Social Marketing on Trending Topics
There was a time when the last thing a company’s marketing department wanted to do was weigh in on some trending hot-button issue. Fear of alienating even one potential customer, let alone thousands, kept water cooler conversations at the water cooler and off the public radar.
But the changed nature of advertising—from one where the company controls placement and distribution to one where customers have an equally strong hand in both—is now requiring brands externalize a social-political persona that reflects core values as if they were people, not corporations.
The brands that do this well attract new customers and retain the loyalty of existing customers. And the brands that don’t do it lose out on a real opportunity to be the subject of excited e-conversation and all the sharing that goes with it.
A perfect example of this was the political momentum of the LGBT community that tipped the issue of marriage equality from “someday” to “done.”
With the historic June 2015 Supreme Court ruling, it was expected that tens of millions of individuals around the world would show their support with rainbow avatars and #lovewins. But it was the reaction of brands that was remarkable.
Here’s the take of Maytag, a traditional, blue chip American brand:
According to Mavrck, a word-of-mouth marketing specialist, “consumers typically expect to see their friends and family responding to current events in this manner, but certainly not brands. So what’s the benefit of brands joining this conversation? It makes a powerful statement about authenticity and inclusion. Each brand that made a show of support on social media…is now more than a logo in the minds of its followers—they are each a representation of progress.”
That assessment fits in lockstep with the oft-quoted Cone Study from last year, which showed that consumers on a global scale want the brands they support to support them in turn, and to be public about it. “One major takeaway for companies: global consumers have officially embraced corporate social responsibility. Today’s global consumers see companies as more than just profit-making entities—they think companies have the responsibility and opportunity to make effective social and environmental change.”
This year’s SCOTUS ruling was North Carolina’s bathroom bill, inspiring a new onslaught of corporate social messaging and prompting Time magazine to write “How Corporate America Became the LGBT Movement’s Key Ally.”
In one example of solidarity with its customers’ politics, Zipcar’s employees became the face and voice of the brand, demonstrating the range of gender inclusion to those who might be new to ey/em/eir and addressing pee politics head on.
So what does this mean in the day-to-day operations of marketing departments everywhere? For B2B companies, not too much, as company-to-company chatter is still more about demonstrating competency than connecting to feelings. But for B2C companies of all sizes, it does mean zeroing in on core values and answering the questions of “what does this company stand for on behalf of its customers?” and “if this company could vote on behalf of its customers, where would that vote fall?”
These are questions that will make old-school marketers squirm, but it’s in keeping with updated consumer expectations. And the next step, with those questions answered, is incorporating these positions into social messaging.
Because trending social topics come up sporadically, and the marketing response needs to be immediate to be part of the conversation, the budgets for these efforts can’t be pre-determined and therefore can be low. But that’s okay. These are statements of the heart. They should be clever, authentic and emotional, not slick and highly produced.
And above all, they should reflect the aspiration of the brand.