Monday, September 21, 2009

Women, Brand Marketing, and Social Media

Two recent headlines summarize the dilemma for marketers:
SocNet Branding Fails to Sway Women
• Are Women Really Ignoring Social Network Marketing? (eMarketer, September 17, 2009)
Both articles are based on data from a Q Interactive study recently presented at AdTech Chicago. (See the full presentation here; it has a lot of data and includes two successful brand studies.)

First, let’s admit that the research is all over the place and that headlines often fail to capture nuances. We know that women are on social networks like Facebook in large numbers. However the study as reported in eMarketer makes it clear that some brand marketing activities do have impact. In this economy, not surprisingly, coupons and discounts have the most impact—not exactly what brand marketers want to hear. Online ads have much less impact; purchasing advice from blogs, online communities and website have even less. A study by the Marketing to Moms Coalition and reported in Marketing Charts asks the question more broadly and finds 49% of online moms doing product/price research and 45% shopping for their children.

So moms are online; they are researching and making purchases. Why do they report so little influence from online brand development efforts like marketer blogging and use of social networks. Maybe it’s just the word “marketer.” We also know that WOM is still the most trusted source of information. In the study I talked about earlier this month “Consumer opinions posted online” came in a distant, but still strong, second. Surprise, surprise! Consumers have never been highly trusting of advertising. I don’t think it matters a bit whether that advertising is online or in traditional media.

The difference, obviously, is that consumers now have the ability to make their experiences and opinions available online. That puts them in strong competition with marketers who are trying to make their voices heard online. And since “people like me” are trusted to give good advice, their voices have impact. That says a lot about how brand marketers should be approaching social network marketing. In the Kraft and Fisher-Price brand studies in the Q Interactive presentation, you’ll see lots of coupons, which the data says women are looking for, and contests, which are engaging. But you’ll also see growing attempts to dialog with women and to listen to what they are saying.

But there may well be another issue that arises from the nature of the social platforms themselves. A study from BlogHer, iVillage and Compass Partners reminds us that women use different social platforms for different purposes. Social networks are primarily used for social purposes. Blogs score much higher for both getting information and sharing opinions. (See the full presentation here.)

Social media can work for brand development and marketing. It doesn’t come quickly or easily, as I’ve said many times. It’s important to start by recognizing that not all platforms are created equal, as far as marketers are concerned. The corollary to that statement is that it takes different types of marketing effort to be successful on different platforms. Starting from this rather simple premise should help brand marketers develop social media strategies that do have impact.

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