The Monetization of Me: How Social Media Forced the Evolution of Marketing

Marketing has evolved in a myriad of ways since Apple introduced the world to the smartphone in 2007. The way we interact with each other has fundamentally changed thanks to the powerful little computers we carry around in our purses and pockets. Our lives are now centered around apps, and, depending on what age bracket we fall into, most of us now experience literally almost everything on the go.  

While the days of big, bold print ads on the sides of buses or epic television spots featuring this year’s hottest pop star aren’t quite gone, they are instead just one of many media vehicles advertisers have turned to in the smartphone era.  Now, campaigns are planned in a digital-centric manner, with video advertising being spliced into shorter executions to live on YouTube (pre-roll). Our faces are glued to our tiny screens. We live on apps like Instagram and Snapchat. According to AdWeek, the average person spends 40 minutes on YouTube, 35 minutes on Facebook, 25 minutes on Snapchat, 15 minutes on Instagram, and one minute on Twitter per day. As our focus has shifted, advertisers have had to evolve to stay visible in the mobile-first generation.  

Research has shown millennials and members of Gen Z have shown a preference towards trusting recommendations from peers over overt advertisements. As brands are jumping all-in on paid social in addition to display and video, their respective strategies have shifted to accommodate the increasing variety of media vehicles, and their customer service strategies have morphed too. Today, customer response teams must continually interface with customers, delighted or not, and social has become an essential vehicle for customer support. Brands that don’t recognize the value in responsive customer support (often routed to Direct Message, or “DM”) will struggle to maintain positive customer sentiment.

 At the same time, with the rise in prominence of social media vehicles like Snapchat and Instagram, brands saw it essential to leverage influencers to build brand awareness and convince potential customers to purchase. As recent events have made clear (ahem, PewDiePie) influencers also come with significant brand risk. In this new world, brands would be wise to approach influencers as carefully as they would consumers off the street.

Who’s Doing It Well?

 First and foremost, brands need to see influencers, and - perhaps to a greater degree - customers, who post positive feelings about their offerings, as brand advocates. Consumers who post positive sentiment about a brand are often more valuable than influencers who

are basically word-of-mouth recommendations with a megaphone. Celebrating and supporting your followers through reposting of their content (user-generated content, or “UGC,” as the kids say) speaks volumes about your brand. In this app-centric world, consumers have become very savvy to quick gimmicks. Gen Z is especially attuned to brands that pop in to “try” social and usurp their customers’ “likes” as fakes. Genuinely getting excited when you partner with a particular influencer, or even customer, will show in your social presence. You can’t half-ass it anymore. Everyone has the potential to be a powerful brand advocate, or conversely, a seriously negative detractor, on social.

 So, Everyone is a Brand Ambassador?

 Indeed. GoPro is a brand that gets this. Through cash incentives, they’ve given people a tangible value prop to create quality content. Building a community of influencers that LOVE your brand is vital to raise awareness and bring more people into your community.

User-generated content (UGC) might sound like another buzzword, but Burberry was able to leverage it into an entire campaign that resonated with millions. The “Art of the Trench” campaign asked consumers to submit photos of themselves wearing Burberry’s iconic trench coat, and then Burberry carefully curated the images. There was no cash prize, just the potential to have your image viewed by thousands, if not millions, of other stylish people.

The beauty of UGC is that anyone can submit an image; the subtle art is reposting the right content that vibes with your brand. Carefully curating your social profile takes a keen eye, especially in image-first apps like Instagram and Snapchat, protecting and defining your brand image is vital to making an impact on social media.

At Uptown Treehouse, we’ve helped UNIQLO use influencer content strategically in their paid media campaigns, and it has yielded some impressive results. The images resonated with their target audiences because they felt authentic and less editorial.

The Fall/Winter 2018 UNIQLO U collection featured fashion-forward silhouettes and a bold ‘70s-inspired color palette. UNIQLO teamed up with a group of NYC influencers to show customers the different ways they can style the collection. Our paid social campaign resulted in an extremely high CTR of 2.5% and 600% ROAS. These metrics show that when you use influencer content strategically, the impact can be astounding.

Another paid social campaign that performed exceptionally well was the campaign we ran for UNIQLO Cashmere. Using influencer images again, we saw a 1.75% CTR and 700% ROAS. The influencer images felt very organic. We were able to target potential customers and show them content that we knew would resonate with them and help persuade them to purchase. 

Looking Ahead To 2019…

 Here’s where we think influencer marketing strategies are headed in 2019. While hashtag campaigns are an easy way to drum up UGC content, we believe there are better ways to build a community on social media. Through our experience with big retailers, like UNIQLO, we’ve been able to create a space for fans of the brand to share their content. By supporting influencers and fans, UNIQLO has become more relevant in the U.S. market.

 The key for 2019 campaigns will be to work with millennials and Gen Z influencers to create content that blurs the line between organic promotions and overt advertising. Building a community of fans of the brand is going to take priority over quick hashtags. And having a genuine social media presence will be the marker of success this next year.

 Through our CX Intelligence, we help brands understand what content will connect with your potential customers and guide you on how to utilize social media to improve your bottom line. We know what it takes to grow your reach and create an enriched experience for your customers. Through powerful storytelling and focused social advertising, we can add value to your customers' experience while staying agile and efficient with the ever-changing social landscape.

 While guest designer and artist collaborations ruled 2017 and ‘18, we think influencer collabs are on the rise. Take a cue from makeup brands, like Benefit who partnered with YouTube beauty influencer Jeffree Star and four other vloggers. Brands can and should do more than partner with influencers. Collaborations are going to be an even more significant part of 2019 and beyond as customers increasingly identify with and trust influencers.

While some of these collaborations may alienate a few customers, nobody ever won with a boring collab. If you want to catch people’s attention, you have to be bold. A wise individual once said, “If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to no one.” In other words, don’t play it safe in the middle. You should find your niche and capitalize on it.

The Key Takeaways

The way we consume information has evolved, and that means the way we consume ads has had to evolve as well. As apps have continued to be a prevalent part of our daily lives, picture and short messaged-based social media has taken center stage for nearly all of our experiences. Whether we use it to document a trip or just for posting a funny photo of our dog, social media has quickly become an extension of the way we interact with our peers.

Brands need to keep a close eye on their social strategies to evolve with the ever-changing demands of consumers. Social must be front-and-center, not an afterthought. All campaign ideation should start with the idea that media is just a messaging vehicle, and the best campaigns are media-agnostic. If your brand doesn’t quickly adapt, it may quickly become irrelevant to this app-centric generation. Visibility is key to remain at the forefront of your target consumers’ minds. Leveraging social takes careful planning and deep understanding of how each platform works. All are designed to be social, interacted with, and closely tied to our reflexive app-opening culture. Using these concepts as your guideposts can’t help but work to your advantage toward a positive trajectory as we march boldly forward into a world where two-way conversations with consumers are the rule, not the exception thereto.