Social media, perhaps more than any other technology to date, has put power in the hands of the consumer: no longer do they rely exclusively on marketing or advertising to make buying decisions, but opinions from individuals they know and trust, too. But for many businesses it’s a slow game of catch-up with these changing consumer trends. To be successful in a competitive environment, it’s important to know who you’re marketing to, and how they’ll make their decisions.
Where it all started
Archaeological evidence suggests that branding started around 5000 and 3000 BCE. Modern branding, however, only came in to being shortly after the industrial revolution: manufacturers of mass-produced products found they were able to compete with smaller, local competitors by creating a company and product image the local populace could associate with. By the middle of the 20th century, businesses noticed a relationship between product and person, and subsequently developed their brand identity to be more reflective of that relationship. The provenance of branding as we know it started around the same time, with consumers buying brands more than they do the actual products.
The social mind
AYTM Market Research surveyed 2,000 people who use the internet on a regular basis, finding that 58% of Facebook users have liked a brand, whereas 39% of Twitter users have tweeted about a brand. Important to note are the findings of a social media report published by Nielsen and NM Incite which reveals how users use social media to communicate about a brand. 61%, the report claims, use it to ‘Give recognition for job well done’, while 58% use it to ‘Protect others’ from bad brand experiences. 25% will use social media to ‘Punish company’, should they feel wronged by a brand. The separation of product or service and brand, has all but disappeared.
But what is it consumers expect from a brand? Despite rapid marketplace and technological change, audiences still expect the same basic brand attributes they did back in the early 1900s: honesty, the brand as an assurance of quality, and accountability. Add to the latter an increasing need for transparency, and you’ll have a general description of the modern consumer. However for modern branding to succeed, the premise is simple: know thy audiences.
The AYTM Market Research survey suggests three general categories of modern consumer: the social platforms addict (possible brand evangelist), the share reactor (likely to promote brand information) and the ads believer (responds to traditional marketing methods). These three personas are likely to exist in different forms in different industries, both online and offline. Accurate market research will further reveal the detail required for accurate targeting, and for better behind-the-scenes decision-making that contributes to the evolution of business strategies and models.
If anything, social media has created an environment where business success is preceded by an in-depth exploration of who it really is that buys the products, and ultimately keeps the lights on and machines whirring. This level of detail sooner or later requires interaction with audience members, and transforms into a relationship as fragile as interpersonal relationships have ever been. In short, social media has created the requirement for brands to be less business, and more human.