A Platform for Life

Why would someone read a newspaper filled with “aged” news when real-time news is available from any number of credible online sites? That’s the clever point The Daily Show made this summer in an on-site interview with editors of The New York Times. The piece highlighted how newspaper readership is dwindling while sites like The Huffington Post and the Drudge Report are growing.

That clip also got me thinking about social media and its impact on brands. Consumers expect to be heard and marketers risk losing relevance and credibility without systems in place to listen and act on real-time feedback. But marketers who rely too heavily on social media can lose their brand’s essence. So, how do you find the right balance? Probably the most well-known recent example of this challenge is Skittles.com. Despite being a brave effort to embrace the consumer through social media, the brand’s point of view was lost among all the chatter.
Social media works best when integrated with campaigns and platforms, not isolated as a stand-alone execution. It’s the agency’s role to help clients develop a social media plan that fits into a holistic marketing strategy.

When integrated properly, social media invites consumers into the narrative, and encourages them to create and distribute their own brand stories. Earned media is already a key component to ensure that campaigns reach the most people.

A good example of this is Gap’s latest campaign, “Born to fit,” which integrates a social media marketing plan developed by AKQA that marries traditional and digital media in a smart, seamless way. Components include an iPhone app and an interactive Facebook page that has already garnered more than 400,000 fans. And the power of Gap’s Facebook audience won’t end when “Born to fit” does; instead, Gap can keep the conversation going. When the next campaign is launched, Gap will have a built-in audience that will help grow the community.
The campaign points to a future where such social media efforts could eliminate the need for a company Web site. If Gap’s fan page incorporated e-commerce functionality, consumers would have everything they need to make an informed purchase-without ever visiting Gap.com.

Right now, many brands are leveraging Facebook to launch social media campaigns. But there are limitations: marketers can reach only Facebook members and agencies must work within the constraints of the platform. There’s an opportunity for marketers and agencies to identify meaningful experiences through brand-created platforms. This will enable brands to develop owned media channels to springboard campaigns, show content and promote community building.

Through targeted media, they can raise awareness and drive traffic.

Currently, some of the most progressive forms of social media are used by brands actively engaging their evangelists. With the intent to involve consumers in a co-creation process — from new products and packaging to campaigns — these brands are building platforms that provide a revolving feedback cycle. Starbucks, for instance, which was beginning to lose its way with consumers, created MyStarbucksIdea.com, a platform that encourages customers to share, discuss and vote on new ideas. The coffeehouse chain is also integrating social media components into print ads, inviting consumers to create their own media and spread the brand’s story through Twitter, Facebook and other channels.

And the toy company Lego has the Ambassador Program, geared toward a selected group of enthusiasts whom it regularly taps for brainstorming and feedback.
If Coca-Cola had had a similar co-creation platform before changing its classic soft-drink formula, or if Tropicana had had one before redesigning its packaging, both companies could have saved a lot of money and avoided the backlash. Ultimately, companies will need a feedback cycle allowing brands to listen and implement consumer ideas.

Social media has helped us realize brands are alive all the time, not just during a campaign. Brands need to break away from the mentality of the “campaign idea” and conceive ideas rooted in utility and value. If agencies can help clients achieve the right balance between the brand’s point of view and its social media marketing efforts, then the campaigns they create will last longer.

Tying campaigns into platforms ties people into communities — after all, in the not so distant future, all media will be social.

Bob Greenberg is chairman, CEO and global CCO of R/GA.