Arment Dietrich

Social Media Strategy: Grow Sales, Build Brand, or Both?

By: Arment Dietrich | August 16, 2010 | 

Is your social media marketing strategy geared toward growing your sales or building your brand? Or are you trying to achieve both?

Previous posts of mine about getting more comments on your blog and content versus conversation have engendered debate in the form of blog posts and comments regarding the value of conversation and community in comparison to lead generation and bottom line outcomes.

While I’m proudly a touchy-feely “community” guy (my job title is community manager, after all), I can’t deny there won’t be an opportunity to build a community around a business if there aren’t enough sales to keep its doors open.

What we need to do is separate social media marketing tactics into short- and long-term buckets.

For example, to build community is to build brand equity, which is a long-term proposition. Coca-Cola has built tremendous equity in its brand over the years by creating a certain understanding of what Coca-Cola means. Consistently for more than a century, it has developed an image of happiness, togetherness, and refreshment. This image doesn’t foster immediate sales, but rather acts as a positive placeholder in people’s minds that has carried on through many generations.

Through social media, Coca-Cola has been able to take its brand-building efforts further by creating a community hub on Facebook where consumers can share their own love of the brand with others and feel more a part of the brand by interacting with Coca-Cola and other enthusiastic consumers.

Many social media marketing efforts have been aimed at brand building. Another example is Comcast Cares, a Twitter initiative spearheaded by Frank Eliason (who has since moved on to Citi) to improve the company’s often disparaged image as a customer service failure.

But when companies are looking for immediate sales, they need other arrows in their quiver. The industry has been abuzz with the recent Old Spice campaign, in which the company featured its spokesman in YouTube videos answering Twitter questions from individual consumers. Despite initial industry skepticism about the effectiveness of the campaign, later reports claimed that sales have doubled.

I’d say doubling sales in a month is evidence of a pretty darn good campaign. But what will Old Spice do to keep the good times rolling? The brand has a Facebook page, but its 800,000 fans pale in comparison to Coca-Cola’s 10 million. It has a blog on its website, but the latest post was in April.

I submit that Old Spice needs to parlay this successful sales campaign into a community-building effort in order for it to pay off in long-term brand equity.

Let me know what you think. Will Old Spice’s campaign sputter out and sales fall back to earlier levels?

What are some of your favorite social media campaigns? Are they long-term brand-building efforts? Or are they short-term sales efforts? Are there any companies that have done a good job at both?

  • Some interesting thoughts, Daniel. I’m not sure, however, whether I really think the Old Spice campaign was a social media campaign.

    The initial ad ran on TV in February, if I’m not mistaken. Sure, it was whipped into a spin via YouTube in the summer but I think a lot of the campaign owed much to the initial interruptive marketing on TV.

    Besides, I can’t help feel that their use of YouTube was akin to interruptive marketing also. Here was a highly produced, stylised ad that ran on a community channel. To my mind this was old school marketing getting its feet wet on a social media channel, and not a social campaign per se.

    The one thing that really felt social was the short and snappy videos in response to tweets. Now that was conversational and innovative, n’est pas?

    • I completely agree with your assessment, Jon. In fact, if you look more closely at what I wrote about the campaign, the only part I mention is the video responses to tweets.

      Like you, I would consider the rest of the campaign to be more traditional advertising. But still, I say again and again that social media marketing and traditional marketing shouldn’t be treated as completely separate undertakings.

      All of a company’s marketing, regardless of the medium, should be part of a greater overall strategy. What Old Spice did to link the different forms of media is something to be admired, in my opinion.

  • Good thoughts Dan. In going on the comment above, I’d argue the Old Spice campaign may not have been ‘social’ but rather moving towards ‘real time’. It also took advantage of social channels.

    Rather, what was different was the planned yet raw and unpredictable nature. You tweet something in and this guy does a ridiculous response, it’s not groundbreaking but the fact you had no clue what he was going to say was what kept people tuning in.

    The audience felt like they had control over Mustafa (the old spice guy). That’s what was innovative.

    • Yes, Ryan, I agree that it was the “what will happen next” and general absurdity that drew people to the Old Spice campaign. I actually do think it was groundbreaking and something that everyone else will want to look at in terms of how they can continue to push the envelope.

      At the same time, Old Spice can’t pat itself on the back and end it there. I look forward to seeing how the company will continue to build on it, particularly in terms of fostering community and making the most of the attention they received to make something lasting out of it.

      • That’s the problem. What can you to next to keep it going? Loads of great campaigns are one and done. Especially when it explodes.

        Soccer in the US is similar. Every World Cup the popularity soars, but then comes back down. Even during the low points, it is still higher than it was 4 years earlier.

        • I think a big part of how you keep it going is that you provide a forum for your community to keep it going without you.

          Community isn’t about millions of people being interested in your product, but rather them being interested in each other with your product as a sort of backdrop.

          So for soccer, the World Cup is a rallying point for all soccer fans around the globe. The trick is for the soccer powers to find a way to get those fans engaging with each other with soccer as the underlying common interest.

          Even if the conversation moves to politics or the weather, if they’re connected because of their passion for soccer, and they continue to experience new and growing relationships because of it, that enthusiasm will continue to build even when the World Cup is a year or two past.

  • Daniel
    Good point. Time is one important factor in our life and decisions. How often do we struggle because one option optimizes some short term goals and the other one the long term goals!
    I wrote a post about old spice. Yes they achieve great short-term results (buzz and $) but the question remains how sustainable this will be as new campaigns will take the spot light. To me this wasn’t social media marketing but marketing in social media (i.e: not really social but leveraging in a smart and efficient way the social channels)
    The truth is that social media is different. It’s not a channel (broadcast). It’s a network of niche networks (aka communities) where people with similar interests socialize and build relationship. It’s human 1.0 to quote my good friend Francois Gossieaux. So companies need that human 1.0 in their DNA. They need to be community centric. Does that mean they need their own community? May be but they also need to insert their employees in the relevant communities that exists out there in the network.

    • I like that, Laurent. Human 1.0. Jelena Woehr wrote a great post here on Spin Sucks a few weeks back about how social media is just another development in human communication — another pipeline for us to converse with each other.

      One thing it’s done is brought individual interaction back to the forefront for businesses.

      Now that the movement toward customer-centricity — or community-centricity — has gained strength, companies need to think on the individual level. Whether that’s within their own online communities, within established outside communities or even offline, I think the big idea is that we’re moving away from broadcast and into the age of the niche, into the age of Human 1.0, as you say.

  • Great post and I like your response to Jon’s comment as well. There seems to be a lot of social media Kool-Aid going around these days, and frequently I see cases such as Old Spice, where commentators forget the gazillions of dollars in advertising that made the “Old Spice Guy” a social media success. I’ll be interested to see what the brand comes up with next. They’ve set the bar pretty high and consumers are fickle enough to abandon the brand now that OSG is back to being just another out-of-work actor.

    Social media is a fantastic way to engage “advocates,” those customers and influencers who truly bond with a brand and share their enthusiasm with the world. Can’t beat those third-party endorsements (which cost nearly nothing yet top the credibility charts).

    But I’d be interested to read more cases about brands built using social media from the get-go.

    It seems to me that social media is great for brand sustaining, but not so great at brand-building…unless you’ve got something truly compelling or you have the luxury of time.

    Appreciate your thoughts and thanks again for the post.

    • Thanks, Bill! The first company that comes to mind that might fit into the type of case you’re looking for is Zappos.

      They built a tremendous following primarily through social media and word of mouth, mostly because of the unique culture CEO Tony Hsieh has created.

      They grew by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years, and now I’ve noticed recently that they’ve launched a fairly large television campaign — a very good one, I think.

      Larger, older companies of course will follow the first model you mention, sustaining brand. But for smaller companies that are just starting out –usually with far smaller budgets — I believe the Zappos route is a very viable (and advisable) one.

  • This just in! Forbes names the top 20 social media campaigns ever:

    Share your thoughts on their picks here!

  • Guys,
    I know it’s a slightly cynical perspective, but haven’t a lot of businesses equated Social Media Marketing and “spin” as one and the same for a while now?

    Isn’t part of the issue that there’s too many non-strategic social media plays going on – and FAR too many backyard players destroying the space with “get rich quick on Facebook” style campaigns?

    We’re currently forming a Society of Accredited Social Media Managers with the aim to at least set a few standards and encourage and market those that want to play fair…

    Feel free to let us know what you think of the idea and direction via:

    Andy C

  • With the Old Spice ads, people loved it but the burning question was “how long can it last?” I don’t even think that is entirely in regards to their ability to continue in responding but also on how long that would be endearing to its followers. I believe they ended it perfectly and on a high note. If it had kept running, would it eventually have become counter-effective? Maybe even patronizing?

    The inherent difference between a corporate branding and personal branding is a corporation needs a spokesman for people to identify with. With a spokesman, it’s a gimmick–a hook–to draw people to the brand. With social media changing the game, if your brand still revolves around your image and your spokesperson, it may work in the short term (a la Old Spice) but it will run its course. The long term success in brand building with social media is how you engage the community.

    Maybe I’ve become too cynical, but I am inherently distrustful of people who swear brand loyalty. Or worse, if someone qualifies the whole product (“You know, I absolutely love this Tide Double Cleaning Action with Bleach, it’s so great. Have you tried it?”), then there’s no chance in hell I’d buy it because 1) they’re obviously a covert marketing agent and 2) I dislike being patronized.

    People sense when you’re disingenuous. Social media branding is just as much about being genuine as it is about your image. If you can foster a community that takes on a life of its own, to the point where you don’t even need to initiate the conversation, then it’s a success.

    Otherwise it’s still an ad campaign that will be forgotten in a few months.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to leave this comment, Jarod. I’d say it’s worth at least five cents, don’t you think?! 😉

      I do agree that it would’ve been a mistake to run the Old Spice video answers much longer. And you make a good point about spokespeople. However, I don’t consider spokespeople to be gimmicks. I think people want to connect with a particular personality from a brand, and it’s much easier to align our personality preferences through other humans, as opposed to ideas.

      But, yes, it is eventually going to come back to community and finding a way to get your them talking about your brand and promoting your brand without thinking twice about it. This is when you benefit from the exponential effects of word of mouth, and that really is the holy grail of marketing. Because while people want personality from a brand, they ultimately value the opinions of their friends and family and others they trust far more than someone speaking in an ad.

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