Can’t Buy Me Likes. And Other Tidbits from SXSW

by francine Hardaway on March 8, 2013

I spent the first day of SXSW13 listening in to OMMA (Online Media, Marketing Advertising)sessions, which to no one’s surprise were all about mobile and social. The widespread availability of tools for self-expression, which caused a shift from mass communications to a mass of communicators, has also caused the largest disruption in the communications landscape in the history of mankind. Brands are not exempt from this disruption. 

Brand marketers,at the top of the sales funnel, have discovered the hard way that you can’t use the same methods to get your brand message out Social has become the most powerful driver of pre-purchase intent. Banners are examples of mass communications that seem to work less and less effectively, and there’s just too much “leakage,” around ad campaigns –as when a viral YouTube video of a band  singing about how United broke their guitars effectively canceled out a multi-million dollar ad buy.

People trust their friends to make recommendations, and they trust even complete strangers rather than brand marketers. So brands are slowly learning that they must make the shift from advertising to engagement. They’re still trying to find ways to make authentic engagement scale.Community managers just can’t engage with everyone.

Everything is made both better and worse by today’s new buzz word: big dats. Reams of data create intelligence for brands who use it correctly, but most lack the necessary skills to use it.

The only way to make real social engagement scalable is to have advocates, like constituents, employees, vendors, partners, customers engage on your behalf. Besides, 78% of consumers consider recommendations to be the best form of advertising. Engagement is the new brand currency.

The long and short of this is to make  every brand a de facto media company, with a mandate to create  its own high quality,authentic content.  Paid media can only amplify earned and owned content– it doesn’t substitute for it. This is the year big brands make the shift from advertising to engagement

Bob Garfield, NPR’s “On the Media” co-host and a columnist for MediaPost, probably put it best when he said that fragmentation has destroyed the effectiveness of advertising and the digital revolution has left brands who hype their phony values exposed for who they are.

His new book. “Can’t Buy Me Likes,” calls this the relationship era, brought on by four convergent forces: the collapse of mass; the increase of transparency; the rise of social connectivity; and  the customers’ interest in the real you.

The best companies, Garfield said, built shareholder value not by focusing on shareholders, but by becoming brands with purpose and trust that inspire activism.  In that category are Southwest Airlines, Amazon, Apple. USAA, Costco, and Target. Those “firms of endearment” have built sustainable brands, whose ad budgets are one third those of less admirable brands.

Worst of all for brand marketers: you can’t farm this out to your agencies without courting disaster. In this environment, the brand owns the brief.

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