Social media is cacophony of ideas and images, so if a brand intends to stand out it’s going to need a strategy.
“A social media strategy must always tie back to your business objectives — is it an increase in sales or awareness? In a recession, for example, clients are looking for a return on investment, and often that means returns in sales of their products and services,” advertising executive Douglas Ames said.
Ames, managing director of digital marketing firm WebFX spoke to Business Day last Monday about how clients can leverage the current technological environment and local digital trends to craft a digital marketing strategy that helps their brand make the desired impact.
The first step is to figure out what that impact is. The second, is to be willing to take risks to achieve that.
“Brands need to move away from safe zones. Media is fragmented and social media platforms have now allowed everyone to have a voice — that can either be frightening or beneficial,” Ames said.
Brands need to find what is their tone of voice on social media; communication on social media is fragmented and playing it safe won’t make a brand stand out. That doesn’t mean a brand should focus on controversial issues, but it does suggest a willingness to do things that the organisation’s culture may not have permitted it to try before.
The People’s Beer
Ames and his WebFX team manage the digital and social media presence for Carib Beer, including its wildly popular Facebook and Instagram pages. One of the reasons for Carib’s massive success on social media is the brand’s almost immediate reaction to trending topics with relevant and humorous memes that, in essence, capture a virtual sense of “rumshop talk.”
Carib is willing to inject itself into the national conversation, Ames said, and its strategy is a reflection of what its drinkers are talking about.
Some of the brand's notable jibes have been on the Property Tax; the recent violin "plagiarism" scandal; Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin's Carnival collaboration (teaming up with Stag for some sibling rivalry); and the driver's licence hummingbird fiasco.
“Carib’s brand pillars are friendship, funship and national pride. It’s also an alcoholic beverage. When you think about what you discuss over a drink it’s politics, the economy, sports, your job, your relationship — so in coming up with a strategy to differentiate Carib from the competition we felt that Carib being a national beer should inject itself into the national conversation by paying attention to what’s trending on social media,” Ames said.
And it appears to be working. The brand’s online image, at least on social media, reflects a Trinidadian ideal — lots of liming, good vibes and national pride — with a healthy dose of “picong.” In fact, the brand’s memes, perfectly timed at nearly the peak of a story’s cultural saturation, almost become trending topics themselves.
Ames and his team also eschewing traditional marketing strategies when crafting a voice for a brand like Carib.
“Now, brands can take an opinion — something once unheard of in any marketing class. The reason for this change is because in a competitive landscape, everyone has the same price, the same ambience (a bar), and even the same type of product (beer). You need to differentiate your product, and you do that through your core brand values,” Ames said.
Taking an opinion can be controversial, Ames acknowledges, and there is the real risk of it backfiring, but at least the customer knows where the brand stands on certain issues.
“More and more Trinidad marketers are willing to take risks — it doesn’t have to be controversial but in the context of Carib, for example, and Trinidad and Tobago, we have a lot of bacchanal to work with it,” he said.
Client versus consumer
Ames readily acknowledges that striking the right balance between tone and message can be hit or miss, but it helps if the client is understanding and willing to try new concepts.
“Once I can justify it, they are willing to go for it. I admit there are times when I was concerned about going too far with a concept, but once I justify the positioning they go for it,” he said.
It can be difficult taking a risk depending on the client, he admits, and company culture is important.
“Some companies reward innovation but in innovating you also have to accept mistakes. You can’t expect a company to progress and not make mistakes. And when they make a mistake you have to be able to forgive it. Now if you keep making mistakes then you have a problem,” he said.
Consumer reaction is important too.
“A brand can either emulate the values of a society and mirror them. In the case of a brand you have to walk a fine line between what your consumers will enjoy and appreciate and what you want them to aspire to, adding quality and raising the standards of the conversation,” Ames said.
He points to the trend of “opinion-based news” versus purely factual reporting — and the need to take charge of a conversation; and if you do take charge, you should try to life it.
“We do look at the negative comments and engagement rates, and do use that feedback to influence our strategy provided that strategy doesn’t contradict the brand values. I will admit that sometimes you will get more negative than positive reactions and if you feel that you have steered away from the brand values then you recalibrate,” he said.
The Digital Marketing Umbrella
Social media, while important, does not exist in a vacuum; instead, it falls under the umbrella of digital marketing.
“Digital marketing is about leveraging anything that is digital, mostly residing online — whether it is website development, social media marketing, or mobile app development to achieve your organisation’s objectives,” Ames said.
Over the last 18-24 months in particular, he notes, digital media has taken off in Trinidad & Tobago, for three reasons:
Better, faster more reliable technology offered from Internet and Mobile Service Providers, and the subsequent competition in the market reducing prices.
More reliable service means consumers are able to use their smartphones in ways they haven’t been able to before. This has resulted in changing trends in how media is consumed locally, with a shift away from newspapers and television, to online platforms.
In the ongoing economic recession, most firms tend to cut advertising and marketing budgets first, and digital has an advantage because it is often cheaper and easier to maintain.
Then there’s social media’s trump card — the ability to measure reach and impact more easily than traditional forms of media.
“Everything can be tracked. I can tell who looked at what, how long they looked at it, if they shared it, commented, etc. Digital media gives me a tremendous amount of data.
If something flops or is doing well you know right away,” Ames said.
Social media and Digital Strategy isn’t just for engagement and awareness, but also for customer service. Courts, another one of WebFX’s clients, has customer service as a key element of its digital strategy, aiming to reduce complaints and increase resolutions for its customers.
Caribbean Airlines, another client, tracks several key performance indicators through different online platforms, monitoring click through rates taking a potential back to the main website, and sales conversions across its online presence, not just social media.
For Carib, it’s harder to track the conversion rate from engagement to sales, but the strategy is to encourage awareness of the brand that will translate to more tangible metrics.
“Social media is just one channel. It’s important but it can’t be in isolation. You need a full digital strategy to complete the experience, for example, a website, that allows you to follow through with a process. If there is the disconnect then the strategy on a whole will fail,” Ames said.
At the very least, though, he suggests, brands should be on Facebook, the number one website in Trinidad and Tobago.
Written by Carla Bridglal for Business Day