In an age of constantly connected audiences, brands who neglect to respond to trending news topics often risk losing affinity from their audiences.
Real-time marketing approaches have quickly matured from a handy tool for socially-connected marketers to an expectation from audiences. After all, what are social media channels doing if they are not participating in the relevant conversations?
The key for brands is to think of ways for in-the-moment news and cultural events to relate to their branding values, not the other way around. Put simply: brands must study audience insights more attentively if they want to have their finger on the pulse of hyper-connected consumer sensibilities.
How Responding Poorly Could Actually Hurt
Audience expectations have shifted from considering timely brand responses to trends an unexpected delight element to considering them an almost-necessity. As brands have caught up to the language and communication styles their audiences use, a certain level of conversational proficiency has become the norm. When a brand is unable to meet this level of proficiency, their entire audience feels let down.
A great example is how Beyoncé’s new hit single “Formation” mentions the restaurant chain Red Lobster repeatedly in an unorthodox but flattering context. A line in the song says Beyoncé will treat her lover to Red Lobster when he has been particularly attentive. With “Formation” clocking in 22 million views and Red Lobster receiving an immediate revenue boost, Beyoncé handed Red Lobster the marketing opportunity of a lifetime. Unfortunately, their social response fell flat, leaving audiences hungry for a more conversationally-aware response.
While the situation is hardly a true negative for Red Lobster, it illustrates how companies must be prepared for unexpected exposure and poised to capture those perfect moments of trending conversations. Such a window is open briefly, and those that leverage it sooner stand the chance of reaping greater rewards.
Social Conversations Are Often Far from Frivolous
While the above Red Lobster example may seem a bit silly, not all perfect contextual marketing opportunities have to do with pop culture. They can often reflect deep struggles that challenge society on a daily basis. Social media marketers wishing to make critical audience connections and reinforce brand affinity must therefore understand what it is their audience is looking for in an engaged, socially-active brand.
Rather than relying on talent or instinctive responsiveness, brands can research their audiences to determine the values they emphasize the most. Social listening, audience polling, third-party data sources and more can determine not only what audiences care about, but also how to respond socially as a brand in ways that resonate with audience priorities.
There is perhaps no better example than Intel’s $300 million response to #gamergate. When requested in a letter-writing campaign to pull their advertising from video game sites like Gamasutra, Intel was not aware that the letters were not coming from audiences offended by the site’s content but rather from the online #gamergate movement known for harassing women. As soon as Intel realized their move could be seen as critical of diversity, they seized the opportunity to make a true difference. The company pledged $300 million to increase the representation of women and minorities among their staff, specifically countering the main issue of underrepresentation in technology rather than simply backpedaling.
Hyper-Connected Consumers Want Connections to Their Values
Even in issues like popular song references, audiences are looking for an acknowledgement that the things they care about matter. An unsatisfactory response becomes less about joke writing and more about brands seeming out of touch with their audience’s values.
Procter & Gamble’s #LikeAGirl ads showed what happens when you satisfy audiences with creative appeals to their values, winning an Emmy in the process.
Study your audiences using data-driven insights, then study the issues they care about, and the natural response should emerge.