The Matter Metric

With the cacophony of the coming presidential election growing by the decibel, 2016 will usher in the maturation of social media as a platform for debate and honest communication. And brands that have shied away from opportunities to build relationships with consumers out of an aversion to risk will come to understand that they risk even more by clinging to traditional advertising tactics in a conversation-filled world: irrelevance. It’s never been more important than it is right now for brands to connect with consumers on digital platforms in meaningful ways.

disappeared_2For many, that means a new measurement consideration, a reevaluation of the perspectives critical to successful efforts and strategies specifically designed to humanize your brand’s voice in the conversation.

The “Matter Metric”: Will Audiences Miss You if You’re Gone?

Marketing legend Seth Godin makes this clear in a 2015 interview with Contently. When asked what metrics he considers best for measuring the impact of “doing work that matters,” he responded: “I think the only (metric) that I care about is: will people miss you if you are gone?”

Does your brand truly matter? Would it be among the 23 percent of brands that people would actually miss if you went under tomorrow?

And brands that have shied away from opportunities to build relationships with consumers out of an aversion to risk will come to understand that they risk even more by clinging to traditional advertising tactics in a conversation-filled world: irrelevance.

Procter & Gamble’s Always brand is betting on the matter approach. After conducting its own consumer research via sponsored surveys, it found that girls’ confidence and self-esteem plummet once they hit puberty. In response, Always created the groundbreaking #LikeAGirl campaign. Built around redefining what it means to do things “like a girl,” the campaign turns the phrase from an insult into a compliment. Always is not just hawking product—it’s doing something that matters to consumers.

We’re More Social, But Less Trusting

Today, everyone’s a publisher and a storyteller—from individual voices that once went unheard to brands by the thousands eager to leverage digital channels to connect with consumers. As a result, the conversation landscape is noisier than ever—and in turn, consumer expectations have only risen. A great story alone is no longer enough.

Our own agency’s work for Wolf Appliance (the cooking complement to the parent SubZero’s iconic refrigeration brand) is case in point. Recognizing that Americans cook less than half of their meals at home as compared to 100 years ago, we created a branded content campaign to help engage home cooks in a movement to Reclaim the Kitchen. It’s entertaining, visually compelling, and most importantly, it’s thought provoking.

We Expect More Brands to Have a Point of View

Fifty-six percent of Americans now believe companies should have a point of view on social-political issues, even those considered controversial. And Americans are 8.1 percent more likely to purchase from a company that shares their opinions; we’re 8.4 percent less likely to purchase from one that doesn’t.

We Want to Be Talked With, Not At

But in 2015, brands still weren’t building trust and credibility the right way. Peter Friedman, chairman and CEO of LiveWorld, puts it succinctly: “Most social media marketing today is still traditional advertising: digital and PR broadcast messages shoved at customers through social channels. Those are all good marketing venues, but that’s not social.”

The Conversation Starter: Earned Media

Like all great communications initiatives, consumer insights and sound strategy lead to the most effective brand-building ideas. But the principles behind showcasing a brand’s ability to matter often come from the nuanced perspective that the public relations—or earned media—discipline has always had. From a century of brokering negotiations-wrapped-in-conversations (more commonly known as “interviews”) with the media, earned media pros inherently understand how to craft a two-way conversation that’s mutually rewarding. They know that the best stories happen when you open a dialogue on topics beyond a brand’s sales pitch, and deftly weave that brand’s relevancy to those topics throughout the story. They know that to earn a spot in the discussion, you have to actually matter.

And because social media channels give everyone a voice, the discipline most accustomed to fostering collaboration is an ideal fit to navigate those particular waters. This year, we’ll see more brands look to the earned media perspective to steer the ship on their digital marketing efforts—particularly in those designed to engage consumers in dialogue. More campaigns will begin with stories crafted with earned media principles in mind. To be sure, it takes all teams working together to create a successful campaign, but with the earned media perspective integral, brands can be certain that at the core of every digital strategy is a human strategy.

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Stacie Barnett joined Richards Partners in 1994. She is a principal with Richards Partners, the public relations, issues management and nonprofit branding practice of The Richards Group.