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BrainTrust Query: Marketers Need to Start Thinking of Their Brands As Media

November 19, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of an article from the Joel Rubinson on Marketing Research blog.

In the old days there was only one kind of audience — the ones that media created. TV shows had ratings, magazines and newspapers had subscribers and radio shows had listeners. Advertisers hopped on board by buying advertising on these shows and print vehicles. Of course, these audiences are still significant but now there is a new type of audience in a digital and social age — one accumulated by the brand itself.

Brand Coca-Cola has an audience on Facebook (53 million fans) that is nearly triple the size of the top-rated TV show. Starbucks has 25 million more fans on Facebook than Dunkin' Donuts, meaning four times as many people on Facebook will see every Starbucks update vs. every Dunkin' Donuts update.

And the size of the brand audience can extend well beyond Facebook as now someone can follow a brand on Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, subscribe to a Youtube channel that is brand-sponsored, and download a branded app into their smartphone and tablet. Consumers can also sign up for brand e-mails and regularly visit websites.

Are marketers appealing to their new audiences correctly?

Not really. Let's start with a basic fact. The percent of fans who actually visit a Facebook page in a given month for a brand they have liked is usually well below one percent. Why is the visitation rate so low? I'd guess there are three reasons: low entertainment value; and not enough valuable offers and updates in the newsfeed that are not designed to encourage fans to go back to the page. Brands have moved into the entertainment business but have not done a good job on execution.

Research and insights departments can help to drive this transformation in thinking but measurement concepts are still lagging behind. I advise my clients to create a KPI (key performance indicator) for "brand audience" that summates audiences across social and owned media. A marketer should want that number to go up, up, up over time and outperform competitors. Other metrics I advise my clients to create relate to a clearly specified way of tracking paid, owned and earned media. Especially, with earned media, there is huge variability in practice and I tell my clients they need to own the calculation so it is repeatable and therefore a basis for learning.

"Brand as media" is a sea change but marketers are still trying to figure this out. You no longer compete just on features and functional benefits. Brands are now competing for lifestyle, entertainment, and a sense of belonging to build their audiences. If you do it right you get a brand like Starbucks with its 33 million Facebook fans.

Discussion Questions:

Do you find it helpful to view brands as "media"? What transformative steps may brands have to take to deliver compelling entertainment and engagement to their Facebook fans and other social followers?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

To drive social engagement, should brands focus more on entertainment or offers?


Successful brands are going out of their way to create a certain culture, and an ongoing conversation, about their products. What is important though is to be sure you are not dictating the conversation, or trying too hard to create your own conversation that appears to be nothing more than a commerical for your product. Where you want to arrive is at a place where your consumers are talking to each other about the brand.

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David Biernbaum, Senior Marketing and Business Development Consultant, David Biernbaum Associates LLC

Successful brands have always striven to be emotionally relevant in consumers' lives. Being functional or having additional features were never enough to build sales and loyalty in the long run.

Brand as media may be a cute term, but it does not go far enough. Having a large number of followers on Facebook doesn't matter unless consumers are emotionally engaged with the brand. That's something that hasn't changed over time.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

With large numbers of people carrying a supercomputer on their persons at nearly all times, big BIG data is worming its way into everyone's lives. I speak of course of the smartphone, with computational and input/output capabilities tethered to "the cloud" and a host of supercomputers.

Hah! So if your means of communicating in this environment consists of arm waving and "paying" customers to pay attention (coupons, et al.) you are not much of a marketer, but possibly a SPAMMER on steroids. Getting your 1% response rate? (Seems high for engagement, as opposed to stumbling across you.)

Succeeding in this world is helped along by entertainment, but more importantly, by every contact delivering actual value to the person on the other end. This is the world of SUPER personal selling skills, something brands are FAR removed from. Without those skills, marketers are children in a SPAMMING ocean.

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Herb Sorensen, Ph.D., Scientific Advisor Kantar Retail; Adjunct Ehrenberg-Bass, Shopper Scientist LLC

I just wrote a piece for another newsletter titled Social Media: Boon or Bull? Nothing since the beginning of time has created as much hype, smoke and mirrors -- a facade of success and popularity as social media. Just ask yourself how many of your "friends" are actually friends -- meaning you could pick them out in a police lineup. Every day, someone on LinkedIn (I don't really know most of them either) "endorses" me for things I don't even do. And then I'm asked to reciprocate to keep the smoke billowing.

The truth is those huge numbers of "fans" do very little in terms of real revenue. But don't take it from me, read Mark Cuban's article titled: "Facebook Needs To Accept That It's Just A Time Waster.

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

Brands can indeed and should be considered media when they have the channel to customers, as Joel suggests. Like other media, not all properties and channels are of equal value.

Further, I agree with Joel that marketers are not really appealing to their (customer) audiences correctly. From our experience, most are fairly clueless in that they take a mass marketing, one-size-fits-all approach.

Part of the challenge is that most marketers, particularly those Joel refers to, are brand- and mass-marketing oriented, rather than customer marketing focused. The perspective follows advertising not direct or database marketing and hence the idea of addressable customers is in deed something new.

This is not a new concept for loyalty marketers and in fact, the direct customer channels are typically not only the most effective, they are also the most measurable.

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Phil Rubin, CEO, rDialogue

It is true that "fans," "likes," "followers," etc. do not necessarily follow or stay loyal to your brand. There HAS to be consistent, genuine conversation to perpetuate the shopper engagement. This is true for CPG and retailer brands.

I can think of at least one retailer brand, a great, specialty grocer that still prints up hard copy newsletters, detailed with backstories of their primarily private label products. Yes, they are online too, however, the real "following" is the engagement they receive from their customers through this genuine and consistent hard copy newsletter.

Now, let's take that premise, and translate it to a brand via social channels. You won't get weekly return visitors to your Facebook page if you don't keep the conversation valuable to your shoppers.

Again, you have to be genuine. Don't just promote products, generate compelling reasons for shoppers to become customers of your brand. What are the true differentiators, etc.?

Social channels present unprecedented opportunities to leverage as a new media, however, this new media should not be abused nor wasted.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

These days, everything and everyone is a brand. Indeed the term "personal brand" has become ubiquitous and represents the sum of all online, social and offline interactions one might have. "Big brands" are not dead but they are getting lost in a sea of smaller brands. The days of "one message fits all" are over. Brands need to do guerrilla marketing, spreading their wings across 20, 30 or more different mediums at once. ROI is hard to measure, then again marketing ROI has always been hard to measure.

Fabien Tiburce, CEO, Compliantia, Retail Audit & Task Management Software

Brands need to become publishers in order to communicate effectively with their shoppers and customers. ALL brand assets and collateral should be valued. Brands have history and with that history is an incredible story that needs to be told and shared in order to reach your audience on an emotional level. The most foundational transformative step every brand (or its agency of record!! hint!!!) should be taking is designing and activating a comprehensive brand asset management AND cross-channel publishing platform.

Photos, certificates, videos that are sitting in a box in storage have incredible value in today's landscape of the connected consumer. Using these assets to tell your brand story is powerful and valued by your audience.

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Adrian Weidmann, Principal, StoreStream Metrics, LLC

Facebook (or another social media site) is a medium for presenting the brand just as television or print or billboards are a medium for presenting a brand. The ability for interaction is different, but that is a difference because of the medium used. However, that does not make the brand a form of media.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

Sorry, but as a marketing vehicle, most of the social media today reminds me very much of the "dot-com" boom and bust a decade or so ago. More parallels than you can shake a stick at.

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Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

What is really the goal of a brand trying to get more "likes" or "followers" than their competitors other than engaged in an ego-driven contest?

I find the KPIs quoted in this article focused more towards "big numbers on the wall" instead of finding quality in the numbers to pull back valuble and valid insights from the data set.

53 million likes on Facebook users may be a nice anecdote for storytelling, but what is far more important is segmented data of 53 million users of which one is more likely to spread a message virally, or by word of mouth, or geographically clustered in a key marketing target.

I feel brands should not dilute their identity into a social media popularity contest. I believe brands should learn to harness social media as channels of communication and extract valuable information from those channels to find new opportunities to increase their brand identity.

Ed Dunn, Founder, (Stealth Operation)

It's been proven that media and entertainment -- videos, audio podcasts, games, etc. -- help promote brands. Today's consumers have shortened attention spans and every brand will benefit from acknowledging that fact and reacting to it with relevant content.

But...brands must be thoughtful about how they go about this new approach. They may really need some content and media experts to help deliver the right message in the right manner.

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Debbie Hauss, Editor-in-Chief, Retail TouchPoints

The migration from television, radio, and printed media to the internet is not all that amazing when it is viewed objectively. People of all ages enjoy being entertained. The ability to interact with the entertainment is an enticing enhancement over the traditional media previously mentioned. The consumer no longer is just interested in interactivity there is now a large amount of discussion and judgment in the value, creativity and fun factors of this entertainment. I am not so sure about thinking of a brand as media or entertainment. That approach would only cause confusion and lack of focus with all of the subjectivity this carries with it.

There is however a vast amount of difference and opportunity in the new IT media entertainment industry. Before you got 15 to 60 seconds between acts in select market areas at designated time slots to tell a story or provide important information. Now you are on the air all over the world 24/7 without a break. Added to the range of this capability to engage the entire world is also the ability to create electronic scenery, sound and cast members for the "show" without agents, actors or leases. With all of this newly created power and freedom it is so sad to see advertisers selling commercials that are antagonizing site patrons to the extent that they no longer return for a visit.

Creating a product or company site that interacts with and entertains the consumer is the new goal. Adding value by allowing visitors to locate and accumulate product/service incentives will encourage this generation of consumers to visit and engage the whole site. Upgrading the quality of the entertainment and range of incentives will keep them coming back and increase crowd sizes. Adding languages and cultural awareness as a site selection will open the site to the entire planet. Now think of the possibilities.


I've not heard anyone who could convince me they really know what is going on in social media, beyond a bunch of people looking and talking in a virtual setting. KPIs are a nice idea, but beyond the basic activity counts, what can be measured? Certainly link clicks to your website can be measured, with larger numbers probably being better.

Repeatedly, I've heard companies which are actively invested in social media lament that they can't measure any direct connection to sales. But they are usually resigned to the fact that this is where a lot of energy, attention and excitement is happening. So active management and virtual engagement is assumed to help their businesses. There are also plenty of companies who are not invested here because the ROI is not measurable.

Social media may be the only investment that some companies are now making without a clear idea of ROI. As this environment continues to change, I expect they will be the ones most able to take advantage of whatever positive impact results.

Regarding brand as media, I'm having a hard time with that as a concept. In the universe of social media planets, a brand is more like a city. Or maybe just another cool "person" to check up on every once in a while.

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Dan Raftery, President, Raftery Resource Network Inc.

Marketing a brand is a lot like marketing a political candidate. It's important to bring the brand straight to the consumer, instead of allowing it to be filtered through the lens of others. Technologies afford brands an opportunity to interact with consumers at a very modest price, and we're really at the infancy of these new practices.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

Should you view brands as "media" or should you view media as what creates the brand? Your brand is the customer's perception. You can get the customer to learn about you and understand your brand through multiple media channels, but in the end it is the customer's perception that counts.

Facebook, and other social media channels are great ways to educate the customer about you, your values, what you stand for in the market place, etc.

Media is not the brand itself. Media simply helps create the brand.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

This article wanders far afield -- forgetting fundamentals. Centuries of marketing history teaches us that the "engagements" that matter are the most meaningful ones. Baiting consumers to your Facebook page with entertainment isn't building brand -- it's trying to compete with theaters.

Retailers who thrive in the social space will deliver significant meaning through their social interactions. Meaning includes deals. But it also includes any range of information that their most dedicated consumers want and need. And I say "dedicated" with intent. Because no matter how far you pursue your social media work, it's only the dedicated brand consumers who will spend any significant brain power on your social media presence.

Doug Garnett, Founder & CEO, Atomic Direct

I agree that brands have to do more with those who hand raise and opt in, but I think the term "brand as media" is too limiting. Coke, Starbucks, Nike -- the brands everyone touts for their social media success have had that success precisely because they built brand experiences (product, services, imagery) that engage, appeal and inspire people to want to associate themselves with it. Media alone cannot do this: the product, the package, the customer experience, the taste, the lifestyle it represents, all contribute to building a compelling brand.

I would suggest marketers delve deeply into those properties and what makes them resonant and unique in order to drive more engagement in their social properties. Starting the other way around just ensures a spiraling vortex of discounting, couponing and begging for responses that is what most brand Facebook pages reflect today.

Lisa Bradner, Chief Strategy Officer, Geomentum/Shopper Sciences

I still think a brand is a brand and media is a vehicle! It is still up to the brand to develop the image that is their brand and convey it to the customer wherever they are. What marketers need to learn is to stop selling. It's not about finding punchy call words these days. It's about interacting transparently with your customer and listening to them.

It also doesn't matter how many followers you have on FB or other Social media. It's more about them knowing that you are there, knowing what you stand for, and that they can find you if they want to ask a question or find a solution. I like to tell people that I was able to solve a big server issue with AT&T because I have my 'person' at AT&T on twitter.

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

For years I have repeated my old saw: "The retail store is a communications environment for brand messages."

Now that SoMoLoMe has permeated the product marketing world, it is useful to consider that Facebook and its kin are also communications environments for brand messages.

When brands attempt to use social media like broadcast or direct marketing channels, they tend to focus on audience size and frequency. Just as in the traditional media world, they accumulate vast numbers of very low value opportunities to see. And yes, I would include "follows" and "likes" among those low value interactions. While they at least can be counted, true ROI remains very hard to measure due to the impossible noise-to-signal ratios.

As much as I enjoy being entertained, I have little patience for brands that presume I want to invest in their agenda. I don't want to be a brand's "fan." I don't want to bond with strangers over a consumption experience.

Should a brand maintain a modern media strategy that balances social channels with broadcast and in-store? Absolutely yes. But treating a brand as an entertainment property is a tricky business with many pitfalls -- including the danger of distraction from the brand's core mission.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

The idea of "brands as media" feels like so much marketing double-speak to me. Maybe I'm old school, but the brand is built around messaging, and the messaging is executed via various media. Social media has its own imperatives, but it's still just the next evolution in message delivery. Branding has always been about lifestyle and aspirations. I don't believe that social media changes that.

Ted Hurlbut, Principal, Hurlbut & Associates

If brands are media, than what tune do you want your customers whistling when they leave the theater? How are you inserting yourself into your customers life story and how are you enhancing their lives. If you are adding value, then let's talk about telling the story. If the essence of the movie is, "hey, we have a fan page, like us!," I think I would bump it up a level or two. I'm just sayin'.

Vahe Katros, Consultant, Plan B

Brands use social media as an important marketing tool, but this tool is only helpful when it creates the large gathering of interested people. People, or let's say, the audience, is more attracted to the entertainment component in a show, but the value offered is another important aspect. Entertainment is not enough of a value alone; a valuable offer is also necessary to stimulate the audience.

Prashant sharma, marketing officer, jims

Joel and I have discussed this before and I couldn't agree more. One only has to look at Red Bull to see what happens when a brand transcends its own product to become a media outlet. And now Red Bull is even creating media for other brands.

I'd even go a step further to say that brands are media and their stores are the medium. Looking at a store not merely as a distribution point but rather as a media point will promote a completely different set of tactics in-store.

Doug Stephens, President, Retail Prophet

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