People don’t like advertisements. That’s the basic fact that marketing teams for brands and businesses have to work around in order to do their jobs effectively. Things are always in flux in the world of marketing, but one trend that seems to have been irreversible in the past several decades is that consumers are becoming more and more conscious of advertisements and simultaneously less tolerant of them. It can be a difficult hurdle to overcome for businesses looking to grow their brands, and can seem especially unfair if they believe they have a legitimate product or service to offer that their target market would genuinely benefit from.
Social media was a game-changer in its early days, and organic outreach became one of the best new ways to reach potential customers and encourage them to engage with the brand. Until then, there really wasn’t a way for people to interact or engage directly with brands they supported. The ability to tweet at Wendy’s made a big difference in the way people viewed advertising. Like all things in the advertising world, however, it wasn’t going to last for long. Gone are the days when social media presence alone would earn points for a brand’s image. Social media saturation and customers’ overall awareness of businesses’ efforts in organic messaging have resulted in a need for much higher-quality outreach overall. Some experts, in fact, are arguing that if a business isn’t prepared to produce high-quality social media content, they should avoid using the medium entirely. It may be tempting to wonder, then, what the secret to high-quality social media content is, if the goal is organic outreach to consumers who tend to be hyper-aware of attempts to market to them. The secret lies in authenticity, telling stories, and generating conversations between customers themselves.
Some types of product are generally immune to the need to strategically maneuver in media spaces in this way. Addictive products, like fast food, cigarettes, and alcohol, have a more inelastic relationship with the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. As an example of this, a study found that children ate significantly more junk food after seeing the junk food in the hands of social media influencers. On the other hand, seeing influencers brandishing healthy food had no effect on the amount of healthy food the children ate. Other products will need more creative marketing efforts and likely higher ad spend in order to find ways to create stories and drive interest, especially niche businesses tools with specific uses like outlook transfer for email migration or higher-end conference call software. B2B (business-to-business) companies may have different clients and more specialized products and services, but the marketing strategies are still remarkably similar.
The biggest mistake to be made in social media outreach is over-generalization and the appearance of being ‘out of touch.’ Today’s biggest brands, despite their near-ubiquitous household name recognition and massive market share, are still leveraging the most agile and effective organic media marketing methods to drive consumer engagement. Businesses like Nike, Adidas, Dove, Gillette, Keurig, and (with less success) Pepsi have all taken advantage of the opportunity presented by social media to tell stories with genuine meaning, encouraging customers to both identify with the brand and generate conversation about it and its message.
The power of word of mouth advertising, always understood to be significant, is still not to be underestimated in today’s economy of reputation. Customer reviews are more important than ever, and a staggering 85% of respondents in one survey said that they trusted reviews by total strangers just as much as personal recommendations by people they knew and trusted. The emergence and subsequent massive success of Yelp and other companies like it, and other seemingly mysterious moves like Netflix’s removal of its user rating system are ample evidence that other people’s opinions matter to consumers. It’s one of the reasons why influencers have been so powerful. They are able to combine many, if not all, of the most important lessons in modern digital marketing without projecting the appearance of advertising. They are experts in building digital communities of fans and followers, they tell stories that keep people engaged, and in many cases the products that they use are very organically integrated with their online persona – and when they aren’t, there can be consequences for their reputation. In fact, the age of the influencer may be waning, and in their place has emerged the micro-influencer, replacing size with quantity. The problem of influencers becoming too popular, losing touch with their communities and appearing to ‘sell out,’ so to speak, is a larger community of less influential influencers, whose very lack of mega-stardom is their ultimate strength, allowing them to build greater rapport with their communities.
Simply put, it’s the authenticity that drives customer engagement with brands and their agents, and that kind of authenticity is getting harder and harder to fake. In order to keep their digital marketing strategies up to par, companies will have to genuinely engage on some level with the values that matter to their customers.