It is undeniable that social media have changed the relationship between brands and their customers. Social networks and the wider digital ecosystem have created a global virtual community that has required brands to behave on new and more equal terms – more akin to responsible citizenship than the one-directional salesmanship of old.
What is clear is this paradigm shift has also changed, probably forever, the way brands communicate. No longer are businesses simply asking their customers to watch ads passively and purchase their products. They are encouraging people to interact with conversations and engage via rich media content in a way that increasingly extends into a new and nebulous brand world, operating way beyond the product or service itself.
Yet while a new world order is upon us, the same commercial challenges remain and with this comes the pressure to see a tangible return on investment. But has the process of measuring ROI evolved to match this new normal, and – despite the rich array of data and analytics available – are businesses really asking the right questions to drive success?
In this more balanced community-driven space, there is a value, oft overlooked, in turning the lens around and measuring ROI from the customer’s perspective. For as content marketing becomes the new weapon of choice in the battle for likes, shares, retweets, comments and views, the time is right to ask different and equally searching questions.
What is really in all this activity for the customer? What change in attitude, belief or purchasing behaviour are we trying to effect? How do we measure it, and how do we amend and adjust our communication strategies accordingly? Indeed, could a better understanding of the nuances of "content and effect" be the key to long-term success for brands?
The answer sounds fairly straightforward; learn more about what interests your target consumer and what motivates them.
There is some good news here. As an industry, we are beginning to understand much more about the behavioural characteristics that drive motivation and the most forward-looking brands are already reaping the benefits. Reward is perhaps the most obvious way to motivate humans. Ask your target customer to do something in return for a benefit (prize, discounts, vouchers etc). Clearly demonstrated by lab rats the world over, this basic response mechanism taps into the reward or pleasure centre of our brains and can deliver a high degree of immediate success.
Of course, while effective in the short term, teaching your customers to engage only in return for rew-ard is unlikely to drive long-term results, brand value and loyalty. Luckily, there are other motivational characteristics that are hard-wired into us humans.
Psychologists refer to them as "intrinsic motivators", but in layman’s terms these can be summarised as a basic set of behaviours that have evolved over centuries to help us survive. These include our desire to compete and co-operate with others, to challenge ourselves and be recognised for our contribution and our curiosity to learn. Campaigns that tap into these motivations are more likely to succeed in the long term, as they deliver a return on engagement for the individual participating, even if it is less obvious than an immediate and tangible reward.
Smart brands are deploying these motivators already to underpin their creative off- and online integrated campaigns. Recognising customers for their participation is a fundamental for social media. Responding personally, thanking and acknowledging fans and followers is a simple but effective tool.
Some campaigns take this even further, such as BMW Mini’s personalised billboards. The campaign saw Mini launch a digital billboard campaign that "recognises" Mini owners as they drive past and serves them with tailored messages. An added experiential element saw drivers invited to interact with the billboard and offered a series of treats – such as bacon sandwiches and smoothies in the morning, or a tank of fuel, or flowers on the home-time drive – at a designated pull-in space on the road.
For other brands, competition or "gamification" has become commonplace, while there are numerous examples of crowdsourcing aimed at eliciting active co-operation from communities to choose product designs, select the new season’s fashions or to bring back chocolate bars.
While we all may be familiar with these types of campaigns, have you ever wondered why some deliver a much higher ROI than others?
It is possible, indeed probable, that they are more effective because they deliver a higher return to the consumer by simply tapping into the simple human things that motivate us.
Views in brief
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary recently told our sister title Marketing that negative publicity (such as the oft-rumoured plan to charge passengers to use toilets) generates so much more online traffic to the airline’s site that it results in more sales than positive publicity. What’s your response?
Just weeks after the article in Marketing, O’Leary announced Ryanair "should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily" annoy customers. What prompted the change was a profit warning and concerns from shareholders that customer service issues were hitting sales. He conceded the firm may have a "macho or abrupt culture" and vowed to establish a new team to respond to complaints. For years O’Leary has flown in the face of customer service, eschewing the need for reputation as profits soared. But can reputation be turned on and off like a tap? As PR practitioners, we should watch with interest.
Gabrielle Lovering, head of Digital, UK and EMEA, Cohn & Wolfe