Is the fabled ‘word of mouth’ becoming ‘word of me’? With the rise of Pinterest and Instagram, people are now expressing their identities by showing off the products they own rather than the number of friends or followers they have.
Now brands are getting involved. Speaking to Marketing Week, Intel director of brand strategy Jayant Murty says: “At Intel we are increasingly looking at social as a place to show what we do, curate the great things other people do and celebrate the things people do with our technology. We see our presence on social playing that larger role.”
Intel has created a social media campaign to launch the second generation of Intel Core Processors. The brand launched an interactive Facebook campaign called Intel Museum of Me that reflected the personal expression of self image.
Whether it is an Instagram image of someone’s new Converse high tops or a shiny coffee machine, brands can win over consumers by making it easier for them to show themselves off through the products they own.
Since March 2012, for example, Starbucks customers have been able to share images of their names written on takeaway cups. Starbucks launched the ‘Names on coffee cups’ campaign in a bid to offer a more personalised service in its shops by calling customers by their first names, with baristas writing it where they would previously have written the name of the drink ordered.
Starbucks vice-president of marketing and category Ian Cranna says this turns a coffee cup into an object that is owned and personal to the individual, which encourages that person to share that image with their online social community.
It has proved so popular, albeit occasionally for the wrong reasons, that there are Flickr and Tumblr pages that show the labelled cups, and apps that generate a name for people on a virtual cup – each of these also mocks instances where the names are misspelled.
Something to write about
“Who knew that such a simple act as writing a name on a cup could create such a point of identity and differentiation in a competitive marketplace?” says Cranna. “Names on cups themselves are not the only expression of the relationship between the barista and the customer, with many thousands of messages being passed each day with smiley faces, a flower, or a comment that cheers up a person.”
He suggests that the number of drink combinations also enables consumers to express their identity. “Are you a tall decaf skinny wet cappuccino, or a grande extra shot Americano with cream?” he says (See Q&A).
Foot Locker is another brand that sees the value of creating a space for consumers to show off what they own. Its Sneakerpedia site (pictured above) is an online gallery and information point for customers looking at the latest trends. Key influencers, collectors and enthusiasts can share images of their most-loved trainers and consumers can search by brand, material, colour and type.
Status plays a part in the brands consumers favour, and the ones they want to show off about owning. Diageo marketing and innovation director for western Europe Matthew Barwell singles out alcohol as a highly branded product that is chosen to reflect a person’s taste and lifestyle.
“The drink that you order at the bar, the whiskey that you bring out after dinner, are often an expression of status, mood and what you want to project,” claims Barwell.
Alcohol has become about the ‘moment’, he adds, with many brands sponsoring and running events that are shared by consumers.
For example, the Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange Project encouraged consumers to swap a typical nightlife experience from their country with someone from another country through a Facebook application. More recently the brand released a campaign with the tagline ‘Yours for the making’, which will see more nightlife experiments take place this year.
“Technology has enabled us as marketers to manage campaigns more effectively and proactively in a way that couldn’t have been done 30 years ago,” says Barwell.
“A brand such as Smirnoff is no longer producing just advertising. There is this merging of advertising content and entertainment. So in a number of instances around the world, we are producing programming around drinks, music, live broadcast content and social media.”
Barwell believes it is not just about “pure likes” but the way consumers engage with a brand regularly, the frequency of that activity and the relevance. “It’s a really powerful way for people to share the brands they like with their broad group of friends to help define and reflect their personalities, interests and their moods. That is a fantastic opportunity for brands.”
Intel’s Museum of Me application pulled in data from the user’s profile, including personal photos, profile pictures of friends, commonly used words and phrases and recently liked images and videos, to create an exhibition of the user’s life.
“The world is a lot more visual than it used to be,” says Intel’s Murty, “so we looked at where people expressed themselves visually the most. The most prominent visual community was Facebook. People are more interested in their lives than they are in brands. They are looking for real, authentic connections and brands that are offering this are seeing great results.”
At Intel, self expression can also take a serious stance. Murty explains that people take Intel technology and do an “extraordinary amount of things with it”, including solving irrigation problems in Israel or trying to put the rover on Mars at NASA.
Marketers now need to examine how consumers use brands to express their identity. If a brand has a clear outlook on what it represents, this can be transferred onto the consumer’s identity.
Barwell at Diageo says: “What you are buying and drinking is a reflection of the personality that you want to project. As marketers we can reframe what we do from managing a brand to managing an icon, because that ultimately is what consumers are buying into.
“What’s really important is that a brand has a clear point of view on the world, a clear perspective and purpose.”
Vice-president marketing and category UK & Ireland
Marketing Week (MW): Are consumers now buying brands to express self-image?
Ian Cranna (IC): Today more than ever, we believe that a logo does not define a company. What defines our company is our values, heart and passion. We believe that our customers identify with our brand through shared values and attitudes with our core beliefs.
MW: What can brands do to enable consumers to express their identities via products?
IC: In a competitive industry, it is not only brand values that consumers are looking for but also choice and innovation. Customers have always been able to express their identity through personalisation of their drink at Starbucks, choosing from more than 87,000 combinations.
MW: How has social media changed the way consumers show an allegiance to brands?
IC: We provide our customers with a ‘third space’, a place to enjoy and relax away from home or work, but we also continually look for ways to enable and encourage customers to interact with us in what we now call the ‘fourth place’, the digital space, in a way that is individual and unique to them. We recently engaged with customers for an Easter Twitter promotional campaign, offering a sweet treat for customers who found an Easter egg drawn on their cup over the weekend, using the hash tag #Eggspresso. Our customers are extremely active on social media platforms and almost 6,000 Twitter users engaged with the #Eggspresso tweets.
Social media continues to evolve at a fast pace and provides not just an opportunity for our customers to express their identities but also for us to engage with them and ensure we are providing the best experience. We are proud that we have more than 1 million UK Facebook fans and it is important to remember that behind each like is an individual that has their own identity and their own personal interaction with partners [employees] in our stores.
MW: How does Starbucks help consumers express identity through purchasing its products?
IC: Since March last year both our baristas and our customers have got to know each other by name and, through this personal interaction, our customers have developed a connection with our partners in-store. Unsurprisingly, this has strengthened the relationships we have with our customers and in January this year we reached over 1 million UK Facebook fans.