The rise of social media has put a magnifying glass under every branding decision. Before social media, and even before the Web 1.0 era, brands did have to anticipate how their branding decisions would be perceived by their target markets. However, with social media making it extremely easy to spread a message, the process by which brands get feedback about their branding decisions moves a lot faster. A great analogy for the speed differential would be the difference between traveling between 2 places by horse drawn carriage vs. traveling by Boeing 757.
A highly unpopular branding decision from the pre-Internet era was Coca-Cola’s decision to reformulate their signature beverage offering. New Coke only lasted as the primary Coca-Cola product for a couple of months, due to the negative backlash. If New Coke were to hit the market today, it wouldn’t last more than a week. Recently, another beverage brand talked reformulation and quickly backtracked. Bourbon brand Maker’s Mark floated the idea of reducing the alcohol content in their product from 45 percent to 42 percent. Negative feedback in the social media space shelved those plans within a few days. One Maker’s Mark executive even referred to this situation as being amongst the worst days of his life.
It is not just beverage brands changing formulations that have social media listening crises. Netflix, a company that interacts with its consumers exclusively online, had plans to split their DVD mailing service and their online streaming service into two companies. That idea didn’t sit too well, and they scuttled those plans. And it also doesn’t have to be the core product changing to get consumers to air their feelings. Gap & Tropicana merely had logo changes that were not well received and had to revert to more familiar versions of their logos.
Due to the sheer quantity and speed at which social media moves, a brand has to be well positioned to capitalize on events that may happen at a moment’s notice. Oreo got a lot of acclaim for how they executed a social media effort during the Super Bowl. In the 3rd quarter of the game, there was an unexpected loss of power inside the stadium. Within minutes, Oreo had visual ad copy Tweeted out with the tag line “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark.” and that copy was duplicated on Facebook. The Twit Pic was retweeted immensely, the Facebook post was eventually Liked over 20,000 times and the story gained traction in the media. This week, after the Oscars, a photographer captured a picture of Best Director winner Ang Lee eating an In-N-Out Burger while holding the golden statue. The photo made a splash in the social media, and individuals were connecting this event to the brand. In N Out Burger didn’t acknowledge As of February 26th, In N Out had not posted on Twitter since June 21, 2011. and had not posted on Facebook since February 14. This could have been a moment for In N Out to get free publicity and they didn’t capitalize to the fullest extent.
If a brand wants to face the fewest possible repercussions for their branding decisions, they’ll ultimately listen to their consumers. Some may do it sooner than others, and it is always better to do it sooner than later. Anticipation is something that is much more difficult and requires greater organizational buy in to achieve. In terms of anticipation, there are a couple of different types of anticipation. The first type of anticipation is trying to project how the reaction will be to a branding decision. Certainly, offline marketing research tactics like focus groups could be helpful in anticipating public statement, but they aren’t fool proof. Some links to online surveys distributed via social networks could be a way to gauge sentiment to potential branding decisions before they happen. That method would seem to entail the fewest possible repercussions for branding changes that consumers would perceive as being impactful. The second type of anticipation would involve being ready to connect a brand to events newsworthy. This would require a keen organizational focus and being prepared to engage in active social media marketing at a moment’s notice. When a brand needs to move at such a rapid pace, marketing automation can prove to be quite valuable, as it saves time, one of the scarcest resources in any organization.
The brands that master of art and the science of listening and anticipation are the ones that are best positioned to succeed in social media marketing. It isn’t content creation that has been seen to be the challenge lately. Rather, it has been efforts towards optimizing and distributing content online in a timely fashion and getting it noticed.