05 December 2009

Brands With A Social Problem

I've been asked by some friends to count down 2009 with them and usher in the new year with a tipple or two. But somehow I don't feel in the mood for bubbly or sparkling conversation. Maybe the years are catching up with me. I've noticed that as we age, we tend to move in ever-smaller circles, maintaining fewer (but hopefully deeper) ties with a select group of buddies with whom we're comfortable.

Brands face the other end of this social problem. By this, I mean that as consumers get on in years, they are less open to trying out new brands. It's just human nature. We become set in our ways, and hunker down with our proven repertoire of so-called 'gateway' brands that have earned our trust to fulfil several related needs: a financial brand, an entertainment brand, a food brand, a transportation brand, and so on. That's why brand marketers scramble to get aboard this golden brandwagon for a greater lifetime share of customer wallet ... before everything is cast in stone and the 'choice' key is thrown away.

This is perhaps the biggest reason why brand stewards should plunge courageously into social media marketing -- to make themselves accessible to and engage with consumers on their own terms, through communication platforms they use, in the hope of earning an invitation into their homes and lives in time to come, before the game is over. Because consumers aren't going to be open to experimentation tomorrow as they are today.

Elvin Ong, a friend of mine and astute social media commentator, puts it eloquently in his Facebook note (http://www.facebook.com/#/note.php?note_id=141684857632): "If a brand finds it hard to break into a community now, think about how difficult it will be when communities break up into small, tighter groups made up of tightly-linked individuals with set views, lifestyle and buying habits." His note goes on to make a compelling case for why marketers should venture into social media campaigns -- notwithstanding the haziness around the most appropriate and effective metrics by which to measure success (or the lack thereof).

Irresponsible advice? Well, you're entitled to your opinion. I just think that we all have to start somewhere. No one knew how to get to the moon until President Kennedy pulled the trigger and plonked some money on the table. Caution is commendable -- but only to a point. Make sure you don't hang back until the train leaves the station, and there's no one left to befriend.

To paraphrase the SAS: Who dares, wins.

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