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THE SOCIAL CUSTOMER
HOW BRANDS CAN USE SOCIAL CRM TO ACQUIRE, MONETIZE, AND RETAIN FANS, FRIENDS, AND FOLLOWERS
By ADAM METZ
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012Adam Metz
All rights reserved.
THE BRAND AS A SOCIAL OBJECT AND THE BUSINESS CASE FOR SOCIAL CRM
Why would a brand want to be a social object? And what in the heck is a social object?
Brands want to be talked about so people will buy their products and services. Consumers want to interact with brands that make the products and services they purchase, day-to-day. Brands also want consumers to relate to them, become highly loyal, and buy that same brand for the rest of their lives. Brands will disclose that lifetime customers can have values (customer lifetime value, or CLV) of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the brand. Even a brand that sells a seemingly low-value product can have a relatively high customer lifetime value.
A social object is something that people look at, discuss, and pass from person to person, putting their own stamp on it. An iPod is a social object—people make (or buy) custom cases for them, and integrate them into their outfits as accessories. A Lady Gaga song is a social object, when 400 people record their own interpretation of it and post it on YouTube. Post-it notes are social objects when employees at your company cover a departing coworker's cube with them and post it on the Internet. So, why would your company want to become one? Notoriety? Fame? Wealth?
THE BRAND LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY: HOW DID WE GET INTO THIS MESS?
A legendary (and bad) marketing joke comes to mind. A client walks into their ad agency's conference room and says, "I want a chicken." What this means is that the client wants the marketing agency to create something that will make their brand "viral," just like Burger King's groundbreaking "Subservient Chicken" campaign. They want customers of the brand (or people who, until recently, had never heard of them) to evangelize the brand, and get their friends to go out and purchase whatever the brand sells. But to say that the whole brand-as- social-object idea started with Burger King's Subservient Chicken would be a gross oversimplification. Consumers have been interacting with brands long before that.
A Brief History of Consumer Brands that Tried Very Hard
Let's get one thing straight: brands are nothing new. Four hundred years ago companies and multinational brands fulfilled consumers' needs for products and services. The notion of branded consumer products (like the shoes on your feet or the granola bar you had for lunch) emerged in the years following the Industrial Revolution. Nineteenth century factory owners realized that the mass-produced goods they were creating (e.g., a pair of leather boots) needed some way to be differentiated from locally produced goods, to allow consumers to place their trust in a product that was not created in the local area.
Consumer brands, as we know them today, didn't really exist until the middle of the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century, and the roots of the earliest consumer brands that are still well known today. Food brands like Campbell Soup Company (1869) and Kellogg Cereal Company (1901) date back to this time. Big-box retail giants like Macy's and Sears began in 1858 and 1886, respectively. The big automotive brands like Ford and GM didn't come along until over a generation later, in 1903 and 1908, respectively.
The first major milestone on the road to "brand as social object" was simply the birth of the concept of "brand personality." We see this concept begin to emerge in late nineteenth century advertising for brands like Aunt Jemima, and soon after, in the early twentieth century, Quaker Oats.
If the years between the Civil War and World War One mark the first phase of consumer brand evolution, then the second phase would be the transitional period between the latter and the early 1960s, where brand personality (the notion that a brand can have a set of emotional characteristics, much like a person) became truly ubiquitous. It became necessary then for a brand to take on a personality or a set of emotional characteristics. PERSONALITY
The second major milestone on the road to "brand as social object" was the Creative Revolution, the watershed era in brand advertising. The Creative Revolution was to brands what the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper was to rock 'n' roll: it threw away the old rulebook and made it okay for all brands to have their own personality. Brand advertising emerged into its modern age in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and this came to full flower in the Creative Revolution. Led by agencies like Doyle Dane Bernbach, Young & Rubicam, BBDO, and Ogilvy & Mather, consumer brands began to make a conscious effort to drive the conversation with consumers, rather than take earnest stabs at what would today be seen as annoying "suggestive" conversation: "Try a Lucky instead of a sweet!" An example a of brand-driven conversation can be seen in Volkswagen's famous "Think Small" and "Lemon" ads (DDB, 1959).
For about 35 years, after the late 1960s, brands existed in a murky in-between stage where they could talk to consumers and consumers could talk back, but through a variety of different channels, not directly through one single channel. Consumers could write letters to their favorite brands or show their support (or lack thereof) at the cash register, but brand-consumer interaction was still fairly limited. Around 1990 this all changed, when brands began developing interactive content. The whole notion of brands being interactive grew as CD-ROM drives started becoming a standard feature on computers.
The third milestone on the road to brands becoming social objects occurred in 1993, when branded content began appearing on the Web. (Although the World Wide Web was invented in 1989, consumer-generated, branded content actually appeared on the Internet before the existence of the Web. Conversations about brands repeatedly had been popping up on pre-Web bulletin board systems (BBSs) from the late 1970s until the 1990s.) Some of the early notable brands on the Internet included MTV (1993), now-defunct early e-commerce brand First Virtual (1994), and Pizza Hut. At this point brands became something that could be interacted with, in a direct manner. In 1994 a student at UC Santa Cruz, using a fast Internet connection in the campus library, could direct his browser to a primeval version of MTV.com, interact with 10 or 15 different facets of the brand, and even communicate directly with the brand and its employees.
The fourth and final milestone in this evolution to "brand as social object" was the Groundswell phenomenon, the final, sweeping convergence of social technologies and Internet user behaviors that allowed the voice of the individual consumer (or groups of consumers) to become as "loud" as the brands themselves. While a broad definition of the Groundswell would paint it as a 15-year growth, this milestone chiefly occurred between 2003 and today, when social technology use grew most quickly.
Just like the second milestone (the Creative Revolution), the timing of the Groundswell is also fuzzy, because it didn't occur all at once. In fact, it's still occurring. GROUNDSWELL The Groundswell took a lot of consumer brands by surprise. Some brands experienced tremendous growth and measurable results (Proctor & Gamble, Dell, Starbucks), while others have endured painful, awkward, unexpected surprises, Domino's Pizza and Yum Brands/Taco Bell, to name two.
The Few that Became Social Objects
Whether consumer brands ever aspired to become "social objects" for much of the last 100 years is questionable. Brands have always wanted to be talked about, but whether they wanted to be talked with is up for debate. I know plenty of marketing manager
Excerpted from THE SOCIAL CUSTOMER by ADAM METZ. Copyright © 2012 by Adam Metz. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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