16 Jun 2021 20:09 IST

How social media messaging impacts a brand

Brands are using social media to provide friendly counsel and build relationships with customers

One of the interesting contradictions in marketing is the coexistence of innovation and resistance. While every marketing strategy depends on innovation, either in the product/service or the campaign, it must also take into account the natural resistance that consumers can sometimes display towards any drastic change that requires a significant alteration in behaviour. To overcome this resistance, marketing companies have used messaging through different media to connect with consumers and create a relationship with the brand.

If we are to take a snapshot of the last three decades, marketing has been defined by three distinct phases — the advent of the internet, followed by Big Data, and finally, the smartphone. The internet created a massive platform to reach out to consumers. Big Data refined this outreach by providing marketers an in-depth insight into the average consumer, helping them tailor their messaging and reach out to a highly-targeted audience. The last few years have been dominated by smartphones and through it, social media marketing. It is a trend that has further gained momentum during the Covid-10 pandemic.

Surge in social media marketing

In terms of sheer numbers, social media provides marketers with an almost unparalleled reach. The number of social media users in India was pegged at 448 million in January 2021, a jump by 21 per cent in just one year. Given that it still accounts for a little over 32 per cent of the total population, it also shows a huge potential for growth. The spike in social media users has emerged as critical for marketing companies looking to connect with users during the pandemic when worldwide lockdowns have limited other more traditional approaches, such as holding events.

A survey of Chief Marketing Officers in the US and the UK revealed that the social media spending has gone up to 23.2 per cent in June 2020 from 13.3 per cent of marketing budgets in February 2020. In India, digital spending has been slower to gain traction, but shows more promising growth when compared to print or TV ad spend.

Evolution of social media marketing

Given that Facebook first appeared in 2004 and YouTube a year later, social media has already clocked more than a decade and a half. In fact, the earliest social networking platforms can be traced back to the 90s when it was confined to online chats, bulletin boards, and emails. With a reach of millions (and sometimes billions), the top social media outlets today include Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and TikTok.

During its eventful journey from the early 2000s, social media marketing has seen an interesting curve as it went from mere announcements to a more direct and personal approach. It has emerged as a powerful tool to engage with customers beyond a periodic product launch or service update, creating a deeper and more personalised branding experience. Savvy marketers are using it today to create authentic interaction where the consumer feels personally heard or seen. Instead of a one-way communication, brands are now interacting with their users, paying attention to online chatter and what the user wants.

In return, we have also seen the trend of users taking forward the brand communication. For instance, the culture of ‘sharing’ has spurned a trend where the user spreads the word, creating an almost self-sustaining marketing campaign. This two-way communication has created a more direct and often, personalised brand experience.

Public scrutiny

On the flip side, marketers are also now more conscious of upsetting the applecart in a matter of minutes. This is why messaging is critical where brands must make the effort to back their words with action. Information lives forever on the internet, and most users can trace the digital footprints of a company to authenticate their claims. So, if a company claims to work for Covid relief, they must be prepared to back it up with actual action on the ground. Similarly, a company celebrating diversity in a workplace must be prepared to show the same approach towards its own workforce.

While these may not be directly related to its product, the power of such messaging also shows the social media’s ability to create a brand as an all-around entity. Given the interactive nature of this media, one must also keep in mind the swift retaliation it can trigger. A single scandal has the potential to derail an entire campaign. In case of a public scandal, most companies will usually make an unqualified apology to avoid any negative publicity.

The evolution of social media also shows the power of storytelling when it comes to marketing. A social media campaign must essentially be the story of the brand, its core values and principles. It is the digital representation of the company and must showcase it through stories on multiple platforms. So, an IoT-based consumer durables company can build a story on AI, an eco-friendly company can start conversations about environment conservation, while a healthcare brand would begin with an overall messaging on improving physical and mental well-being. The key here is to start conversations, build relationships, and create a presence that transcends a single product or service to provide friendly counsel and information relevant to the audience’s needs.

(The writer is Dean, NMIMS School of Branding and Advertising.)