I’m as big an advocate as anyone when it comes to marketers using social media to engage their customers. In fact, I’d challenge you to point to a major brand that hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon.
I can tell you that my own agency built social media strategies into nearly every communications plan we developed for our clients in 2010. Yet, despite all of the momentum in the space, one thing has been gnawing at me—regardless of the platform, brands are all starting to look the same.The proliferation of Facebook combined with the continued integration of other ubiquitous social media platforms, including Flickr, Twitter, Youtube as well as common promotional platforms such as Wildfire, ShareThis and Shoutlet, are making brands virtually indistinguishable.
I ask you to show me a real difference between the Morton’s Steak House and Outback Steakhouse fan pages. These are two very different steakhouse brands, but you wouldn’t know it by interacting with them on Facebook. I’m not picking on those brands specifically. I just think they’ve fallen prey to an unfortunate trend. The platforms seem to be overshadowing the message, but should we be surprised?
If you look at advertising and marketing trends through the years, we should have expected that the approach to social media would become formulaic. Think about the first television commercials (circa 1950) that were very Dragnet-like —”Just the facts, ma’am.” They tended to take the form of a talking head holding a box of something. Then came the age of jingles, which for a while were featured at the end of the “talking head” spots. Remember, “You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent?”
Who can forget the 70s when talking heads where replaced by the Trix bunny, the Green Giant, Charley the Tuna and a whole host of other “critters” as they were called in the advertising industry. (Personally, my favourites were the critters who sang the jingles.)
Critter advertising then gave way to celebrity spokespeople and expert testimonials (again some even singing the jingles,) which gave way to product demos until the federal government instituted the “truth in advertising” code in the 90s, which put an end to a lot of product demos.
Today, we have a wealth of commercials featuring fabricated characters, such as the popular Apple ads with actors playing “PC” and “MAC,” the Progressive Insurance, “Flo” character, Old Spice’s, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” and the Dos Equis, “Most Interesting Man in the World.” I’m sure I’ve made my point by now.
Formulaic, but at least all of these examples were CREATIVE! Unfortunately the self-service platforms of today are allowing virtually anyone to execute a campaign with little or no experience. My fear is that creative has rapidly evaporated from the equation.
Considering that the rate consumers are adopting social media continues to soar, it is unlikely marketers will abandon it any time soon and nor should they. I know the pressure to get into the game quickly was great, and no marketer wants to be left behind, but we need to make sure we’re not falling into a formula that leaves our brands swimming in a sea of sameness.
So, what are marketers to do as they try to differentiate their brands in the social media space? I’d start with these three simple standards:
- Find your own voice. Remember what makes you different than the competition in the minds of your target consumers and figure out how to creatively bring that to life in social media. The Old Spice, “Man your man can smell like,” real-time twitter effort was a perfect example of a brand that has found its voice and is executing well across all channels.
- Don’t be afraid to try something new for your category. Don’t wait for the competition to take the lead. Keep evolving your social media presence, because if what you’re doing is working for you, then someone is sure to copy it.
- Find ways to use social media to provide value to your target audience. Best Buy’s Twelpforce, the company’s Twitter handle where tech pros offer technology advice, provides truly valuable information to their loyal fans.
Social media allows brands to push the limits far faster than any other medium, but engaging consumers in a creative and meaningful way has never been more important, or more difficult.
As self-service social platforms become more ubiquitous, marketers need to ask themselves what they can do to make consumers want to connect with their brands – if they don’t, they’ll likely end up looking, and sounding, exactly like their competitors.
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