How social media builds brands

05 Dec 2017  |  Jane Ostler 
How social media builds brands

Brands can be built on Facebook and Instagram but marketers will be most successful if they also understand the context of the platform, writes Jane Ostler

Digital advertising is now officially mature - it’s been around for more than 20 years. So, while a lot of the current conversation revolves around performance and sales attribution, we should also be prepared to accept the evidence that online advertising can be used to build brands.

A recent analysis of Kantar Millward Brown’s MarketNorms data, consisting of nearly 9,000 studies globally over the last seven years, shows that on average digital advertising yields a 4% lift across brand metrics.

One area, however, where it’s been acceptable to be sceptical is whether social can build brands. Research has already told us that social could drive calls to action and response but the question about brands remained open.

No more, because a new study by the Saïd Business School at Oxford University, based on Kantar Millward Brown data from around the world, shows how important social can be as part of the brand-building process.

This finding matters for two key reasons.

Firstly, because social is a highly prominent mobile activity - with £1.51bn spent on advertising via this channel in the year to H1 2017, according to IAB/PWC - and secondly, because delivering mobile brand impact is becoming more challenging as the novelty of mobile display formats wears off for many consumers.

Over the last seven years the brand effectiveness of mobile display - based on an analysis of MarketNorms from 8,811 campaigns globally - has fallen from its peak of 14.4% to an average of 3.8% for brand metrics.

That’s still impressive and on a par with desktop display but the drop highlights the need to find new ways to utilise the power of this platform.

Which is why getting social right matters and the debate needs to move on from whether brand benefits exist and to the more technical question of where best practice lies.

Saïd Business School’s analysis found that social campaigns - and it analysed 235 of them for 110 different brands - can be hugely powerful in driving brand results. The very best delivered boosts of 30% and the average was 5% for saliency - a measure of awareness metrics.

Similar results were found for brand associations - a measure of the effectiveness of brand attributes - where the mean impact was 4% and the best campaigns delivered a 22% boost.

The crucial question for brands seeking some of this success is not that brand X did so well, but why they did so well.

Analysis of the campaigns found no link between the formats or platform used or combination of platforms used. Video or display, separately or in combination, didn’t make a significant difference, and nor did sector or industry category.

The study found that the key factor making a difference in importance was whether the brands understood the context of where their messages appeared, and applied that not just to their ads, but to every single communication on the platform.

When Saïd Business School carried out Natural Language Processing on the brand’s own Facebook posts - their owned messages rather than the paid ads - they found the key difference between the brands that performed well in upper funnel measures and the poorer performance at the bottom end of the spectrum.

Those brands that communicate in their own social media posts using human language, the ones that tap into our emotions and avoid more functional words and phrases in their owned messages, are also those brands that perform well in social media advertising effectiveness.

Key brand metrics such as aided brand awareness, ad awareness and aided product awareness were all significantly higher where this was the case.

The first lesson from this study is the power of context and whole platform understanding. Brands that want to benefit most from Facebook and Instagram - and by implication other social platforms too - need to be cognisant of the impact that every communication they make on the platform and why consumers use it.

Because these platforms are by definition more social, consumers tend to pay more attention to messages from brands that feel part of that experience. Functional brands simply aren’t going to win in a social environment.

The second lesson from this study is that change is good. The declining power of established formats - even if they settle down at an acceptable level as mobile display has - means that brands need to be more agile when it comes to format selection.

As consumers, we tend to filter out ad formats as they become familiar and that’s particularly the case on a smaller mobile screen. The best brand lift effects occur when the formats are freshest and a test and learn approach enables marketers to maximise these benefits.

The constant evolution of social platforms such as Facebook also helps, as continual platform innovation ensures the experience is fresh for users, while also delivering a positive impact for brands and improving how they are able to communicate.

The bottom line is that brands need to continue to adapt for each environment they appear in. In order to make the most of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, they need to demonstrate that they can contextualise their own communications.

They need to be human, because consumers simply don’t respond well to marketing-speak.


Jane Ostler is managing director for media and digital at Kantar Millward Brown

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