Stop Trying to Talk to Consumers

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Christian McMahan, managing partner, SmartFish Group
Christian McMahan, managing partner, SmartFish Group

If you've been paying attention, some of today's consumer statistics are quite powerful. Ninety percent of consumers today trust a peer recommendation, but only 14% trust advertisements. The game for today's marketers has changed. Social media and peer recommendation sites have permanently shifted the conversation. It's no longer about talking directly to consumers; it's about delivering them content about your brand that allows them to spread the word about it in a meaningful, positive way.

The first item to consider is how dedicated peer recommendation sites influence your brand. Trip Advisor, Yelp, Rotten Tomatoes, etc., are changing the way we make our purchase decisions. We no longer rely on “expert” opinions, but rather we put our faith and trust in reading the first five to 10 peer reviews we come across, and develop an overall impression based on what we read. These people could be insane; we've no way of knowing, yet we still put a lot of stock in what they say about a brand and even let it influence our final purchase decision. Marketers today must be proactive in engaging with consumers on these sites for their brands to be successful. Ignoring what's being said about your brand on social media is the equivalent to sticking your head in the sand.

I vividly recall the first time I realized how big the power of online peer recommendations would become. It was about five years ago; my wife and I were on a retreat in Tulum, Mexico, a sleepy coastal town a few hours south of Cancun. Our “villa” had no electricity or phone, and was built on rocks overlooking the Caribbean waters. Despite the lack of amenities, we'd an amazing time. As we're leaving, we stopped by the front area to say goodbye. We asked the local man who was working the area if we could write a letter to the owner telling him how much we liked our stay. I wasn't quite sure he understood what I was trying to say, so I tried to repeat it in the eighth-grade-level Spanish that I knew. That was the moment. I could see the acknowledgement in his face and then he uttered two words to me, “Trip Advisor.” So there we were in the middle of nowhere, in a place with no power, being told in broken English to write something nice on the Trip Advisor website.  The game was changing, and fast.

The other key player in this game is going to be Twitter. Despite its amazing growth and successful IPO, Twitter has yet to hit the mainstream and is still considered a place where celebrities, creative, and tech-savvy people spend their time communicating in 140 characters. Marketers must wake up and see what's going on. Today, over 50%—or 110 million users—actively recommend products on Twitter. As more of the world starts to better understand how to use Twitter as a news aggregator and source for the most up-to-date pertinent information, the potential of Twitter to brand marketers will explode. One example of how brand marketing has changed due to Twitter is how brands use celebrity endorsements. There was a day when the most common thing brands did was use a celebrity to help promote an event or product. By doing that, the marketer was hoping to get good PR driven by the celebrity and have the story picked up by magazines and newspapers. Now the big negotiating clause in a celebrity contract is that marketers are requiring them to tweet about it.  Yes, requiring them. If Katy Perry has 50 million Twitter followers and promotes a brand out to her audience, hopefully in a tasteful and organic way, the impact of that tweet is extraordinary. If that celebrity and her audience both align with your brand values and consumer target, it can be one of the best investments you ever make.

From a straight content perspective, no one is doing better today than Red Bull. Red Bull is at the forefront of today's marketing, and engaging with its target consumers. The company has built tremendous brand awareness and engagement, and it has very little to do with a 30-second TV ad. It has focused its resources on creating content that its consumers will digest on their own terms. Red Bull now has more than 42 million followers on Facebook, which gives the company an almost Super Bowl-size audience every time it posts content—amazing. This also allows Red Bull flexibility in what its content is. It can be 10 seconds of a bike jump or several hours of watching a guy parachute from space. The company is flawlessly executing today's brand marketing version of “If you build it, they will come.”

So, in 2014, put your time and energy into generating great brand content. Once you have that, you can go find your audience and distribute it. As has been said: “Content is fire, social media is gasoline.” Time to build your fire and change the way consumers engage with your brand moving forward.

Christian McMahan is managing partner of SmartFish Group

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