May 1, 2009

Prom King Brands Redux

Few things frustrate me more than the very false notion promulgated by many working in the social media space, that all brands are Prom King Brands.

By that I mean the countless calls to “engage your hardcore fans” and “energize your base.”

As if all brands actually had hardcore fans. Or any fans, for that matter.

I mean seriously, do you think that Acco staplers (it’s the brand on my desk right now) has “hardcore fans”? What about Uniden phones? AOC computer monitors? Are hundreds of people actively participating in groups for them on Facebook? (I’ll answer that for you: Acco has a group around an October 2008 Canadian giveaway promotion with the movie “Office Space” called “Organize Your Desk Day” with 108 members; Uniden has a fan page with 14 fans; AOC has a Spanish language fan page with 14 members.) And those are three fairly large brands in the scheme of things.

Remember the simple test for Prom King Brand-ness: Would someone, unironically, wear the brand’s logo on a cap or t-shirt. Eliminate sports teams and entertainment properties (movies, bands, TV shows) and you can likely list all the Prom King Brands in a couple of minutes.

That’s not to say that other brands can’t play in social media; they’ve just got to do it differently. Putting out Apple or Coke or even Zappos as examples of how to participate in social media is just wrong. They are the exceptions; not the rules.

Here’s the simple example I give clients: there’s always an exchange of value going on in social media. (I call it “the candy.”) Prom King brands have “coolness” to give: I may not be an athlete, but becoming a fan of Nike makes me look like one. Non-Prom King Brands don’t have coolness to give. They need to give something else. And that something else can be anything from a coupon to information to entertainment. The only requirement is it’s got to be something the consumer actually wants.

Do that, and you have a fair exchange of the sort that encourages consumers to interact with you in social media. You’ll be able to make them aware of your product and whatever it is you’re pushing that month. But chances are they’ll always remain consumers. Your product isn’t likely interesting enough or unique enough to turn them into anything remotely resembling hardcore fans.

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