Centurions on Hadrian’s wall shared their opinions on the relative merits of the different spears being sold in Rome.
In fact in Roman times – before print or mass media had been invented – I’d argue that PR and word of mouth were the most important tools of marketing and the only way to get both pulling for you was to make sure that your spears were consistently the best, which in turn meant being willing to innovate to stay ahead of the competition.
In the second half of the 20th century mass production, distribution, media and just about everything else relegated PR and word of mouth further down the list of effective marketing tools and along with them a focus on true product quality and authenticity. They did not render them redundant, just less important. A great ad, some stand-out packaging and a full listing in Tesco could trump a better product with a small but loyal following including some opinion leaders. Any marginal product deficiencies were drowned out by didactic mass and to be fair mass production based on mass distribution gave the big brands cost advantages.
The views of experts did matter and some negative word of mouth could be very damaging but who knew who the experts were and how many people could you practically share your negative experiences of such and such a brand with? National newspapers and TV told you who the experts were in their ‘unbiased’ opinion (hmmmm) and they did not give you much of a platform to share your views other than the letters page or Watchdog.
Search engines and social media platforms have changed all that. We can research in seconds and we can share our views with millions of folk all over the world in just a few seconds more. PR and word of mouth are back on top and with them the need to make consistently better spears.
My favourite comment on all of this (you can watch it in Persuasive Brand Communications here) comes from Andy Fennell, CMO at Diageo. He’s talking about Guinness when he says “ I love all this transparency and sharing – the more that people find out about us the more reasons they’ll have to love Guinness”. Well said, Andy.
I may be about to stir up a hornets nest but I think “Social Media” is misnamed and damagingly so. By calling it a media it instantly raises the idea of something that you can manipulate by throwing money at it.
Neither is ‘Social’ helpful. What defines us as the “Super Social Ape” as Mark Earls would put it, is the fact that we like to talk. The internet has allowed people to interact and converse on an unprecedented scale. The line between experts and amateurs has blurred. Everyone can have an opinion and those opinions can be shared at the speed of light. People can and will talk about your brand, they always have. The difference now is the scale, speed and measurability of the conversation
“How much of our budget should we invest in Social Media” is a question that is being asked all the time. It’s entirely the wrong question.
Here are the questions you should ask:-
“What shall we give them to talk about?”
“How can we help and encourage them to share what they think?”
“How shall we keep track of what they are saying and decide how best to act upon it?”
I am fairly sure that Maximus Minimus, Purveyor of Fine Spears would have looked out over the Forum in Rome and asked himself the same questions.