The next session I attended was again in the area of content, this time very specifically addressing user generated content (“UGC”). Presented by a specialized technology / marketing services provider and one of their clients (Vodafone), this session confirmed some things and raised the ghost of repeating past mistakes.
Amongst the confirmed: social media has become just another marketing channel, driven by paid reach (the idea of organic reach is becoming widely accepted as a thing of the past). At least part of the fault (if it is fault) lies with the marketing industry and its obsessive search for controlling, tracking and optimising consumer responses.
Social media has become just another marketing channel, driven by paid reach
And at this point the “ghost” raised its head. It seems that “brand advocacy” (i.e. people saying good things about your brand and recommending it) is going to be subjected to the same process: track, nudge, incentivize, automatize. Spontaneous advocacy is well-established as an indicator of success and what we should try to generate by creating excellent experience with our products and services. What is going to happen when we try to manage something spontaneous with planned journeys and algorithms? I fear the same that has happened in other areas of digital communication: plummeting response rates and even more scepticism from our customers.
The question raised in the earlier session about Content ROI was directly addressed by the next session on the “Tinder Generation”. It appears that platforms like Tinder have changed the patterns and habits of our personal relationships. One marketing agency set itself the task of discovering if similar changes are reflected in how people relate to brands. This type of research starts with a very particular bias, but some of the results are interesting. Describing people’s relationship with a fast food brand as “a secret fling” at least makes the discussion of research more lively.
The speaker tried to keep a delicate balance between the “new generation” camp and the decades of research (nicely summarized here) which show that people never had particularly special relationships with brands anyway. I would suggest that is by far the more important point to understand. However, expect to see much more of this type of research that tries to bridge rigour and addressing the latest trends. Just read the small-print before using it to make any real decisions.
The day ended on a high note, deliberately provoked by a nicely planned debate between one of the UK’s more outspoken Marketing commentators (and business school professor) and a group of senior executives. The subject: Brand Valuation is Bullshit / Brilliant.
The basic premise was clear: how can you take brand valuation seriously when the three leading providers of valuations produce valuations of the same brand that vary by staggeringly large amounts of money?
Some good answers were provided by the executives of the companies in question (Millward Brown, Interbrand, Brand Finance) and also some questionable methodologies were exposed (can you seriously propose “engagement” as a measure to use for financial valuation?).
The session was a convenient reminder of the need for constant self-criticism and the pursuit of understanding. I’ll take this into tomorrow’s sessions in the form of a question we would do well to ask ourselves more often: how much do we truly understand of the dynamics of consumers’ choices and the effect our marketing decisions and actions have on those choices?
At the very least, this question arms us properly to face the constant deluge of “new”, “different”, and “everything has changed” that our profession produces.