The argument in support of allocating resources to social has evolved over time.
2008: We have to because it’s free.
2011: We have to because content is king.
2014: We have to because—authenticity.
2017: Do we have to…?
So, what now? What’s the value proposition in a world where organic reach is all but dead and sentiment is falling. The answer lies in a basic understanding of how consumers make buying decisions. Set your sights on the efforts that really matter, and you find that creating branded content and distributing it via social channels can help grow brands over time.
You know the rhetoric: Social “works” by building meaningful relationships with consumers. Not false, but not completely true either. The bottom line is that brands grow by getting more people to buy their products and services and you can leverage social to help facilitate this growth by reaching non-customers, creating brand awareness and building affinity.
In social, we spend a lot of time focusing on brand fans because we can predict how they’ll react to our content. We talk about “building tribes” as a proxy for loyalty. Certainly admirable, but as Byron Sharp explains in How Brands Grow, while retention helps to stabilize a brand’s number of buyers, attracting new customers is actually what drives brand growth. The Kantar Worldpanel Brand Footprint report found that 90 percent of the brands that grew in 2017 did so by adding new shoppers to their portfolio.
Your focus must be to get new customers to buy, not just get existing customers to buy more.
Using social content to not only delight existing fans but also as a way of earning attention from people who have not purchased (or lapsed) is a critical mindset for growth. Make sure your content and targeting strategies align to make this discovery possible.
In order to buy, people must know your brand exists. Social affords us the opportunity to have a presence in a place where consumers spend a lot of time. Over time, repeated exposure builds recognition.
Recognition is important because it means less effort for the brain (which is something the brain likes). Studies show that brands that consumers recognize are more likely to be included in the consumers’ consideration set when it’s time to make a purchase decision. It’s how we narrow down choices without exerting effort.
By using consistent visual elements in your content, consumers start to recognize your brand when they see it, which increases the likelihood they will buy. These memories build a sense of familiarity with your brand and bring it top-of-mind when making a buying decision.
But as you know, you can recognize and be familiar with something and not like it (like a neighbor who lights off fireworks in February). That’s where affinity comes in.
According to Millward Brown, affinity positively influences future purchase behavior. More common sense, but good to know data supports building affinity as an effective strategy to drive growth.
But you know what’s not a great way to build affinity? Trying to convince people to buy stuff.
Most humans hate advertising. We try to avoid it. If you want to create affinity, your social content cannot be (perceived as) advertising. As Faris Yakob says, “Content is something a consumer would choose to consume. Advertising is something a brand wants to say about itself.”
We are more in tune with what makes consumers tick than ever before, so there is no excuse not to know how your brand can be most relevant in their lives. When you know what people relate to, enjoy and appreciate, you can create content they’re more likely to appreciate.
The root value of social is simple: repeated exposure to your brand and positive associations. Over time, these are the things that help grow brands. But this logical support for “the why” is really only half the formula for being successful. After all, no social content is better than bad half-hearted or ill-targeted social content. Use the points about attracting new customers, recognition and familiarity and affinity to put a stake in the ground to define the role social plays in increasing market share. From there, it’s up to you to make it worthwhile.
Sadly, it’s true what they say in terms of reaching new consumers and growing awareness: It’s pay-to-play. Utilize prospect targeting tools like lookalike models, hyperlocal or contextual placement to get your content in front of the right people at the right time. Make sure the collaboration is happening between your paid media and content experts to develop creative that’s placed optimally and gets noticed.
The quality of content you create on social is critically important. The good news is that social truly gives you more creative runway and fewer restrictions than just about any other channel. You have a mix of visuals, audio, AR and two-way communication available to you to leverage. The channels are really just containers, each with their own conventions. The ways for content to work within (or even break) those conventions are endless, but no matter what, content should be created with the intent to be memorable. That may take different forms, but it should aspire to stir emotion, inspire or simply cause someone to stop and look. This means translating trends to fit the brand instead of reproducing what everyone else is doing. It means thinking conceptually, favoring quality over quantity and treating new features like a playground.
Sure, it’s just social. But as it turns out, it really does matter.