Aug 4, 2008

One Size Does Not Fit All

The more I look at how The Real Digital Revolution has affected our relationship with advertising, the more I’ve come to realize how important it is to realize that the social media tools we recommend are very much dependent on the type of product we’re marketing. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that “social media” is a checklist of Facebook apps, blogs, widgets and “viral” videos. But it's not that simple. The interactions we want to have with familiar packaged goods products are very different than the interactions we want to have with products that are new to us. Both call for very different social media solutions.

To wit: If I am looking to buy anything from a camera to a car to a new pair of running shoes, I’m going to want information about that product, information on which I can base my purchase decision. Now that information can be anything from price to color to image to functionality to customer reviews. But it all falls under he category of things I didn’t previously know and want to be educated about.

With a familiar packaged goods item like Cheerios, there is no education. I know what Cheerios look like and taste like-- they’re the same Cheerios I’ve been eating for the past 40 some odd years. So unless you’ve got some new information for me, what you want to do is remind me that Cheerios exist and get some emotional connection going.

At some level, that frees up familiar packaged goods (FPGs) to be more creative in their social media executions. They’re creating an image (or reinforcing one.) Non-FPGs, on the other hand, need to head in the other direction and make sure that at least some of what they’re doing in social media works to complement what people are learning via Google by providing answers, links, explanations and follow-up.

So, for example, a brand like Hershey’s chocolate may decide to own Americana and base their campaign around a small-town, old time American theme (not advocating this, mind you, it’s just an easy example.) Now that can mean anything from sponsoring “I remember” message boards/Facebook apps where Boomers and Lost Gens can reminisce about their mid-century childhoods, to hosting a video series of the same on YouTube or Vimeo.

Which are all things a brand that’s not a familiar packaged good can do, but they also have to go the extra yard and make sure that they’re being the category expert, providing vehicles that their customers can use to learn more about the product- either from experts or from each other. So while a camera company can certainly host an amateur nature photography site, they’ll also want to keep someone on Twitter to handle any questions or issues that arise, maybe even have a question and answer page on their site to help educate and raise their "expert" status.

Subtle differences, no doubt, but as social media continues to expand, it pays to bear in mind that there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all solution and that the differences between the various social media tools are as distinct as those between say a TV and outdoor.

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