Social Media: The Skinny on Brands Versus Direct Marketing [Research]

Why Social Media Builds Brands

97% of marketers believe social media supports their business objectives, according to recent Wildfire research. The problem is that, by itself, this data point doesn’t give marketers any guidance for using social media in their plans.  

Look deeper at this research and you’ll find that roughly nine out of ten marketers feel that social media grows their brands while less than six out ten feel social media increases sales and/or partnerships. So what’s a marketer to do to build his business?

Here’s the skinny on social media branding and direct marketing (aka direct response) and what you as a marketer need to do to improve your ability to use social media effectively.

5 Ways social media improves branding

Social media helps build brands the following five ways and attracts more prospects and customers in the process. Unfortunately, like other forms of branding, on social media and elsewhere, it’s difficult to measure improved brand impact directly.

  1. Integrates into every aspect of social media communications. On social media, branding isn’t just a logo slapped on a label. Your brand is holistically embodied in your presentation, language used, media selected and choice of information conveyed.
  2. Provides for on-going engagement. By its nature, social media supports branding because it offers on-going interactions that create repeated impressions rather than a one shot advertisement on any platform.
  3. Tells a story. On social media, brands use a human voice to relate their stories as well as those about their organization and products. The use of a story arc give the reader a beginning, middle and end that’s stickier than a list of individual facts.
  4. Isn’t promotional in nature. Instinctively, consumers don’t trust promotional messages. Social media helps enhance your brand by providing a forum where you can engage with prospects, customers and the public without sounding like an advertisement.
  5. Responds in real time. Social media enables companies to answer customer questions when they arise and can provide appropriate context for the response.

5 Social media hurdles for direct response marketing

By contrast, using social media for direct response has more hurdles because it requires measuring actual sales or steps towards purchase directly attributable to social media. Here are five challenges marketers face in converting social media engagement into direct response sales. (Here’s how to ensure your social media marketing ROI is zero.)

  1. Must incorporate a call-to-action (aka CTA). Social media helps prime customers and prospects to purchase your specific product. Despite providing a supportive environment, customers still need to be directed to act. While what the next sales-focused action may be obvious to you, the marketer, since this is your focus, it may not be obvious to your customers. Actionable social media marketing tip. Include a call-to-action where appropriate. Think enabling the next step in the shopping process. You don’t want to move faster than your prospect is prepared to go .
  2. Streamline the conversion process. To this end, remove any unnecessary steps between social media and the act you want your prospect to take. This includes the amount of information you’re requesting. Actionable social media marketing tip. Check that every step in your purchase process is absolutely necessary because each extra step translates to lost customers. Ask if you’re collecting data without purpose. If so, eliminate it.
  3. Break through the noise. Understand that prospects and customers are on social media platforms to engage with their family, friends and colleagues, not to listen to marketing messages. While branding messages may be delivered in an educational or entertaining way, trying too hard to close a sale may strike prospects as inconsistent with the platform. Actionable social media marketing tip. To this end, test different forms of social commerce.
  4. Offer validation for customers. One reason customers use social media to research purchase decisions is to get input from others affected by the choice and to assess the product or service via ratings and reviews. If they don’t find the information they want on your site or social media offering, they’ll look elsewhere. Actionable social media marketing tip. Facilitate consumer’s appetite for ratings and reviews. Don’t just present the positive or they’ll think that they’re rigged.
  5. Deliver the best prices and deals via mobile and at point of purchase. In today’s price conscious, easy-to-gather information ecosystem, you can get a prospect to the point of purchase but, unless there’s another overriding need, you can’t close the deal until she checks where she’ll get the best price. Remember over one third of customers check prices in a retail establishmentActionable social media marketing tip. Provide your best pricing via mobile to ensure you reach customers at the point of purchase. Alternatively test whether matching a competitor’s mobile price is effective. (Bear in mind they might price their merchandise low just to hurt your margins.)

While social media supports branding and customer acquisition, it’s critical to integrate your offering into your social media engagement where appropriate. As you do so, make sure that you provide unique tracking codes to measure your results and ensure that they work with your systems to collect the right information.

What would you add to this social media branding and direct response list and why?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


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  • http://www.aviewondesign.blogspsot.com Annie

    This is a fabulous post Heidi, I often spoke to people about the potential of SM for their business, and they kinda look back at me like a stunned fish! They just can’t see the point/value yet. I wish I could go at them with some established case studies, your graph is a great start tho. You’d be surprised how many people say to me “of we’re doing ok” – they simply don’t get it. FRUSTRATING to say the least!!! Their loss I suppose, but it is a shame, they work so hard these days just to make a small profit.

    Your tips are, as usual, paramount.

    I just love your blog atm! Thanks for taking the time to put up all this great info mate.

    Annie!