The author, Douglas Holt, shares a pointed analysis on brand building and marketing through the lens of social and digital media. He does so by pushing the idea of “cultural branding” in the place of branded content (which, apparently, is dead).
While we found ourselves agreeing with some of Holt’s insights, we were left challenging many of his conclusions (and sighing from the overused examples of major corporate brands like McDonald’s, Chipotle and Coca-Cola). In sum, there are some key takeaways that will impact brands in social media today.
The DEVIANT Perspective
It’s somewhat of a fallacy to try and compare the social platform strength of a major brand to that of a cultural influencer like PewDiePie. The relevance of any social influencer is wildly volatile; someone generating millions of views one year can easily fade into obscurity the next.
Subcultures are a lot more mainstream because of social media, which allows them to be fragmented into further subcultures. So influencers become mouthpieces for evermore specific groups of people, but then it becomes even harder to evaluate authenticity. Brands can certainly benefit greatly from partnering with these people. But what’s most important is for a brand to know and understand what they stand for and what they want to represent and participate and interact genuinely with the people and cultures that espouse those things.
What can brands do today to mitigate some of this churn?:
- Make sure you are comparing your success not against social influencers, but against its impact on your business. Are you seeing more site traffic due to your social efforts? Are people engaging with your handles and asking questions? The rules of engagement will always be different for brands.
- Stick to your purpose. It may sound like jargon, but brands like Red Bull and Old Spice do well because they know what they stand for, they understand the parts of the brand that translate well in social and that resonate with people and lean heavily into it.
- PARTICIPATE. No brand can hope to make legitimate strides within any community if they are not an active participant in it. Short of that, even offering passive commentary on things related to a community can pay large dividends. Host events that highlight well-known members of the community you speak to. Tumblr is great at this and, although not a marketer in the traditional sense, they have created a legion of dedicated followers because they always look for and execute ways to show them some appreciation with events specially designed for them.
WHAT WE LOVED
Holt’s notion of crowdculture, which we refer to as niche groups or hyper-segments: He describes these as “digital crowds that serve as very effective and prolific innovators of culture”, like paleo cross-fitters or millennial oil-refinery workers.
This has been an essential part of the SOCIALDEVIANT content strategy since day one; we think brands should continue to adopt and focus on niche groups to create a more powerful value exchange.
His description of “turbocharged art worlds”: This is a segment of crowdculture; distinctive modes of organization where artists gather for a round of collaborative competition. “Scenes” are then created, and often generate major creative breakthroughs. This allows for a new mode of “rapid cultural prototyping”, where you get instant data from the market, which in turn gets critiqued and reworked so only the most resonant content emerges.
This is just a fancy way of saying test, analyze, optimize and repeat.
WHAT WE CHALLENGE
The assertion that social media has made brands less significant: Customers now have more access to brands than we never could have imagined before. There is a clear path to a two-way conversation with virtually every brand you could imagine. Except maybe for Apple.
Comparing influencers to corporate brands: Brands need to sustain relevance over time and have longevity. Rarely do they generate the fluidity of trends like influencers (PewDiePie or Taylor Swift). So they shouldn’t be compared to influencers, who can spike in fame and then flame out. They need to steadily grow by tapping into influencers in the moment and then lunge when the moment is right.
The idea that purpose branding is a failed tactic: The author outlines in his Jack Daniels example that the brand was headed towards failure for staying true to their brand values. We think companies MUST set their brand purpose as the foundation for driving content and then layer on cultural relevance – cultural relevance is irrelevant without a strong brand purpose. The best brands stay true to their purpose, even in the face of cultural trends and scenarios that could challenge the brand story.
THE FINAL TAKEAWAYS
- Compare your success based on how social is impacting the business vs. your success as compared to influencers
- Use your brand purpose as a foundation for all communications and cultural relevance as tensions as a way to push on creative expressions
- Tap into the value of niche communities to generate relevancy for your demographic and create special moments with your customer base