Branding in the Age of Social Media
by Douglas Holt
Social media was supposed to usher in a golden age of branding. But things didn’t turn out that way.
Marketers originally thought that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter would let them bypass mainstream media and connect directly with customers. Hoping to attract huge audiences to their brands, they spent billions producing their own creative content. But consumers never showed up. In fact, social media seems to have made brands less significant.
What happened? The issue is, social media has transformed how culture works, in a way that weakens certain branding techniques. It has united once-isolated communities into influential crowdcultures. Crowdcultures are very prolific cultural innovators. Their members produce their own content — so well that companies simply can’t compete. Consider that people making videos in their living rooms top the charts on YouTube, which few companies have managed to crack.
While they diminish the impact of branded content, crowdcultures grease the wheels for an alternative approach, cultural branding. In it, a brand sets itself apart by promoting a new ideology that springs from the crowd. Chipotle did this successfully when it made two short films critiquing industrial food, tapping into a movement that began in the organic-farming subculture and blew up into a mainstream concern on social media. Other good examples come from personal care. Axe revived its brand by becoming an over-the-top cheerleader for the “lad” crowd that arose as a response to politically correct gender politics. Dove championed the other side of the divide, with campaigns that spoke to crowdculture concerns about unhealthy beauty standards for women.
Brands succeed when they break through in culture, and crowdcultures are a great vehicle for doing that. But firms can’t identify the critical opportunities by relying on traditional segmentation and trend reports. (Read the full article)