In a December 2010 Harvard Business Review article, David C. Edelman suggested that because today's consumers are connecting with brands in new ways—often via channels not controlled by the brand—traditional marketing strategies and structures need to be rethought, and some should even be considered obsolete.
Edelman's article, titled "Branding in the Digital Age. You're Spending Money in All the Wrong Places," referred to research written by David Court and others called the "Consumer Decision Journey," which appeared in the June 2009 issue of the McKinsey report.
According to the theory, consumers used to be systematic about selecting a product by narrowing down choices and making a final selection—a process known, more or less, as the traditional "marketing funnel." "The Consumer Decision Journey" proposed a much more iterative path to a purchase, with four stages—consider, evaluate, buy, and bond—followed by three stages: enjoy, advocate, and bond.
Graphic based on "The Consumer Decision Journey," David Court, McKinsey Quarterly.
These new touch points that open up along the Consumer Decision Journey become opportunities for a brand to influence its consumers before, during, and, very important, after purchase. Social is a perfect place for embracing those touch points.
Fast forward to 2012, and the Consumer Decision Journey has evolved into a Social Loyalty Loop with vast touch points. Brands are building social campaign experiences that spread from one brand loyalist to her friends and create a powerful social loyalty loop that, when done effectively, continues to cultivate brand loyalists.
Here are four ways marketers can fuel such a social loyalty loop.
1. Brand Consideration (Share engaging experiences)
We all know that fans won't share "ads" with friends. Ads might sometimes strike viral gold (think Old Spice videos), but those are rare. Sharing overtly promotional messages would seem forced—or, even worse, spammy. But fans might share a purchase consideration that encourages feedback.
For example, think about a large consumer purchase decision such as a car. On social media platforms, buying a car can be a whole new... well, social experience. A recent campaign for Hyundai cars encouraged fans to design their "dream car," choosing different options and colors until they had the complete picture of the car they were considering.
Those fans might then share that dream car design with friends to solicit opinion: What do you think I'd look like in this car? By sharing that dream car design, that consumer will have explicitly told her friends she is considering a Hyundai. Maybe those friends will think, Well, if Mary is considering a Hyundai, and she's pretty thoughtful, maybe I should think of one, too. (Remember these are Mary's friends. Not everyone thinks Mary's thoughtful, but her friends give her more credibility and influence than anyone else.) The purchase consideration is passed on. In effect, the "recommendation" has been shared!
2. Brand Advocacy (Help friends share your message)
The most powerful impetus to buy a product is someone else's advocacy. A recent study by Sociable Labs found that nearly two-thirds of online shoppers have read product-related comments from friends on Facebook. It's no surprise that a product recommendation from a friend is trusted: It's authentic.
New Belgium Brewing recently launched a new beer—Shift Pale Lager—exclusively via social channels. The company encouraged its fans to invite friends on Facebook to enjoy a Shift beer together. Inviting friends to enjoy a beverage together is a natural social action on Facebook, and it implies a friendly endorsement of the beer at the same time. New Belgium made it easy for fans to advocate on its behalf to their friends. As a bonus, fans who participated were entered into a drawing for a chance to win an invitation to a Shift party in their neighborhood.
3. Brand Enjoyment (Give fans something fun to do)
Does your brand have iconic, noticeable "flare" imagery that could be used by fans? Do you have a great educational or fun content database that offers interesting "how-to" tips for fans to watch and share?
Give fans something they can do that's enjoyable, related to your brand, and, ideally, shareable.
In a recent photo campaign for Universal Picture's The Lorax movie, fans were encouraged to add the Lorax's notable large yellow moustache to a photo, and then share it with friends. Fans could even make the photo their profile picture. Sharing a "morphed" photo with friends of, say, their cute kid or their dog with a big yellow moustache, might prompt all sorts of commentary. Everyone who sees the photo recognizes the Lorax imagery, which, in turn, puts the brand in the conversation among friends.
4. Brand Building (Cultivate regular, relevant, shareable content)
Creating an online "drumbeat" chock full of engaging, sharable social actions and events will create an unstoppable Social Loyalty Loop. For example, Outside Magazine tested fans' "Fitness IQ" by posing daily fitness-related questions to their fans. Outside continued the momentum with a recent "What Trip Are You?" campaign on Facebook, asking fans to answer a series of questions that might identify the kind of traveler they are—River Runner, Adrenaline Junkie, Powder Hound, Enlightened Explorer, or World Traveler.
Those initiatives by the Outside Magazine brand demonstrate the power of creating something relevant that fans would want to share with their friends—content that sparks a conversation in which the brand is a participant.
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Considering the incredible power of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and the velocity of relative newcomers such as Instagram and Pinterest, today's savvy brands must look at how social fits into their overall marketing plans.
By clearly defining goals at the outset—awareness, acquisition, monetization—and tying those into overarching business goals, brands can reap the value of social in connecting and engaging consumers in a rich and rewarding loyalty loop.
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