Why brands fail at social marketing

Branding used to be about solidifying your message and communicating that message consistently in the marketplace. The intended result was that your audience could parrot back to you your own message (“Coke is it”, “Have you driven a Ford lately?” – we can all quote brand messages) and you’d be locked in their mind when it came time for them to buy your product or service.

A couple centuries of that kind of branding effort is a hard habit to break. Today’s social media marketing, however, has shifted how consumers interact with brands and, as a result, brands need to break the habit and communicate in a different way. Once upon a time, media was one-way, from the brand to the consumer, so control of the message remained firmly in the hands of the brand. Your brand. Those days are over.

Today, consumers work with, interact with, manipulate, and augment brands. They’ll put videos of your brand’s messages on YouTube, dissect branding messages on blogs and Twitter, post brand images on Flickr, and all of this get pushed through the social web—into sites like Facebook—where commenting and “Liking” can sway perceptions.

Today, thanks to the web, it’s less about your brand and more about how people interact with your brand that can make or break your message. So, how can your brand give up control over its message while still communicating your message effectively? Here are three ideas:

  1. Perform thorough market research. Make sure your message will resonate with your audience and not take on a life of its own. Avoid the Motrin Baby-wearing commercial fiasco that upset moms and spawned parody commercials and a mountain of angry responses.
  2. Keep your message consistent yet fresh and prolific. A continued volume of message production can help to keep people watching for more rather than growing bored with the same old thing. Burger King does this well with their variety of commercials featuring that creepy mask-faced king. You’ll still get people talking about your brand but you’ll be changing the story from “this again?” to “what’s next!?!”
  3. Participate. Don’t produce marketing messages and just release them to the world. Be part of the message. Run an active, engaging Twitter account and YouTube channel and blog and Facebook fan page. Rather than flipping the “on” switch and walking away, participate and engage your audience. Welcome protagonists and antagonists equally and respond respectfully to detractors with a dose of understanding, as in, “you make a good point…”

Today’s social web demands that you give up some control over your message but it doesn’t mean that you’ll give up the impact your brand can have. Consumers can interact and disseminate your brand message for you if you’re willing to loosen your grip a little, and tighten up your creative thinking—and your social media strategy—a lot.