industry thoughts from Clarteza

02 October
Katy Gajewicz and Mag Retelewski

2012 Social Media Week in Chicago Reveals… How to Turn Self-Absorption into Brand Advocacy

Picture yourself at a cocktail party filled with near-strangers.  What is the best way to start a conversation with someone you don’t know well?  Ask them about themselves.  Why? Because people are most connected to their own life experiences and therefore most likely to be engaged in a topic in which they play a central role.  Truth be told – people love to talk about themselves.

This is not only a great tip for the most socially-awkward among us, but it also has important implications for marketers dealing with the challenges and opportunities that social media presents.  It is this very concept that is at the root of a session I attended last Friday as part of “Social Media Week” in Chicago.   In his session titled “Research Proves Social Media Engagement’s Link to Purchase Behavior”, Professor Edward C. Malthouse, Professor and Research Director at Northwestern University within Medill’s IMC Spiegel Digital and Database Research Initiative, shared his research on the ability of social media efforts to drive purchase behavior.  Specifically, he presented a case study for a miles accumulation program run by Air Miles Canada.  The gist of the program is basically this:

Air Miles Canada has partnerships with a particular brand in every category.  Members of the program can get miles if they purchase a participating brand, and they can then redeem their miles for everything from trips to merchandise to services.

Simple, right?

But here’s where it gets interesting:  In an effort to uncover evidence that participation in social media links to purchase behavior, Professor Malthouse examined promotional events run by Air Miles Canada. All events were initiated by “web-blasts” on the company’s website, educating members on the particular event and what they needed to do to gain bonus miles by participating in it.

For the sake of simplicity (and to stave-off boredom for some of us), I will cut through the analytical details and get right to the findings:  The research showed that, compared to a control group, participation in the social media contests significantly impacted the purchase behavior of members afterwards.  In other words, those that took part in the online event went out and bought more products from Air Miles Canada “participating brands” after the fact.

And here is the really interesting part:  The events that were built around soliciting input from the consumer showed the greatest bump in future purchase behavior.  For example, there was an event that simply asked members to come to the website and “tell us what you will use your miles for this winter, and we will give you 10 bonus miles”.  Not only did this event demonstrate an increase in post-event purchases, but Professor Malthouse found that the more that people elaborated on their responses, the higher the future purchase behavior!  In fact, his overall conclusion was that events that involve the consumer in a discussion of their own brand-related content have a higher return on investment than those that simply offer an easy way to “win stuff”.

Why?  It goes back to the initial point: Soliciting involvement from consumers in terms of their own brand-related personal stories, experiences, and values allows consumers to identify with and connect with the brand.  They become vested in the core brand benefit because they have linked it to their own life and interests.  And the act of them “talking” about the brand in this way, in the context of their own life, reinforces its relevance and the emotional attachment to it and therefore predisposes consumers to continue their relationship with it (i.e., keep buying it).  (It is classic reinforcement theory:  I just told you how the brand is an integral part of my life so therefore the brand is going to continue to be an integral part of my life.)

Other examples given of high engaging social media efforts included a Kit Kat promotion that asked consumers to send in photos of their favorite “take a break” moments with the candy bar, and a McDonald’s event where consumers were asked to create their very own burger with their favorite ingredients.  Despite the fact that the winning entry was a burger only its creator could love, these are powerful examples because they represent situations in which the consumer was actively linking his or her own interests or experiences to the brand promise, thereby making it his/her own.

Now, I suspect you can challenge Professor Malthouse on a number of different analytical fronts, and believe me, there was some lively conversation from statisticians in the audience, but the finding still makes intuitive sense and it is an intriguing one for those who seek to crack the code on harnessing social media’s potential for our brands.

So back to our cocktail party…the best relationships are built on those of mutual appreciation for each other’s interests, and ideally the sharing of similar interests.  Bottom line: In today’s digital world where it is essential that marketers develop a 2-way conversation with consumers, we need to enlist “conversation-starters” that get our consumers to think about the role of the brand in the context of their own lives and create a personal attachment that rewards both consumer and marketer alike.  Social Media provides the perfect opportunity to do this.  And if you consider this in light of modeling involving  “Big Data” which was covered at another seminar, the ultimate goal of using high-end analytics is to identify actionable insights. This is currently being researched & done by fellow speaker Professor Alok Choudhary, CEO of Voxsup (read:  Voice of the People). With high interest around the subject, it seems then, that the “golden ticket” of quantifying the opportunities of social media may be within our reach.