01/08/2013 - 11:00

Media changes rules of engagement

01/08/2013 - 11:00

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Media changes rules of engagement
John Driscoll

LAST week the most ubiquitous brand launched an advertising campaign in which it proferred a newfound dedication to health awareness.

Coca Cola declared it was "joining the frontline" in the fight against obesity and would soon offer smaller pack sizes, more low-kilojoule options and be transparent with nutritional information – a remarkable declaration from a company often lambasted for the high sugar content of its products.

The move is evidence of an increasing realisation that simply being recognised is no longer enough.

According to Marketforce Advertising chief executive John Driscoll, brands are now adhering to demands for social responsibility as a survival strategy.

"The way brands behave is changing to reflect a better engagement with consumer sentiment," Mr Driscoll told Business News.

"With Coca Cola, there is a very powerful brand that is saying 'ok we've got to do something here to show that we're not the bad guys'.

"It's a good example of a brand responding to what consumers are saying about them and I think that is how the power of a brand and its focus is changing."

The point is not being missed in Western Australia with local brand managers reporting a growing understanding that successful branding now relies on sustainable relationships with consumers.

Much of the shift is due to changes in media usage, with more people looking online for news and current affairs and social media use growing dramatically.

The latest Yellow Pages Social Media Report confirmed the potential impact social networks can have on brands; 83 per cent of social media users in WA read online reviews or blogs, and 66 per cent of those will read up to five reviews before deciding whether to buy a product.

Thus, a brand's ability to sell is more susceptible to online conversations now than ever before.

While Australian businesses have long realised the importance of a social media presence – and many became early adopters – latest statistics show the initial get-in-quick approach is fading.

In the 2012-13 financial year, the investment by Australian businesses in social media was flat overall while businesses in the transport and storage industries reduced their social media usage by 6 per cent.

The statistics, also from Yellow Pages' Social Media Report, reflect what The Brand Agency head of strategic planning Alison Ray says is a maturing view of how social media can be used effectively.

"I'm a big believer in not just being on social media for the sake of it ... it really goes back to asking what's your business or brand all about; what are you trying to do and how can social media help facilitate that?" she said.

"Social media is all about word of mouth. That's always happened but the internet has just amplified it."

Increasingly brands are at the mercy of an informed audience; they do have the ability to interact, but the interaction has evolved from simple engagement and responding to a bad review.

Meerkats director Mike Edmonds said more informed consumers required brands to prove they were a better choice than their rival – a competition that often came down to ethics.

"The consumer is less interested in your brand image than they are in your brand purpose," Mr Edmonds told Business News.

"Originally it was like, as long as you had a consistent brand image and your logo matched the TV ad then you had brand awareness, and that equated to sales.

"But with the rise of the internet and the rise of the informed consumer, consumers want to know what it is that you're doing – not just what you're selling, but why you're selling it.

"Brands like Coca Cola and McDonald's don't just have to get their environmental affairs in order but their social responsibility as well."

Numerous WA brands have recognised the growth of conscious consumerism. Bankwest and HBF both pitch their philanthropic pursuits as a brand strategy, while milk processor Brownes has been pushing a campaign hinged on its support of the local dairy industry.

Brownes managing director Ben Purcell said the new campaign emerged from the recognition that Western Australians had a clear preference for locally made products, which matched his company's focus on supporting WA dairy farmers.

"We're very cognisant of the fact that consumers want to get behind something worthwhile and a proper cause, and consumers want to see a sustainable dairy industry," he said.

Meerkats was responsible for developing the creative brand strategy while digital agency Hatchd looks after Brownes' active social media account, releasing regular updates and infographics related to the local dairy industry.

Brownes is about to go even further in terms of the importance it places on consumer views with a new television advertisement featuring customer testimonials offering support for dairy farmers.

Big brands with significant marketing budgets often overshadow small players in the advertising world, but the increasing use of the internet has turned the tables and given smaller businesses an advantage.

Meerkats' Mike Edmonds said big brands could lose customers as a result.

"The smaller you are the easier it is to be authentic with your audience and to have [real-time] knowledge of what your customers want," he said.

"I think what you'll find is a reaction against the bigger corporations because they're not doing it (responding quickly to consumer demands).

"Once the bigger corporations understand what's going on, they'll realise they're going to lose if they don't get their act together."

The Brand Agency's Alison Ray said consumers were already beginning to boycott big brands.

"People are becoming less of 'consumers' in a way, so brands have to work harder to get loyalty and to get people to purchase," she said.

"It used to be, 'this is what we do' but now it's 'what does the customer want from us?'"

Mrs Ray said hardware giant Bunnings had realised customers were moving away from big brands and wanted to take more ownership, which led to the launch of the company's 'do it yourself' brand strategy.

She said social media and the internet had opened doors for brands to capitalise on the exponential growth of data at their fingertips.

"It's not just about who's coming to the website but it's about asking who the customers are, what they like, and what they're likely to do," Mrs Ray said.

Mr Edmonds said the step beyond sifting through that information was putting it to good use, and targeted marketing was a trend likely to emerge in the future.

"If you've been doing your job properly you've always been taking notice of data, but what's happening now is that here's just a lot more of it and it's a lot harder to use effectively," he said.

"Now there's ways of reaching people when they're actually in the mood or are thinking about the product and that's what data should allow you to do.

"And then the question is, what do you do with that? Do you use that data to ambush them or to help them make an informed decision?"

In addition to being chief executive of Marketforce, John Driscoll is also a director of OMD – a media consultancy that works with companies including iiNet to ascertain the impact of advertising campaigns.

Mr Driscoll said the growth of detailed information about consumers had created a niche for media agencies, which could dissect the information and interpret it for brands.

"There's always been research, but nothing as spontaneous as the research that's available on a daily basis now through the internet, so it would be at a brand's peril to ignore that," he said.

But even the rise of digital media and the multiplicity of opportunities it afforded didn't mean traditional advertising platforms were dead.

"I think it became popular or trendy to put print down, but that is seriously misrepresenting the power of print – it has a very strong role to play," Mr Driscoll said.

"It's one of those things people love to hate print, but it's misguided."

Instead, Mr Driscoll said all the different platforms should be considered as an integrated brand strategy, with each playing a different role.

 

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