Too often, I meet with, and hear of, businesses announcing they are going strictly to “social media” for their marketing efforts. Unfortunately, it’s for the wrong reasons. Most are doing this because they believe it’s “free”. In other words, they are being cheap, not frugal (there’s a big difference). They believe collecting followers, friends, and fans is all you need for marketing success. Sorry to disappoint them, but the idea of social media is all you need is a myth.
Let’s take a look at a couple of recent examples. Burger King has been one of the most innovative marketers when it comes to its use of social media. Their viral campaigns of “Subservient Chicken”, “Pimp my Whopper”, “Whopper freakout”, and “Whopper Sacrifice”. All of these campaigns achieved viral gold, collected millions of friends, viewed multi-millions of times, and have been used as “text book” examples of how to run a social media campaign. I don’t disagree that these are very engaging and achieved their stated purpose (get viral and social), but what’s missing is sales. Social media alone didn’t drive sales. As of this writing, Burger King has had almost 2 years of declining sales and has parted from the ad agency that dreamt up the social media campaigns stating that marketing didn’t achieve their ultimate goal, sales. Back at McDonald’s, they kept plugging away with good, old fashioned brand and promotional marketing using both traditional advertising (TV and outdoor) as their main thrust and utilizing online and social media as a supplement. McDonald’s didn’t have a campaign go viral or collected as many followers as Burger King, but they do lead in the one thing that does matter in business, sales and profitability. McDonald’s has furthered their distance between them and Burger King. Burger King, with all of it’s followers and friends, has lost their way and don’t really know who they are any more. They’ve become irrelevant in the fast feeder category.
Pepsi has gotten many kudos for their social media innovations of the “Refresh Project”, which gives away money to worthy non-profits. They also received great PR press for being progressive by pulling out of the Super Bowl which many said it signaled the near death of traditional media. Overall, Pepsi tried very hard to align itself with the “in crowd” and show they “get” the new social media thing. Result? By ignoring core brand building strategies, PepsiCo’s flagship brand, Pepsi Cola, has fallen to #3 in the cola category, behind Coke (#1) and Diet Coke (#2). During all of this time, Coca-Cola kept to the idea of building their brand heritage and reminded people why they loved Coke and Diet Coke through integrated marketing. They didn’t make headlines for innovative use of new media or boasted they don’t need the Super Bowl any more. They just kept at executing core marketing principles of getting the brand message right and creating an effective marketing mix and put the necessary dollars behind it. Result, Coca-Cola now owns the top 2 brands in cola.
What social media does best is to “extend your story” that is part of the overall marketing mix. While mass media focuses on brand building, awareness, and sales, social media allows that brand to connect more on a one-on-one level, answering questions and personally thanking customers for their support and input. Social media is not well suited for brand building or even direct sales. Don’t fall into the belief that social media is the silver bullet that is free and will drive business success. That’s just being cheap, not smart.