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Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Secret Sauce of Social Media

A long time ago in Southern New England, when I was four years old, we were hit by a ferocious snowstorm. When the snow finally stopped, all school and work was halted. I remember my much older siblings helping me in to a snowsuit and I went out and played for what seemed like hours.

The next morning I woke with a terrible case of chapped lips. I tried to finish my cocoa at breakfast but I was very uncomfortable. My father, being treated to a day off, said, “come with me, little man.” I vividly remember him carrying me out to his car, a huge Oldsmobile 98. The snow was way too high for me to navigate around the car so he gently tossed me into the passenger seat (no seatbelts in 1954! ). Driving carefully through the snow encrusted roads, we made it to the little village with its battery of shops. We walked in to the drugstore and he asked Mr. Erickson, the druggist, for a Chapstick. I think it cost 15 cents!

Once back in the car, he opened it and applied it to my lips. “You will be just fine in a few minutes. Keep this Don and don’t lose it.” Belying my years, I put the Chapstick in my coat’s inner pocket and pulled the zipper. Instantly, I became a believer in the brand and nearly 60 years later I have rarely been without a Chapstick for more than a day. So, I am a loyal customer but my loyalty has been passive and unknown to the world unless you are a member of my immediate family.

The value of loyal customers is significant for any brand. Auto companies love them--if they can get someone in their early 20’s and hold them, that may be worth a million to a million and a half dollars over the course of his or her lifetime. Also detergents, fast food, liquor brands, even Chapstick find loyal customers to be of great value over a customer’s lifetime.

All of us in advertising and marketing have pushed the concept of the lifetime value of a loyal customer hard--you don’t have to spend much to keep them and they instantly go to you even if new brands come along that may be a better value. I used to explain the loyalty phenomenon as a ladder--on the bottom rung was awareness and that is what initial advertising exposures could do for you. Then you moved on to consideration if the advertising was effective and you were in the market or friends or relatives were happy with the brand. After you tried it, the next rung up the ladder was preference. Finally, after a pleasant and successful history with the brand, you hit the top of the ladder and got to loyalty.

Until now, millions of us, as I have been with Chapstick, are quiet loyalists. As a teenager, I used it often but in private as I did not want classmates riding me. So, my loyalty to the humble brand was solid but it was completely passive.

In recent years, social media has invaded the advertising scene in a big way. I struggled with it as people were giving somewhat breathless reports of how wonderful that it could be for all brands. Early on measurement was not the greatest and people probably wasted way too much money on it.

Now, I am seeing, how, if done right it can be wonderful and cost efficient form of exposure. What it centers around is that people are active advocates for a brand when they do things such as go to a company’s Facebook page. Because people are active or engaged, an interaction on Facebook is increasingly worth more than an exposure opportunity (ad impression) in TV or other conventional media where commercial avoidance continues to grow at an alarming rate. These social media interactions pack a powerful authenticity punch that a passive TV impression just cannot match.

This is how social media works. Remember a “liker” on Facebook has truly sought your brand out directly. That enthusiasm or positivity is what, in my opinion, makes social media click.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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