Cutting Through the Clutter in Social Networks

target marketing

solving social network clutterThe marketing landscape gets more and more cluttered every day. Adding to traditional media, you now have cable networks, XM radio stations, online newspapers, and a growing number of social networks, many of them with overlapping users who have profiles on several different platforms. All this messaging competes for viewer eyeballs. Fragmentation in the media makes it harder and harder for businesses to get their message to consumers who are overwhelmed with a huge number (current estimates are that each individual is exposed to 4000 to 10,000 advertising messages per day) of marketing messages every time they sit down to enjoy some relaxation and entertainment. This clutter makes it difficult to reach the brand’s marketing strategy goals.

Breaking Through the Marketing Clutter

There are two ways to break through the clutter. The first option, one that’s increasingly common, is using targeting on social networks so you only reach users who match your criteria, thus avoiding blasting noise to everyone else on the platform. The second option for cutting through the clutter is using psychological principles to stand out above the noise. Let’s explore these two options today.

marketing strategyPromotions and Advertising and Social Networks ….. Oh my.

Social networks break marketing clutter

Traditional marketing communication is a one-way form where brands bang loudly on their drums so they can shout their message in hopes you’ll buy their brand. This type of advertising is probably as old as the stone age and much older than the discipline of marketing.

As consumers, we’re bombarded with these marketing messages and largely learned to tune them out by paying a premium to get content without commercials (for example, streaming video, subscription radio, and news services, leaving the room for a snack or bathroom break during commercials (or watching TV from recordings that allow us to skip past commercials), or skimming past paid posts identified on search and social.

We also learned to discount commercial messages as self-serving communication and this is as true, especially in sponsored posts on Facebook, where it seems almost the products you buy on the platform never perform as well as they do in the sponsored video. Maybe this is a function of the low cost of these social ads or companies who operate outside the developed world where regulations limit their advertising to ensure they accurately represent the product.

Reference groups

But, we do listen to the views of our friends and are more likely to take their recommendations. The strategy of using social networks to break through marketing clutter centers on the fact that you are more involved (engaged) with your friends and want to share information and experiences with them.

Friends also have more credibility because they are objective (at least we perceive them that way); without any motivation to tell you something they don’t believe. Thus, when your friend tells you they liked a movie or restaurant, you are likely to listen to them and believe them. Plus, people are your friends because you share common interests, values, and lifestyles. So, you figure if this person who is like you recommends something, you’ll probably like it, as well.

Capturing influence in social networks

Companies understand you believe your friends more than the brand and are more willing to accept their recommendations. That’s why they use models/ actors in their ads, so the recommendations seem to come from someone in your reference group. Of course, we’re savvy and realize models/ actors recommend a brand because the brand paid them.

Users attributed recommendations they see from friends on social networks as reflecting unbiased attitudes because no one pays them to endorse a product. That’s the notion behind influencer marketing. Influencers aren’t true celebrities although some cross over to become traditional celebrities. Most are, or seem to be, just regular people who have a large, engaged following.

Companies increasingly try to harness the energy in social networks by capturing influencers and incentivizing them (giving them free products, insider information, discounts, or even paying them) to spread the corporate message or other positive information about the company and its brands with the notion that users will see their endorsements as natural and, thus, more credible.

This is a great marketing strategy on the surface. Unfortunately, as consumers become aware of this practice, ie. compensating influencers in some way, they become more skeptical of these microcelebrities and what they have to say. Overuse of this marketing strategy may negate the positive potential of the practice.

Influencer marketing

Influencers come in all shapes and sizes.

Some are influential because users see them as experts in some area, which gives them credibility. In marketing, we called these people tribal leaders (which has nothing to do with Native Americans) or opinion leaders. Some influencers have influence because we like and respect them and we want them to like us, which comes from psychology relating to affiliation needs and sociology, which shows how humans are social creatures. Get enough people talking about your brand in their social networks and you have buzz or viral marketing.

Some influencers have massive influence across a broad range of products because we want to emulate them — we want to be like them. Examples include movie stars, government and religious leaders, and musicians. That’s why companies pay a fortune to these celebrity endorsers to Tweet about their products or use the product in photographs.

Psychological strategies for breaking the clutter

Selective attention – There’s a lot going on around us — too much for any individual to pay attention to everything. So, we learn strategies to reduce demands on our attention. Probably it’s an evolutionary response that dictates those elements of our environment we should pay attention to and other things to ignore.

The trick in capturing attention is to get people to pay attention to your message. On television, advertisers employ this marketing strategy by increasing the perceived volume of their advertising. In print, a marketing strategy to capture attention might involve glossy paper and color schemes that make the commercial message stand out. On social networks, businesses capture attention with highly visual messaging shared by people you know.

Selective retention – Since most advertising messages reach us when we’re not in a position to do anything about them (ie. purchase), we have to retain the information until we get to the retailer, either online or off. Even if we’re sitting with a computer in our lap (or a smartphone, which is really just a compact computer that makes phone calls), we don’t often interrupt our pleasure to buy something the moment we see an advertisement unless we searched for the product.

Using selective retention as part of your marketing strategy involves repeating your message, using catchy jingles that seem to stick in your viewer’s head and integrated marketing communication such that various campaigns and messages on different platforms reinforce each other.

For instance, using the same logo in your advertising, on your signage in your retail stores, and when making your company uniforms allows the message to build over time, with each implementation reinforcing earlier exposures. Linking your message with other things your consumers know also helps to build mindmaps where stored information is both more easily retrievable and where unbranded messages recall the brand message. For instance, a message indicating your brand is less expensive than its more well-known counterpart may help with the retention of your message by storing it linked to what you know about the known brand. Also, when the user sees a message from a better-known brand, they may also retrieve adjacent information about your brand. We call this a shared field of experience.

Marketing strategy sure has changed in the digital age

If your firm hasn’t substantially changed its marketing strategy to reflect changes in technology and the way people interact with technology, your marketing strategy is failing you. Part of cutting through the clutter involves knowing what makes digital different then adapting your messaging to fit the technology.

Changes to your marketing strategy

1. Listening

Marketing strategy now needs to do more listening and less talking. Before the advent of social networks, individual consumers didn’t have much of a voice, so corporations could out-talk them. That meant the marketplace (customers and prospective customers) didn’t hear much except the company version of their products unless the media published or broadcast something negative.

Consumers who were disgruntled could tell all their friends (which wasn’t enough to make much difference to the company’s bottom line unless they were well connected) or do something to capture media attention, such as filing lawsuits or staging protests and boycotts. Even then, most companies could survive such negative messaging since the media was off on its next story in a few days.

Social networks changed all that. Consumers started to gain a voice when they could establish websites to spread negative comments about a company, but social networks broadened the reach of these complaints — which can go viral quickly if the user is savvy or has a large following. Now, users create even more clutter that interferes with your message. You need to listen and short-circuit that messaging before it drowns you out.

Whether you use social media as part of your marketing strategy, you NEED to establish a listening post so you hear what consumers are saying and respond before complaints can build steam. For instance, I had a student who complained about the local public utility that was unable to sustain power through several recent storms. The public utility contacted her after she Tweeted her complaint. This allowed them to explain the problem and diffuse a potentially dangerous situation.

2. Customer engagement

Companies are finding value in building stronger relationships with consumers.  – such as virtual communities and fans. Not only does customer engagement go a long way toward retaining customers, but it also generates customer recommendations, identifies areas for improvement, and suggests new products. Customer engagement leads to higher profits for companies able to harness the power of these tools.

Customer engagement is a two-edged sword, however. The same customers who identify with your product and are loyal can stifle change. Look at the situation with New Coke, where their customers refused to consider a new product, despite market research results suggesting the new product more closely matched customer desires.

Customer engagement can also go south when they see your end of the conversation as false or you fail to hold up your end of the conversation. As virtual communities get larger and fan pages over-run with fans, it’s harder and harder to hear all the conversations going on so this problem is increasing over time. Firms need to utilize tools to track conversations on fan pages and funnel them to individuals who can respond to issues arising there.

3. E-commerce

The importance of e-commerce in your marketing strategy is nothing new and has been increasing over the last 15 years or so, since the world wide web (www) made internet access easy.  But, companies are finding unique ways to integrate their e-commerce with social media — especially since much of our buying behavior is influenced by others in our social sphere.

Increasingly, companies are using “Like” information as a tool to market to individuals who already identified themselves with a brand. Companies share new information and put discounts on their Facebook pages and more companies, like 1-800 Flowers put up shopping tabs on Facebook that direct fans to their e-commerce sites and show information about their purchases to their friends. These newer tools are likely to become more ubiquitous components of marketing strategy in the future.

Combining marketing strategies

Just because there are multiple ways of breaking through the marketing clutter doesn’t mean you have to use one or the other — you can use both. Social networks offer a means for developing deeper relationships with consumers that help you cut through the clutter by interacting with them more directly. They also help you understand your target market on a deeper level, so you advertising you produce is more impactful and more likely to attract the attention of your network.

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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of MKT Maven, is a full-service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media. Check out our full range of services.