In a world full of empowered consumers, things aren’t easy for brands – or at least this is what one might think. Jean Michel Christ, Head of Influencer Marketing at CROSSMEDIA, has a different take on matters. In his opinion, consumers’ participation in developing products and services via social media could become the ultimate game changer for brands.
Communication doesn’t have to be a one-way street – this is true not only for interpersonal interactions, but also when it comes to modern brand communication. In the past two decades, the way we have been communicating about and, more importantly, with brands has changed fundamentally. From the past, we know that brands and products have always been associated with a certain authority. People used to question brands much less critically than today and, in line with the motto of “they surely know what they are doing,” they usually accepted their product promises without much protest. Nowadays, brands are definitely no longer “untouchable”.
This is due to a new understanding of communication, which came about because of new forms of communication as well as new venues where communication takes place. The Internet evolution has created a place that connects groups of people from various backgrounds, and it has removed geographical barriers. This, in turn, has led to fundamentally revolutionized communication. The emergence of Internet forums, comment columns and, in particular, social media platforms also serves the extremely human need for exchange and networking.
Consumer maturity is massively underestimated
In this regard, social media accounts also provide space for the desire to differentiate oneself, which in turn leads to a new form of consumer maturity. Gaining information, scrutinizing data and statements, questioning authorities, standing up for one’s values, and sharing them with the world: all of this is now part of everyday life. The “top-down” communication model, as it is practiced in many areas, has been realigned and is now increasingly shifting toward a “bottom-up” approach. Consumers enter into discussions with brands, well-informed with in-depth knowledge of ingredients, composition, place of production, trade that is or is not fair and the carbon footprint, so as to optimize products after (or even prior to) launch. New sources of information, new forms of critical exchange, and a general increase in demand for more transparency have led to a change. A change that has successfully questioned the self-image of brands, and thus reordered the balance of power between the brand and its target group. A circumstance that some brands have already understood and have used to their benefit; yet a circumstance that is still ignored and massively underestimated by most.
The Pinky Glove Disaster
The absolute worst case is when producers miss the mark so badly with their idea that either the entire product line or, in a worst-case scenario, even the whole company goes under. This is what happened recently at the German start-up TV show “Höhle der Löwen”, when two young male entrepreneurs wanted to launch a supposedly sophisticated product for the “practical and, even more importantly, hygienic disposal of feminine hygiene products.” However, after the show, the so-called “Pinky Glove” encountered such a negative response on the web that the product experienced a massive shitstorm, as did the company and the two founders. The wave of indignation even triggered a fundamental discussion that went far beyond the borders of the actual target group and dominated the German media landscape for a week. This recent prime example is anything but an isolated case and once again demonstrates how critically the potential buying public scrutinizes articles today.
However, such faux pas do not only occur with young entrepreneurs without an impressive CV and years of marketing expertise. Just as often, established brands, with well-versed product and marketing experts, are affected. Brands like Garnier, Alpro, DM or Rügenwalder Mühle prove that it is possible to do things differently. Here you can find several positive examples of an open and innovative dialog with the target group. What have these brands done differently? They listened. Whether out of necessity or because of being progressively motivated; the results speak for themselves. The brands took the risk and dared to change old “…yes, but that’s the way we’ve always done it!” adage, to show their true colors and their spirit. And the venue for all this: The increasingly diversified universe of social media.
“Social media and real-time communication? That’s just something for young people!”
In the meantime, the social media market has consolidated so much that not only can we address fragmented target groups directly on the different portals, they also inherently have different demographics. In a nutshell: As a veteran among the established networks, Facebook is generally considered home to older target groups, while newer platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Twitch are home to correspondingly younger to mixed target groups. However, thanks to regular update reports from the networks and independent market research studies, we know that even the younger networks are seeing new users beyond 39-49+ every day, who can be actively addressed by brands and integrated into the production process. The extremely strong performance of channels with a supposedly non-social media focus such as Mr. Lawyer, The Orthopedist, or Mr. Deep Sleep, are just a few examples of successfully established accounts that also work excellently with target groups over the age of 35+, with high purchasing power.
Social media portals have long since ceased to be a playground for teenagers and – this is at least as relevant – the target groups found there are literally waiting for you to use one of the numerous features of the respective platforms to address them, to interact with them, and to grow and develop something together with them.
Potential Game Changer: Real Time Marketing Instruments
One of the factors that makes social media platforms incredibly valuable for brands is real-time communication. If, for instance, a brand introduces a new product on YouTube, Instagram or Facebook, users can react immediately and give their opinion. The brand’s benefit is that it can capture a valuable impression of the sentiment out there without delay, and then incorporate it into further planning. Thus, brands can respond to consumer input even before the product launch and adapt processes, looks or functions.
Livestreams are also already effectively being staged as live shopping events and used as a real-time marketing tool. Here, information is obtained, consumers are taken along, and their opinion is heard, while at the same time, sales are increased. In Asia, this has long since been par for the course, with sales generated to the tune of several billion per year, while in Germany, only a few brave brands such as flaconi, Takko Fashion or Orsay have successfully asserted themselves as pioneers. Their examples show: Those who reduce social media to a one-dimensional, top-down marketing channel are giving away a significant share of the true market potential.
No fear of communication at eye level
In the future, brands must seek innovation not only at the product level, but also at the communication level. Consumers have a voice that wants to be heard and understood, and wherever this voice sounds, the brand has to be present. It is not enough to host a soulless social media account, where one simply keeps up the appearance of being up-to-date. Those who see social media as a burden have already all but lost.
Brands need to actively rethink and realize that they already have the necessary tool in their hands to position themselves at eye level (ergo: en vogue).
The future belongs to those brands that actively involve consumers throughout the complete product development process. As before, the company’s greatest concern is often to let controlled areas of responsibility out of its (controlling) hands. However, this interactive form of involvement creates a completely new dynamic between customer and brand, which can grow to become the foundation for lifelong brand loyalty.
Involvement marketing means just that: Actively involving consumers in the (further) development of a brand. Those who recognize the newly-acquired maturity of consumers and authentically link it to their brand DNA, have the best chances of optimally positioning themselves for the co