Refining the Concept Further

31 May 2010 by Randall Helms, 9 Comments »

OK, here’s a short update on my thinking for my dissertation. I mentioned before that I was working from the hypothesis that “social networks provide brands with an excellent way of deepening relationships with their existing customers, but are not so good for reaching new customers”; I’ve now thought about this a bit more and I’ve decided that I am going to approach this by asking the question, “how can FMCG brands use social media to connect with and engage their core customers?”

Just asking this question throws up more questions:

(1) How do you define who is a core customer?
(2) Why just FMCG’s?
(3) What counts as engagement?
(4) What counts as a successful campaign in social media?
(5) How well can you map traditional marketing objectives on to the social media space?

All these questions (and many, many more!) I will have to answer as I go through the project, but in the meantime, any thoughts on this topic?



  1. As someone who has only recently begun to take an interest in specific consumer brands (because I now have disposable income) as opposed to buying what is cheapest, I’d just like to offer the following points:

    1) Engagement: In terms of clothes, electronics and cosmetics, I like to follow certain brands online, usually through Facebook, as everything is in one place, as well as Twitter. I appreciate product updates and useful information regarding the application of a product, as opposed to pure hard-sell. It’s the age old game of buying into the “lifestyle” appeal of a brand. When I see info about products or services from other brands because they fit into my “lifestyle” sold by the brand, I’ll be more inclined to look into them. Feeds that just pump hards ads at me all the time get turned off (although that all depends on frequency and appeal of the brand). But social media going wrong has the potential to disrupt my feelings for a brand. Paul Smith recently proudly had a photo and news update that Beckham had visited their Heathrow store on their FB fan page; nothing is more likely to turn me off a brand than him or his wife.

    2) Measuring success: I guess driving new traffic, building word of mouth would be high up there, but I think what is gaining ground is the practical application of social media campaigns. Turning social media into an enabler can really build connection between consumer and brand; customsation and making the user feel part of the brand’s “umbrella”.

    3) Exclusivity: This is old hat, but giving core customers access to something truly exclusive, not just the same tired 10% money off vouche, via social media would be well appreciated.

  2. hi Ollie,

    Thanks for your comments. Your first point about buying into the ‘lifestyle’ associations of the brand is particularly good, and you’re absolutely right that this area is where social media campaigns really walk a tight line, between engaging and annoying.

    One of my pet theories is that brand communications in the social space should say less, but mean more. What do you think? I know that I sometimes get annoyed with wading through endless junk on Twitter to find the useful nuggets.

    Of course, the problem with saying less is that what you do say is more likely to get lost in the waterfall of data that is our daily lives, so it’s not so simple! :)

  3. I totally agree with the “waterfall of data” point. This is a big problem I think, and it also leads to herd the mentality of “if my competitor is doing it, I should too.” Remember when the internet took off about 10-12 years ago, and suddenly every company had a website? Most of those sites did nothing, they were just there. Why? Because “everybody” had one.

    I think the same is somewhat true of social media nowadays, especially in the case of blogs. Lots of brands and firms have blogs, but so many of them are out of date, or do nothing more than serve as banner ads for new products and services. I’ve had countless conversations with marketing people trying to sell me blogging services, and they all emphasise the “power” of a well written blog. And I agree.

    Crucially, and you know more about this than I do, I think smart brands need to take an intelligent approach to social media. This means exercising restraint, and really refining what they are saying. Of course, not every brand can do this, especially mass-market consumer goods brands, because they go for size and volume, not quality. There really is a lot of noise out there, but it’s not about shouting louder, it’s about finding smarter ways of getting heard.

    Recently I’ve been thinking about the “bull’s eye” approach to a marketing campaign for a newspaper. This paper is really big in China, but its English website has no traffic. Why? Well, I and others were told to “go and do the social media thing” (not exact quote, but you get my point). Like simply opening a Twitter account or FB page was going to bring a rush of traffic. I wonder how any other companies think the same way.

    Anyhow, our core market is Western businessmen. So I’m now targeting them directly, through Linked In, Twitter etc. For us it’s about getting them to forward our content, leading to a bigger uptake, because their followers are an extension of our core market. It’s about getting people involved in the brand, about feeling that they are part of it. I think that this is a big part of social media. PR and Marketing departments are often very hands on (of course there are reasons why) but they so restrict a fan’s interaction with a brand that the relationship becomes stale.

    I think social media is a great opportunity for brands to build some content/product/service that they can let fans play with to organically develop brand awareness and recognition, while at the same time further deepening their connection with core fans.

    Sorry to have rambled on so much….

  4. hi Olly,

    Sorry, I was finishing up a project and was then away for a few days, so I haven’t had a chance to respond until now.

    You raise some very interesting points, particularly about trying to interact directly with the target audience; in fact, that’s pretty core to what I’m thinking about. You’re absolutely right about the assumption that “well, we’ll just do a blog, a Twitter feed, and a Facebook page, and that will do the trick!”; the reality of what is appropriate is more complicated, and much more situation-dependent. I think that in many cases companies decide they need to do something with social media, based solely on the fact that ‘everyone else’ seems to be using social media. Yet, if you aren’t going to but the thought and effort into making it work right for you, it’s probably counter-productive, especially if you haven’t worked out how you are going to define what is ‘success’.

    In fact, I’m getting to be a bit more sceptical about how appropriate many of the metrics for measuring engagement are, but that’s the subject of my next post …

    I do have a question for you about your experience. Does this audience engagement that you are doing have any impact on English-language editorial content, or is that strictly based on translations of Chinese-language content?

  5. […] (of of MediaFlash China0 about social media engagement strategies in the comments section of my “Refining the Concept Further” post with my friend Olly Pearce . Well worth a look! var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; […]

  6. Hi Randall, thanks for the mention.

    OK, so at the website all our news stories (90% of content) is translated from Chinese. Around 40% of that is from other news sources (not from the main paper of our company). These are generally shorter, info-packed (sort of like a news wire). The rest comes from the main paper, and tend to be slightly longer (400 words). We also have several guest opinion writers who are all Westerners. This is all English language content (but usually not exclusive – taken from their blogs).

    Our delivery time is also a problem. We follow the news, i.e. after it is published. This already puts us behind the news agenda of the day. In addition, other major Western media translate the big stories from our main paper ahead of us! Perhaps 2-4 hours. We only post online at the end of day China, so lunchtime London and morning New York.

    I hope this helps. Looking forward to that next post of yours.

  7. marietroutot says:

    Hi Randall,

    Very interesting… For someone like me wondering for the last 6 months if I should, like everybody else do something about all that. Basically I have more questions than answers! I am happy to see I am not alone fiddling with the subject. So if you don’t mind I’ll continue following your researches, picking up information and eventually trying to do something about it (Like everybody else ! but better I hope)

    Here are a few questions for you

    Can Industrial companies expect anything from social medias? Yet?
    If yes, what? Knowing building word of mouth is so little widespread when it comes to manufacturing process and suppliers
    What advantage to one or another? Do we have to do all Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn …
    Would their be one answering each core? Dealers, final customers, potential customers
    At last, are all Countries connected? I ve been following our US competitor on Facebook for a few months and I have to say the information provided is POOR. But on the other hand they are the only ones there! Why? Are the old fashioned Europeans (I would get UK out of this category) connected?

    If I manage to answer this first load of questions, I could then define which strategy* I want to (can) follow with social media and I will keep in mind your suggestion about “defining what is success”

    *Strategies considered at the moment, I’d love to have your comments

    1- Build dealers loyalty
    I like the definition of your friend “the user feel part of the brand’s umbrella”
    At the moment the goal the most likely to be successful but not really in terms of turn-over so I would say it is not enough.
    Especially when you think, as you said “if you aren’t going to put the thought and effort into making it work right for you, it’s probably counter-productive”

    2- Spread the name
    Our dealers are 10 to 20 times bigger than us. When someone needs abrasives he goes directly to the biggest, he probably knows some other product would do the job but he chooses the “safe” side. Unless he is looking for cheaper stuff, but this is not our field. We are positioned as the specialist who will find the solution to a polishing problem with specific products and process, which brings us to the following point.

    3- Convince potential customers of our knowledge
    That implies that we give “sensible” information. Explanation: “our small world” of lapping-polishing has for decades maintained the phantasm around diamond polishing process, by keeping all information Confidential which has helped keep the prices of consumables at a good level, and that’s an issue !!!

    What I picked up from your conversation is that information should say less, mean more, refining what we say and being smart to get heard.
    I guess we could try to manage that but your friend said something about “let the Fans play” …scary in our “polishing culture” !
    So when you sort out the “confidential” information from the “exclusive” information … There’s not much left to catch new customers.

    Sounds impossible … Unless thinking over completely our communication, struggling our confidentiality worship.

    Brings me back to an interesting article I read a few days ago where Kelley (chairman of IDEO) says: “We give away our methods to everybody”. And why not? His best ideas are yet to come. He’s sure of it.
    cf. :

    Before I change the “world” I’ll continue debating and reading your blog

    By the way, if you feel like testing your thoughts on a small French company ;-) I would appreciate your help to put something up (feel free to say no)

    Sorry for my approximate English
    See you Saturday :-)

  8. hi Marie,

    Thanks for the questions; there’s a lot there, so if you don’t mind, I’ll use them as the basis for a future post.

    See you Saturday ;)

  9. […] my ‘Refining the Concept Further’ post from several weeks ago, I discussed how I was scoping my original research question (how […]

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