Brand Building In The Age Of Social Media

Online attention spans are becoming shorter and marketers are desperate for new ideas


When social media initially appeared, many marketers believed it would herald a new dawn in which brand building would be greatly simplified. However, while it has certainly brought significant benefits, social media has also brought considerable challenges. Traditional branding campaigns are very different to those led by social media, yet even though it has now been a mainstay of marketing for over a decade, many remain unaware of what these differences are.

When it comes to traditional brand strategy, companies need to set their agenda through their own voice. Social media strategy, on the other hand, puts the audience in control. It means that companies should be engaging with what is being discussed already, rather than attempting to create the agenda around themselves.

One example of this in action is GoPro's 'Didga the Skateboarding Cat'. To appeal to a new audience, the brand focussed on an internet mainstay that many of the target audience were shown to like - cats. GoPro’s campaign showed a cat doing tricks on the skateboard. It's a seemingly amateur-made video with filming done from different angles to demonstrate their camera's video quality and stabilization tools, as well as its portability and convenience. It was uploaded on GoPro's official website and then shared millions of times on social media. This campaign worked because, rather than trying to create the conversation, GoPro simply tapped in to what their audience was already looking at.

Another point to note is that people like to follow humans rather than brands. Many companies don’t understand the importance of creating personal content that’s relevant to their target audiences, rather than having content revolve around a product or service. Celebrities like Cristiano Ronaldo, the Kardashian family, and Justin Bieber have millions of followers on social media and utilizing these followers has paid dividends for brands. Although it is important to remember that this trend only works to a degree, and many followers are turned off by consistent advertising from celebrities.

Online audiences have a short attention span and get bored easily, especially when they believe they are being targeted with unnecessary advertising. Thus, many people prefer following 'self-made' celebrities such as bloggers and entertainers, mainly on platforms like Vine, YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram. Even though such vloggers and bloggers often have millions of followers, they usually come from the same background as their audience and that creates an image of them being down to earth and close to their subscribers. Thus, many prefer to see them as role models rather than the almost surreal Kim Kardashian or Taylor Swift.

In order to make the most of this, social media stars are also being widely targeted by marketers. Felix Kjellberg, a Swedish-born YouTuber, also known by his handle PewDiePie, tops the list of the most subscribed YouTube channels, recently hitting the 45 million subscriber mark. From an ordinary Swedish guy that made gaming videos out of boredom, he has built a personal brand that is worth millions. PewDiePie got famous for making video gaming commentary and vlog style videos, using entertaining language and jokes. According to the Wall Street Journal, this kind of edgy content brings PewDiePie $4 million a year in ad revenue alone. For instance, in 2014, Producer Legendary Pictures and distributor Universal Pictures asked Felix and his girlfriend to make a series of videos as a part of the promotion campaign for horror movie ‘As Above So Below’. Due to a strong choice of celebrity, the campaign reached 20 million viewers and brought another 9.7 million views for the official movie trailer.

Sometimes, when marketers struggle to reach their audience, they overcomplicate the situation by spending too much time on analysis and by trying to merge traditional branding methods with social media strategies. By taking this approach, companies risk losing considerable amounts of money through poor campaigns, but, more importantly, company leadership is unlikely to support further work in the area. Digital branding can be relatively simple if marketers take the time to understand their brand appeal and audience, but by attempting to adopt old approaches in this new medium, they run the risk of misunderstanding both. 

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