Julius Duncan's Blog

Brands for a social age

Is social growing up?

The mood music around social media has shifted significantly in the last 12 months.

At Headstream we’ve had the privilege of chairing Brand Republic’s Social Media  Strategy conference in 2010, and 2011. What was noticeable at this year’s 5th July event was a refreshing honesty that few brands have ‘cracked’ social as yet, and that early integration of social into the broader marketing strategy is the route to success. This was in contrast to last year’s event where the mood was more triumphalist, and at times reflected the view that social was ‘just another channel’, that had been mastered.

As a result, the day was full of great opportunities to learn from the challenges and surprises brands have faced in social, as well as their successes, and to have an honest and open discussion about the challenges we share as marketers responding to social.

Here are some stand-out moments from the day for us.

1 – It’s all about the customer

Jonathan Williams, Director of e-Marketing at Trader Media Group (owner of Auto Trader) reminded us that ‘getting closer to customers’ is at the heart of social strategy. He emphasised the gilt-edged opportunity that social networks and two-way conversations are giving brands to achieve this. Kathleen Schneider from Dell, echoed Jonathan’s point, saying that CEO Michael Dell’s mantra has always been ‘Find ways to get closer to your customer’.

2 – Should we get hung up on complex ROI formulas?

For Dell the fact that social media has allowed it to get closer to customers in multiple ways is enough ROI in itself to justify the company’s heavy investment in social. Similarly, Cheryl Calverley, from Birds Eye Iglo Group, said the fact that social has ‘made word of mouth measurable for the first time’ is a significant ROI for any brand.

3 – Integrate social as early as possible in strategy and planning

Stressing the need to integrate social into brand and campaign thinking as early as possible, Melissa Littler, Marketing Director at online retailer Brand Alley, said ‘Social works best when it isn’t a bolt-on, when it’s thought about from the outset, and creative is optimised (for it)’. Peter Markey, Chief Marketing Officer at insurer RSA Group, said that the ‘More Than Freeman’ campaign for RSA’s UK insurance brand More Than, had ‘considered social from the start’. This was reinforced by Asad ur Rehman, Director, Global Media (Foods) at Unilever, who said “Social strategy has to be integrated. Embed social upfront in your marketing strategy or your business strategy, it cannot stand alone.”

4. Earning the right to engage

Asad encouraged the room to keep adapting traditional marketing thinking in order to respond effectively to social. “As marketers we need to switch our gears. First we need to earn the right to sit at the (community’s) table, then we have to earn attention, then and only then, we might have earned the right to deliver a product message.” Asad cited Lynx’s ‘Keeping Keeley’ campaign as a great example of this approach.

On the same theme, Peter Markey, said that the personality brought by the More Than Freeman character earns the brand the right to engage with customers who typically only contact their insurer once a year, at renewal. Peter also shared the insight that early in the campaign the tone of voice used on social platforms by the character was ‘too quirky’ and didn’t engage, but by observing interaction levels, testing and learning, a more effective tone of voice was developed that earned significant engagement.

Keep the customer at the centre, integrate social early, see the bigger picture on ROI, earn the right to engage, and be ready to test, learn, fail and adapt.

All great points, and signals that social is no longer the new kid on the block.

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