Profitable Addiction

The first hit is always free

About seven years ago, I was working as a Group Brand Manager at a Consumer Healthcare company. I was responsible for a couple of challenger brands that needed to grow their market share with pretty small budgets.

Social media was not new, but it was yet to be fully adopted by a lot of brands, especially Healthcare brands (who, lets face it, are quite often late to the media party).

I’d just read How Brands Grow so I was obsessed by concepts like ‘mental availability’ and continually trickling consistent, distinctive brand iconography into the eyes and ears of the category consumer.

But I didn’t have the budget to do that properly with paid media.

Social Media seemed like the answer to my prayers. I saw it as this little greenhouse for my brands, where I could funnel consumers in and then gradually supply them with branded content until they couldn’t help but remember its name at the moment of purchase.

Genius, I thought.

Of course, in hindsight, the real genius was Mark Zuckerberg – I’d been recruited.

To use drug dealer parlance, “the first hit is always free”, and in those days, Social was acquiring its future buyers, establishing its marketing patch.

Since then, the stuff’s got less potent. Marketers have gradually needed to pay more and more for the same effect.

Fortune Favours The Rich…

In 2017 we find ourselves in this pay-as-you-play Social environment, where even the richest, highest quality content needs a paid kick-start.

Which is another way of saying: normal service has been restored and even earned media has swung back in favour of the players with the deepest pockets…

So once again, fortune favours the rich. What a pity.

But that’s not the end of it.

Just because brands with big budgets have a head start, doesn’t mean they necessarily have to win.

Social Marketing Has Come Of Age

It just means small brands have to apply cutting edge challenger brand thinking to their Social comms: big ideas that reposition the brand leader as functionally deficient (or at least inferior) by re-balancing the category’s ‘performance’ criteria.

It means applying the more of the old-fashioned rules of interruptive, competitive advertising to a landscape that has up until now, has been measured by levels of participation and interaction.

Ad agencies have been preaching for years that not everything that counts, can be counted – and that statement has never been more true for Social comms.

Empirical measurement is kind of beside the point: ignore the number of Fans, the number of Likes, the number of competition entries – the real measures are things like: does this channel help me to execute my big idea? Does it add richness to my [selling] story? Is it an effective parapet to communicate from? The cost of entry will ensure that the channels will become more accountable than ever.

As Bernbach said, “rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula”.

So good Social Strategists are about to become very, very valuable.

If us Brand Marketers are going to be addicted to something, it may as well be something performance enhancing.

Royston Reeves

Royston Reeves

Strategy Director