Over use of social media can dim the halo around iconic brands

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Social media is the Pandora's Box for a marketing executive. Promoting a new product, building brand recall, offering discounts, or simply keeping in touch with their audience, social media offers you the inventory to make it all happen. But how does one figure out when to stop? Where to draw the line? How not to go from interesting content to spam and repetitive?

Let us learn how with the help of a few examples;

‘The beauty soap of film stars’ has been the core essence of Lux soap for decades. From the 1920s, the brand has invested in celebrity endorsements across all its markets. They have signed on some of the iconic Hollywood and Bollywood stars of the day for brand endorsements. The advertising broke the clutter because of the presence of film stars and also due to the fact that Lux was one of the few brands which could afford such film stars as brand ambassadors - not just in its category but advertising, in general.

Lux enjoyed this advantage for many years, especially in India. Celebrity endorsements were few and far between, across categories. Over the past decade or so, more and more Indian businesses have taken the route of celebrity endorsements - so it is no longer a rarity to see a film star in an ad.

Celebrities sign up to endorse anything - biscuits to baniyans to cement…not just beauty products. In my view this has taken away the mystique associated with film star endorsements and the film stars themselves. Limiting one’s movie releases in a year, being very selective about brand endorsements and limiting one’s public appearance etc., adds some mystique to a film star’s persona.

Actor Paresh Rawal said something similar about movie marketing nowadays - by being present everywhere… from reality shows to social media to a mall in Raipur, stars have lost their magic. Why am I bringing up all this? I got thinking about this and the similarity with certain iconic brands and their marketing strategy in the digital age.

Brands broadly address four kinds of markets and mindsets: bottom end, mass market, premium to super premium and luxury. The luxury end may be present and relevant only in certain categories like fashion, lifestyle, hotels etc. While brands across categories rely on creating likability through advertising, brands in the premium to luxury ends need to go beyond likability - they need to create a desire for the brand. This desire - an irrational one often overcomes barriers of pricing. It has to be make the consumer take an emotional decision rather than a purely rational one.

Of course, the entire ‘package’ - product experience and communication has to deliver to justify that premium. Take high end perfume brands or sunglasses for example - the brand may not have any intrinsic product feature which makes it superior to a cheaper alternative but is likely to score high on the desire quotient. Such desire is driven by creating a certain halo and mystique around the brand - right through the 4 Ps. Even with premium and super-premium brands, the focus is on emotion rather than function.

Some brands within the ‘premium to luxury’ segment have an iconic status and even have a cult following. One of the hallmarks of such brands is maintaining an aura of exclusivity. Luxury or premium hotels for example, exude this air of exclusivity. In media terms it manifested in being present only in a certain kind of environment which helps them maintain their ‘premium-ness’. So you’d see ads for high end writing instruments in in-flight magazines or in select billboard at premium locations. The logic being that such placement would be wishing the earshot of the target audience.Their brand associations will be with other brands of similar stature, outlook and target audience connect.

With the advent of social media, there is pressure on brands to be present everywhere and do everything - from mass media to presence on Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat to developing a mobile apps. There are pros and cons to the approach. While increasing one’s visibility may make a brand (personal brands too) accessible, one runs the risk of being common place. Add to this the reality of inviting trolls and being within the earshot of people who really aren’t your audience. However, it all depends on the overall approach to the platform.

Brands need to choose the platform they want to be in, after clearly defining the role of that platform in the context of the overall brand strategy. A telecom brand may use Twitter to address customer complaints because they may realize a significant portion of their customers are on that platform and silence is not an option -as it is bound to cause dissonance. But a luxury brand may choose to stay away from Twitter as there may be other cost effective, impactful ways to reach their audience elsewhere. Or it may choose to use the platform sparingly - not given to over sharing, mindless hashtag contests and so on.

Apple, (a super premium brand but not a luxury brand) for example, avoided any participation in social media for years. Of course, the brand is uniquely placed because it manages to gain unprecedented visibility in general and tech media all the time. Its fans and detractors too talk about the brand on social media. The former play the role of evangelists, defenders and more while the latter do a great job of dissing the brand.

If Apple had followed conventional wisdom and used Twitter like most brands - responding to every comment, implementing hashtag driven promo contests, being desperate to trend and so on, it would not only have been a huge distraction for the marketing team but would have brought down the brand status several notches. To that extent its limited use of social media makes sense - of late they have embraced Twitter with @AppleSupport and active an accounts for @AppleMusic, @iTunes and @iTunesTrailers. I also feel that the constant battering the brand gets on social media (parodies, memes, abuses) has a detrimental effect on the brand’s halo - especially among the fence sitters.

Luxury brands like Hermes, LVMH and many others have taken to Twitter but have limited activity - mostly pertaining to sharing brand updates. The moral of the story: if you want to retain the air of exclusivity to your brand, over exposure on media, especially social media is not a good thing.

This article was first published on LinkedIn Pulse by Lakshmipathy Bhat, Marketing Communications Professional; VP - Marketing Communications, Robosoft.

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