It is difficult to understate the importance of digital and social media in the marketing mix, no matter which lens it is viewed through. Savvy marketers increasingly rely on digital and social metrics – the number of Facebook ‘likes’ or Twitter followers their brand has amassed, their buzz score, or the level of engagement their brand has achieved with digital users in the last quarter. On any given day, at least one new article appears in the marketing press elucidating the challenges and opportunities for brands in an increasingly digitised landscape. Digital engagement has fast become the new frontier in building brand affinity.
What is considered less frequently, however, is how consumers engage with social media. By this, I mean less which social media outlets they are signed up to and their level of activity within those, or how often they use their smartphone, or how many apps they have downloaded. Rather, I mean the ways in which consumers use digital and social media to project an image of themselves. It is a rare individual who has not, on at least one occasion, run their name through a Google search to gauge how they come across, or reviewed and redacted their Facebook or Twitter profile to ensure that they are projecting the ‘optimum’ version of themselves. It is this self-projection that is taken into account less frequently by brands – and, I would argue, to their own detriment.
The way in which consumers choose to present themselves in their digital lives has significant potential implications for brands who wish to engage with them. Working in insight, we regularly employ observational and ethnographic techniques to unpick the disconnect between what people say, and what they do. Yet in the past, insight has tended to focus on this in the context of people’s physical lives, without necessarily taking the time to understand how this dynamic plays out in the digital sphere. This is an oversight: our digital lives are one of the few areas in which we have the potentially to actually curate our selves. Helping brands to understand the implications of this self-curation opens up myriad opportunities for them to engage with consumers in a way that plays to these aspirational selves, and allows brands to position themselves within these aspirations to build affinity and preference. By becoming part of people’s digital selves, brands can gain currency in a truly engaged, and often disruptive, way.
At Truth, we are committed to finding ways, through insight, to understand how digital lives impact on the way consumers relate to and engage with brands. Tools such as social media analytics and online communities, as well as probes within more conventional insight work as to how the digital sphere shapes and influences the way people live their lives, enable us to get under the skin of these digital ‘selves’ and understand what people are trying to achieve through them. By considering how the digital world interacts with and are woven into the overall framework – the Cosmology – of people’s lives, and their interaction with brands and products, we are able to help brands build strategies that enable truly meaningful digital engagement.
Marielle Cottee is a Partner at Truth with a keen interest in the influence of digital and social media.