Where's the Humanity?

Brands have clearly found value in social technologies like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare, but can these platforms really deliver the creativity and emotion-driving potency - the humanity - to strike deep chords with consumers?

Brands have clearly found value in social technologies like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare, but can these platforms really deliver the creativity and emotion-driving potency – the humanity – to strike deep chords with consumers?  That was the question posed to an all-star SXSW panel including Adam Bain, president of global revenue for Twitter; Simon Acton-Bond, CMO for BBDO; Debra Sandler, president of Mars Chocolate; and Gregg Heard, VP of brand identity and design for AT&T.

Perhaps as expected, the resounding answer to the question was “yes.”  And I agree.  Of course, the more difficult question to answer is “how?”  I'd suggest six keys to creating emotional engagement through digital and social media:

1)    It's simply not acceptable to take the same content and ‘push it out.' Brands must design social strategies based on a deep understanding of distinct consumer behaviors in each social platform. As the moderator pointed out, the platforms were “built as technologies for people, not incubators for brands.” For brands to succeed in these spaces, they must study the way consumers interact in each channel (i.e., what they're seeking, what they expect, what they value) and design strategies that enhance their experience, not interrupt it. 

2)    Embrace ‘agile marketing.'  Call it ‘real-time marketing,' ‘marketing in the moment,' or something else, this trend – most recently executed beautifully by Oreo during the Super Bowl – is very real.  And when done well, it's incredibly impactful and human.  While agile marketing might appear completely spontaneous, it actually takes planning.  It's critical to establish proper governance, empower social community managers, and foster a culture of creative engagement to pull off what Oreo did so well.  Imagine if they had to wait for approval for days after the Super Bowl blackout.  Non-starter.

3)    Let go of total control for magic to happen.  Both Sandler and Heard said they don't have social media completely figured out.  But through recent successful campaigns – “Ms. Brown” for Mars and “It Can Wait” for AT&T – they've learned that they have to relinquish some degree of control to their brand fans.  By listening, engaging, and letting the community bring the campaigns to life, they've created emotional connections.

4)    Attract and develop a team who knows how to connect.  Sandler was candid in saying that Mars has historically recruited business school grads who are not necessarily trained to think and work in a flexible, opportunistic manner to seize moments of powerful human engagement.  The company is thinking differently about the types of people they hire.

5)    Integrate digital and physical world experiences.  The most powerful consumer-brand connections don't rely on one media or technology, but rather wrap digital and social media around physical events and content (even traditional advertising) to create an exponentially emotional experience.

6)    Trust your gut and take risks.  Yes, ROI is important, but if you wait to have every data point you need to project ROI, you may miss an opportunity to ‘win the moment.'  Sometimes, you just need to go for it.  Test and learn.  Know that faux pas are typically forgiven quickly, and that great risks often lead to breakthroughs for brands.

So while skeptics may say that digital communications is replacing human engagement, I'd argue it doesn't have to be that way.  It can create powerful connections that bring out the best in humanity.  Is this happening in your organization?

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