Social Media Branding Strategy: Using “Touch Points” to Create Strong Brands

Social media creates modern, world class brands. These brands are created because social media allows a marketer to engage customers over many “touch points”. These multiple touch points allow brands to become “friends” with their customers and to create personal relationships with customers. The creation of these relationships is the way that a modern brand is created. This is the change that social media has brought to modern marketing. As a poll conducted by The Economist in April, 2009, tells us, “People no longer believe in advertising any longer–they believe in their friends”. Creating a brand is done by developing a friendship with an organization’s customers. How is this done? It is done by the use of multiple touch points. How does a marketer use “multiple touch points”?

To answer that question we have understand the nature of Social Media. Social Media has created a “perfect storm” for a marketer. To create strong brands a marketer needs scale and a presence. To create a world class brand, a marketer needs a lot of customers, and they need a place where they can meet that huge number of customers. Social media platforms allow a marketer to do this. Approximately ¼ of the world’s population belong to a social media platform. Facebook, if it were a country, would be the fourth largest nation in the world. Many of these platforms are integrated with one another. Five billion impressions are shared by consumers online annually about products and services according to Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler, Forrester Research analysts. This means that social media platforms provide a common meeting place for a great many people to meet and to communicate.

Scale and platform has changed how people, especially people in a global economy, communicate. In new media, brands are created when one person communicates to another person, usually their friend about a product and its benefits. “Friends” have a conversation and brands are recommended. This recommendation among friends creates world class brands. Social media has evolved modern marketing from a “push” world, in which products are produced and pushed on consumers to a “pull” world in which consumers dictate to marketers what the consumer wants.

Social media has created more touch points–places where marketers and consumers–“friends”–engage. This has changed modern marketing. New media can create and develop a brand overnight. Two primary examples are the Ford Fiesta and President Obama. No money was spent on an advertising campaign for the Fiesta. Ford created a social media campaign that lasted 6 months. This campaign involved many touch points. Instead of conventional advertising, Ford’s campaign revolved around posts, video, blogs, and texts. At the end of the campaign, the Fiesta possessed 38% brand awareness in its target market. In the first week that it was available, the Fiesta sold 10,000 units, an unusual number for a new car. In contrast, Ford had spent millions on a conventional advertising campaign, spread over 2 years for its Fusion. After all that expense, the Fusion had a little less than a 38% awareness number. In the case of President Obama, in early 2007 he was virtually unknown with no money, but he won the Presidential election in 2008. Social media branding does work. For a brand to be created, consumers have to know about the brand, and they must perceive it to be different from other products in its marketing space. They have to be convinced that the brand will add something significant to their life. To buy the brand, in a social media age, consumers have to be comfortable with the brand in the same way that they are comfortable with a friend. This is what happened in Fusion and in the Obama campaign. The key to social media branding is the wise use of touch points.

To create a modern brand, a marketer has to make their brand to become almost like a real person–a brand must be someone you can trust, someone you enjoy hanging out with. This is why multiple touch points are critical. The more contact that is made the more the consumers become comfortable with the brands. Branding a product is just like developing a friendship with someone. In our human relationships, the more we get to know someone, the more that we trust them. The more we trust someone, the more we are willing to overlook their shortcomings. In a group of people, we choose our friends, and we decide whom to hang out with, even though we know our friends have shortcomings. Our friends, in real life, have brands. We have trust for those people, so we develop relationships with them. This is how our brands are to be created in a social media age.

There are two sources that do a good job in explaining the dynamic of this trust building and how it relates to modern marketing. The June 2009 issue of The McKinsey Quarterly, written by David Court, Dave Elzinger, and Susan Mulder, describe “The Consumer Decision Journey”. The Harvard Business Review of 12/10, written by David Edleman, explains the use of multiple touch points in an article entitled “Branding In the Digital Age”.

“Touch points” are those precious moments when a marketer meets a consumer, just when a purchasing decision is going to be made. This is the tool that social media gives to a marketer. Social media is marketing in real time. Social media allows a marketer to know just when a customer is going to make a purchase. Social media has allowed the conversation between two “friends” (brand and consumer) to evolve from a one way conversation (conventional advertising–old media) to a two way conversation (new media)

A successful brand becomes a “friend” to a customer. Friend consumer tells friend brand exactly when the consumer wants to buy. The friend brand makes the purchasing experience as easy as possible. Through constant conversations on a social media platform, a brand is able to reach consumers in the right place, at the right time, with right message.

In new media, just as in old, brand awareness is a critical element in the ultimate buying decision. When a purchasing decision is going to be made, many times a consumer will begin the search focused on several different alternatives. These initial brands can be up to three times more likely to be purchased eventually than the brands that aren’t in the original consideration. This is why touch points are so critical to whether or not a product is bought and branded. Touch points constantly create brand awareness. In old media there are only a few touch points, mainly created through advertising. In new media, there are many touch points, and these touch points come from places with a great deal of credibility–your friends and family. In social media the touch points– texts, videos, posts, and blogs– are fun things. They come from friends and family of the consumer. New media touch points make a great impact on a consumer. It is for this reason why the Ford Fiesta gained a 38% awareness level in just six months with no formal advertising. In old media, unless a consumer is actively shopping, the advertising may be wasted money.

This is in contrast to New Media. On a social media platform, a brand and a consumer are in constant contact. What happens when something triggers the impulse to buy? Those constant experiences through multiple touch points seal the deal because now a marketer knows precisely when a consumer wants to buy. In New Media, marketing is now in real time. This is a change in the dynamic of how products are marketed, branded, and bought. In old media, the marketer reached out to the consumer, through traditional advertising. In new media, consumers reach out to the marketer to create the brand. When a consumer wants to know about a brand, they now go to a Facebook page, access information, and read the “comment” section to get an idea of the quality of the product. The “advertising” is from peers–people who have already used the product.

The consumer is now in control. To create a relationship and brand, the marketer must create a conversation through a social media platform that the marketer has no control over. This conversation can only be created if there is engaging content to share with the consumer. People don’t want to converse with people who are dull or who add nothing to their lives. Engaging, two-way content is only way that a modern brand is going to be created.

The researchers at McKinsey found that 2/3 of the touch points during the active evaluation phase involve the consumer-driven marketing activities, such as Internet reviews, and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family, as well as the platform interactions and recollections of past experiences from a peer group in the “comment” section. The greater the number of touch points, the greater the chance a product will be purchased and a brand created. The greater the number of touch points the greater the chance that a consumer will get the right information at the right time.

Marketers create brands through multiple touch points, by taking part in conversations with consumers about brands, creating compelling content, and listening to “friends” as they “converse”. This use of multiple touch points is the means by which President Obama created the brand that he needed to win the Presidency in 2008. It is the use of touch points that allowed Ford to sell 10,000 units of the Fiesta in its first week of availability, although Ford had not invested any money at all in traditional advertising.

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