Thursday, September 23

Broadcasting Promises: The Pursuit Of Viral Exposure


Many companies adopting social media have at least one or two executives and managers who dream of one thing: super exposure from social media. They couldn't care less if you like them, their company, or their products.

They might not even care if you make a purchase, because many of them are playing a numbers game. The numbers game was largely born out of direct marketing and, sadly, adopted by many advertising agencies in order to remain competitive. (They thought they had to, in order to prove ROI.)

The general theory is that if a marketer makes 1,000 solicitations, and 100 respond, then the marketer can say with confidence that the campaign led to a 10 percent direct response rate. If you are customer 101, it doesn't matter. If you do buy, then you're a bonus because the marketer can continue to repeat this process over and over again with new lists. The point is: it's anti-social.

Direct Response Advertising/Social Media Is Addictive.

Some people are still pretty excited by the Old Spice Guy campaign, enough to add it into their presentations. After initial reports showed some products dropped off, P&G claimed victory with record sales. Many social media experts that I know looked at this as proof that social media works, neglecting the huge direct response and magazine ad coupon campaign that accompanied the viral video. (The Old Spice Guy didn't play so well in print, by the way.)

"Who cares," some say. "Overall sales for Old Spice body wash rose 105 percent for that period!"

That's what makes the Old Spice Guy viral video campaign concept compelling and addictive. But let's be honest. It was especially clever, but it wasn't social. It might not even be sustainable.

After the newest installment on Facebook featuring Ray Lewis, fans aren't clamoring for Old Spice. They want more Isaiah Mustafa commercials, whether or not they buy the product. So who did that direct response campaign brand? Old Spice or Mustafa?

And, did it successfully change the lingering perception that Old Spice is for old people? I asked my son. He said some of his friends made fun of Old Spice just yesterday. But that's nothing compared to what some companies do. At least P&G is trying (and in come cases innovating) social media. Some companies just piss people off.

Delivering A Brand Promise Is Not Enough.

When companies adopt social media as a mere communication channel, the people behind the program fool themselves into thinking that numbers are everything. Ergo, the more people who hear the brand promise will mean more people will buy the product. But there is an inherent problem with this thinking.

Social media, on the whole, is an environment. And just like any environment, all three topics — promise, delivery, and proof — are fair game for discussion. Generally, after brand promise buzz dies down, customers and consumers stop talking about the brand promise and start talking about product delivery (and the consequence of delivery) and proof of delivery.

So, if the company delivers on the promise and provides proof it delivered, broadcast might be enough. But most companies don't deliver on the promise.* So instead, they play a different numbers game even if they don't know it.

Compounding Can Work Against Marketers Too.

If a marketer makes 1,000 solicitations, 100 are put off, and 100 respond (and 50 feel cheated), the marketer is contributing to a problem that won't materialize for months. But eventually, it will materialize. As the 100 who are put off and 50 who feel cheated (with every cycle) begin to share their stories, they will eventually outpace the company's broadcast efforts.

What does that mean? Sooner or later, the marketer will make 1,000 solicitations only to find 900 of those are wasted because those 900 already received an anti-brand promise message from 100 people put off and 50 who feel cheated (times the number of cycles). Of course, some companies are so arrogant that they will blame the messaging and not their own operations. So, it will go on and on until they eventually die or are bought up.

Delta is providing a great example of this right now. After a big splash to sell offsite and driving people to its Facebook page, it is painfully clear that Delta has adopted a broadcast-only tactic.

The Delta wall is riddled with unanswered complaints. The pace is eclipsing Delta broadcasts by more than 100-to-1. Delta obviously has a delivery challenge, which is compounded by a lack of social proof (they don't deliver and don't make good when they don't). As the numbers grow in the opposite direction, Delta will eventually find that no one will believe their brand promises anymore, except a few wing nuts who are heavily invested with millions of frequent flyer miles.

What Is The Solution?

The best solution is to adopt a social media program that can communicate the promise truthfully (advertising), engage with customer service (marketing), and provide proof (public relations) that something is being done. And, if the company is still unable to deliver, it could lower the expectation or improve the delivery.

Customers are very adaptable to lower expectations. People who buy a Yugo don't expect Porsche performance.

Airlines, for whatever reason, are prone to overpromise. They promise to get you to your destination safely and roughly on time, with your bags, after a reasonably comfortable flight, for the best possible price (sometimes lowest). And if they don't, they have passenger service agents who can help. The reality is that the only promise they can keep is price and lately (with all the add-on fees), they can't even do that.

There is another solution, of course. The broadcast-only model works if you stay away from the numbers game and target the right people. Inevitably, some people will like a specific product no matter what. In the 1970s, people bought pet rocks.

Some people think that the pet rock product was a numbers game. It wasn't. The initial campaign was targeted to people who would find it so stupid that it was a novelty. Its popularity among a certain segment pushed it toward mainstream popularity for about six months. Of course, this product wasn't sustainable. Most companies want to be sustainable.

*I don't believe most companies intentionally break promises or try to cheat people. There are dozens of reasons they break brand promises, but that will have to wait for another day. It's a complex subject, especially among bigger companies.
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