Is your brand the ice cream or the broccoli?

Many nutritionists attribute adults’ unhealthy eating habits to childhood conditioning. As kids, we’re forced to eat healthy foods to get what we really want. “Finish your broccoli and you can have ice cream.” What does this teach our brains? Broccoli bad, ice cream good.

By this logic, it’s no wonder consumers have grown so averse to marketing. “Watch my ad and you can watch the content you actually wanted.” “Like my fan page to see what you came for.” “Sign up for an account to participate in this discussion.” Marketers have systematically trained consumers to dislike marketing activities by making them a chore, rather than something we actually want to engage in.

But like a kid growing up, we’ve grown out of marketers’ control through technology. Uninvited, interruption advertising may have worked when advertisers had a captive audience – limited media channels, with everyone watching the same shows, listening to the same radio programs, reading the same newspapers. But consumers aren’t captive anymore. They’re increasingly free to ignore marketing, especially within social media. Facebook ad performance metrics are low and getting worse, while costs per click and per thousand continue to rise:

FB ad trends worldwide emarketer

Advertising Age likens using Facebook as a traditional ad channel to pounding screws with a hammer. The hammer is a great tool, just not for the job you’ve given it. You can’t just put up a Facebook page, collect lots of fans, and start pumping out the advertising. Or rather, you can, but you won’t succeed. And you’ll miss out on a chance to truly engage customers in a way that works for business.

Be the ice cream

“Our goal is to share compelling content and encourage regular engagement, and our hope is that fans will ‘like’ our pages for those reasons,” says Gayle Weiswasser, VP of social media communications for Discovery Channel. “We look at each post as a way to increase engagement with our existing fans and provide content that will have our fans saying, ‘I’d like to share that with my friends.’”

And it’s working. The network has gathered over 25 million Facebook fans and 1.4 million Twitter followers without “fan-gaiting” – the increasingly common practice among brands of posting exclusive videos, contests, and special offers on Facebook and Twitter pages, then requiring viewers to like or follow to participate. One great contest may boost your follower count, but are those followers truly engaged with and benefitting your brand? 26% of consumers have liked a company on Facebook to get a one-time offer, and later unliked after getting what they wanted.

Attract customers with compelling content they actually want to see, and they’ll follow you to keep receiving it. You may be thinking, “We can’t all be Discovery Channel. My company sells products, not entertainment. My brand isn’t cute or funny.” It’s not about being funny, it’s about being interesting, relevant, and useful to your followers. Some brands, like Old Spice, do this with humor, but humor is just one way to provide value.

Do your products meet a need? Do people with that need have any shared interests? Feed those interests with relevant content. Is there an emotion or event you can tie your brand to? Don’t do all the talking – it’s called social media for a reason; it’s a conversation. Use your compelling content to get customers talking (to your brand and each other) and sharing (with their friends and your followers) for true engagement.

Marketing and advertising have entered a renaissance. For too long the industry was about finding new ways to push content on consumers. The future will be about creating content consumers actually seek out for themselves. Stop looking for ways to sneak broccoli on their plates, and start serving the ice cream.

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  • Brent Robinson

    Thanks for the comment. Great to hear you enjoyed the post.

  • Ryan Parrott

    Excellent post, thanks so much. Be the ice cream!!

  • http://twitter.com/txTDM Tara DeMarco

    Hi Rasha, definitely think gaining company buy-in is a challenge for many marketers. Their weapons, then, are examples from companies like Discovery who attract fans with valuable content. I can’t speak from experience on your second question, but I’d imagine a campaign’s impact (both hard and soft) is what’s most important to stockholders. When done right, social campaigns have both:
    http://blog.bazaarvoice.com/2010/09/22/hard-and-soft-impact-how-golfsmith-measures-social-roi/

    The data shows ads on Facebook aren’t working. My position is, marketing designed for captive audiences won’t work when the audience isn’t captive. Marketing *must* change from something people have to be force-fed (interstitial ads, commercial breaks, banner ads) to something people seek out and share.

    Take the Dead Island video game trailer, a trending topic on Twitter last week. It’s just a commercial for the game, but the content was entertaining enough that people sought it out and shared it. That’s the future – giving the audience you’re marketing to something they actually want.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTtv3DyXRow

  • http://www.rashaproctor.com Rasha Proctor

    Tara,
    Great post.
    Do you think the problem that many marketers face is selling their own corporate on just engaging, listening and building the relationship?
    It appears to me that when pitching a method of customer engagement, management is still always looking for a hard copy to hold on to and show their stockholders. Your thoughts?
    Having data to show that traditional marketing doesn’t work anymore, definitely helps.
    Thanks again for the great post.
    Rasha

  • http://twitter.com/txTDM Tara DeMarco

    Agree Sam. Making advertising people seek out for themselves, instead of ads you have to force on them and interrupt their lives with, seems like common sense, doesn’t it? I think old-school marketers too set in their ways cause the delay you point out.

    A senior partner at Boston Consulting Group gave an interview about how the old way of marketing doesn’t work anymore, and won’t ever again. It’s here if you’re interested:
    http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=145297

    Thanks for the good comments, as always!

  • Sam Hai

    Substance over style!? That just sounds wrong. Everyone knows that the most profitable businesses make a cheap product that sucks and then embellish the hell out of it without paying any attention to consumer feedback!

    Sarcasm aside I really have a hard time wrapping my head around why practicing listening is just catching on. It seems like common sense has a delayed application in the business world.

  • http://twitter.com/txTDM Tara DeMarco

    I actually love broccoli as well, haha. But nobody likes interstitial ads. Thanks for reading!

  • http://biggreyhorse.com Laura Townshend

    I dig broccoli, but ice cream is far smoother. Thanks for the reminder to build relationships. No sneaky broccoli and please, no spam! 😉