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Speaking my language

Speaking my language

How social media builds brands

Jane Ostler
Global Head of Media, Insight Division

Brands can be built on Facebook and Instagram, but marketers will be most successful if they also understand the context of the platform. Jane Ostler, Global Head of Media, Insights Division at Kantar, explains best practice.

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

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 percent lift across brand metrics.

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

Our work with the Saïd Business School at University of Oxford and Facebook shows how important social can be as part of the brand-building process.

The findings matter for two key reasons. Firstly, because social is a highly prominent mobile activity – with £2.39 billion spent on advertising via this channel in 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 effectiveness of mobile display – based on an analysis of market norms from nearly 9,000 global campaigns – has fallen from its peak of 14.4 percent to an average of 3.8 percent 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.

Said 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 percent and the average was 5 percent for saliency – a measure of awareness. Similar results were found for brand associations – a measure of the effectiveness of brand attributes – where the mean impact was a 4 percent rise, and the best campaigns delivered a 22 percent 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 the 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 differentiating factor 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.

Natural language processing on brands’ own Facebook posts – their owned messages rather than the paid ads – identified a key difference between those brands that tended to perform well and the poorer performers 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 on 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 of every communication they make on the platform, and why consumers use it.

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

The second lesson 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 and innovative 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 to each environment in which they appear. 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.