Across industries, we have found that social media is one of the hottest trends around. Brands are realizing the power that social media garners, as well as the great returns they can achieve. Without thinking twice, they jump right in -- creating accounts on any platforms that come to mind, establish a posting quota for the intern to reach that month, and just like that, they sit back and expect the money to just start flowing in.
Brands, both big and small, continue to fall into the trap of thinking that merely having a presence on social is enough, but the truth of the matter is social media cannot be viewed as linearly as many publications have indicated, describing the "top 10 tips" or "best social media trends of the year." At the core, the question surrounding social isn't just "why or why not social?" anymore, but rather, "how are we using it?"
It comes down to engaging consumers in a social ecosystem that integrates a variety of engine and content strategies. So, how can a successful engine strategy fuel a brand's presence and offer consumer value?
One of the most basic frameworks for any social media strategy is the idea of push and pull. Brands using a push strategy will use social media as a vehicle to amplify information about the brand, whereas those using a pull strategy directly call out to consumers and initiate a call-to-action to engage with the brand. Some brands have chosen to adopt one or the other, but in reality, the two strategies should work in tandem. Using what they can gather about what exactly "pulls" their consumer base in, brands can understand what types of content to "push" and forge more meaningful relationships.
This two-way relationship establishes the consumer as a participant in the brand's makeup, and one of the main drivers of consumer consideration is the word-of-mouth buzz created by the consumer base. A key force behind a brand's success stems from the interaction and community that the brand is able to facilitate for its customers. It comes back to where the customer fits into the brand's higher calling -- the ultimate goal the brand seeks to accomplish through its business objectives. By offering consumers something they can rally together behind, something of real use and value to them, we can create more interesting and impacting experiences. The relationships that are created with the brand build into an integrated ecosystem that not only builds a more deeply rooted brand loyalty, but also helps to fuel longer lasting returns. Coupling the brand's core values with a greater consumer need, we should be looking to the customer-to-customer experience as the epicenter for brand building. Companies like Samsung, Foster Farms, and Nautica all have the potential to achieve this greater social media calling.
In early 2012, Samsung launched Samsung Nation, a social loyalty program intended to galvanize the Samsung community. The first corporate gamification model of its kind, Samsung Nation offers virtual rewards for those who utilize the Samsung site and talk about the products via social media. The concept has proven very robust and engaging, attracting more than 1.2 million users. At the core, the program aims to facilitate a Samsung consumer community. Samsung fans can rack up points and badges by looking through the Samsung website, writing reviews about Samsung products, or even by tweeting about their Samsung experience. In addition, with the rewards they accumulate, fans can compete and interact with other fans on a leaderboard and gain opportunities to win Samsung products.
From a brand perspective, Samsung sees a great opportunity in terms of gaining a better understanding of its consumer base, as well as creating a consistent stream of user-generated online media buzz. This word-of-mouth becomes an invaluable part of extending brand value to other potential users and can help garner new Samsung loyalists. However, a big question comes up when we start to think about its actual sustainability and the greater long-term return. Samsung can continue to create more badges and diversify the social media channels that users can sync their Samsung accounts to, but like many other social communities, Samsung Nation faces the challenge of trying to stay relevant to its evolving consumer base.
In this regard, Samsung misses the mark in creating profound meaning and value in the consumer experience. Consumers are incentivized with virtual points and badges to utilize the Samsung site, but are left with no perception of where their efforts actually end up. Ironically enough, Samsung Nation, as a social community, focuses immensely on the individual's rewards when it has the potential to really build those necessary customer-to-customer interactions. Samsung must understand that successful social communities need to form around a higher calling that consumers can share and relate to. The main point is that users need a bigger reason to engage, and especially for a sales-driven business like Samsung, the return from all its initiatives needs to be immediate, measurable, and somehow profit-building. Brands need to understand that merely having a presence cannot compete with today's ever-changing and oversaturated social landscape.
Samsung Nation has the potential to provide a meaningful experience for its users, whether it's through incentives for users to interact with each other, or an application that provides a necessary service for the Samsung community. However, in order to achieve this greater role, the company needs to first prioritize and define a purpose for its consumers.
Foster Farms initially looked to social in the form of creating a chicken character game. The goal of the game is to teach people that what goes into a chicken is directly connected to how fresh and appetizing a chicken will be. Although this makes for a great educational game, the initiative lacks true intrinsic value for the Foster Farm community. It should be about why people eat Foster Farms -- their link to the brand. Specifically, the task was to look into how to increase sales of frozen chicken over their biggest competitor, Tyson. After a bit of research, it was found that mothers were posting advice about these products and sharing their thoughts on everything from convenience to overall product quality. This insight illustrated that these conversations were happening, with or without brand input.
This important clue prompted a closer investigation into consumer behavior via segmentation. Given our research, we found that there are distinct groups of potential customers, and each group carries a different perception of the frozen food category as a whole. The question then comes down to priorities: Who do you invest in convincing? Foster Farms had identified groups and subsections of consumers, but one it did not have was the student. Other than Foster Farms' primary target of mothers, college students were Foster Farms' next best target, and like mothers, they too were strapped for time and needed meals that were both healthy and filling. It is also interesting to note that college students who were already eating Foster Farms chicken had grown up eating Foster Farms as children.
Now, what is the solution that emerges from all these insights? On one hand, there is a familial and "inherited" quality to eating Foster Farms chicken, and on the other, mothers are actively looking to online resources for tips and advice about creating healthy lifestyles for their families. The solution becomes centered on creating an experience that helps busy mothers win the battle of lost family time and raise their kids to expect more from their food. This insight can pan out into a series of tools that help mothers with educating their kids about foods via free games for children, online meal planning tools, and more. To take a step further, the real problem stems from busy parents not being able to spend quality time with their kids. What if Foster Farms created tools that allowed for just that? These tools could come in the form of social applications that allow for community building, recipe and advice sharing, and multimedia experiences -- all with the purpose of helping parents be the best they can be. Now, Foster Farms' brand value extends further than just selling chicken; its digital experiences can facilitate an experience that invests both the brand and consumers in something greater: providing healthy and meaningful family moments through Foster Farms.
Over the past 30 years, Nautica has matured to cover a full line of women's, men's, and kids' apparel, accessories, and gear. Despite its successful apparel sales, a closer look at its digital experiences shows a mediocre attempt at engaging the consumer. At best, it has pointed out the popular places to sail and showcased fashionable videos of people sailing. This gives the brand context relating back to its roots of sailing, but offers no value to build a social foundation on.
Imagine building a true value-based digital application that almost any sailor or sailing enthusiast could use. These sailing crew communities typically form around sailing schools, but membership for these schools usually costs an arm and a leg. Joining a school gives a sailor access to a member crew network, where members can post sailing opportunities or open spots for crew members to assist. This network, only available to members, does not need to be exclusive. In fact, it can be opened up, expanded, and digitally translated into an application by Nautica to be an open forum. Nautica of course does not assume liability. Accessible to the public, it instead focuses on the larger sailing community rather than individual sailing clubs.
This network offers real value, and built once, it simply scales as users are added. With Nautica's prestige and credibility, this application has the potential to be one of the top online destinations for finding and volunteering for crew -- something that the sailing community would love and appreciate. More importantly, customer use on a day-to-day basis creates excellent brand recognition and buzz.
The role of the new digital agency
Social provides brands with an unbelievable amount of influence that most have yet to fully realize and actually use. The point of interaction today isn't just in-store or via an ad placement; it now comes from every direction and across a multitude of devices, platforms, and contexts. The daunting idea that brands can be omnipresent is somewhat exhilarating, but what we must remember is that with great opportunity for power comes an even greater responsibility to deliver meaningful value. Brands must remember that today's consumer is not only intelligent and tech-savvy, but also extremely selective and increasingly apathetic toward the whole surround sound-like feel of social media. Just as much as brands want to see a return on investment, consumers need to see value, too. Only now, this value cannot be derived simply from the satisfaction of making a purchase. With so many choices out there and the heightened sense of competition among brands, consumers really do have the upper hand when it comes to sifting out value from all the muck that's out there.
Given all this, brands cannot play the role of "purveyors of fine goods and services" that they have become accustomed to in the past; they now have an obligation to serve as incubators of community, anchored in a higher purpose. Just as we appreciate the social web as a network for community building, we seek brands to be champions of that as well. The consumer-to-consumer relationship becomes the key to unlocking what consumers are seeking in a brand.
This is where today's digital agency comes into play. We look to these creative think tanks as the connecting piece between a brand's higher intrinsic values and the tangible solution rooted in values that consumers seek in their everyday lives. For some, this takes the form of advice about how to cook healthy meals for the family, and for others, it could be a simple social solution to finding a group of passionate sailing diehards to go out with on a Saturday morning. These solutions are what consumers are expecting, and by engaging consumers with a higher calling that both parties can support and champion, brands will be able to reach levels of customer loyalty that allow for those points of long-lasting return.
Yacht image via David Niblack, Imagebase.net
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