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Branding and Social Media: The Real Hunger Games

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In a sea of logos and apps, lingo and "Likes," consumers are constantly asked to pin, purchase and poke. Brands have never in history enjoyed such a direct line of communication with their target customer but yet remain less effective and more challenged than ever. It's often akin to an awkward junior high school-like relationship where the boy has her number but doesn't always know what to say or how to say it.

It seems as though every week VC's back another set of Winklevosses with an "I've got a great idea" approach to a new start-up pushing a flashier way to offer 'tech-xibitionists' the tools to share their most intimate preferences and inspirations in the hope of picking off the competition by carefully hunting and assessing what minor tweaks justify an entirely new platform. The sale of Instagram for a billion dollars has only emboldened these guys with yet another aspirational name to drop into their business plans.

Retailers and brands literally cannot keep up fast enough, and our once pristine iPhones are starting to look like a graveyard of alphabet logos. Social media pros must assess how to allocate their clients' communication efficiently across multiple platforms without diluting the message or speaking through the wrong medium, and risking becoming uncool. Some of the largest and most powerful brands in the world struggle with choosing the best tools to use. Macy's, for example, although a whopping 5,000,000 Facebook fans strong, has been unable to find its niche with the same velocity on Twitter while some in high fashion have found a home and an audience on Pinterest that never welcomed them in Tumblr.

For some this seems like a good thing. Who wouldn't like a Chinese menu of sorts that allow brands to choose by trial and error what works for them without being held to a monopoly and hierarchy where Google and Facebook can dictate who they promote, how they rank, and what can be said. For smaller more nimble companies, maybe so, but ironically the giants of the land don't have the luxury of time to flirt with failed promotions in new mediums while competitors make progress winning over their customers and loyal fans. The majors are still primarily sticking to "traditional" social media effectively giving a Facebook-off and flipping the proverbial blue bird to the new comers vying for their business.

The landscape and complexity of marketing today would drive Don Draper to sobriety. Long gone are the days when an edgy new idea and a great product were married in a board room and posted on billboards and magazines weeks later for all to see them in the same issue of LIFE, TIME, Newsweek or People. It was simple, direct, and effective but it was also expensive.

But it's that very complexity that allows the really good brands to see the forest from the trees. It may be harder now to win over a loyal follower but when you have, you've done something more significant then hang another poster above the freeway. Darwin taught us that adaptation is the essential survival skill. You don't need the sharpest teeth or the shiniest weapon to out-live predators. Yes, you do need to keep moving but only when the time is right. But we learned even more in the playground; Mom taught us to also look both ways and freeze-tag showed us that staying close to the bases keeps you nimble and safe. For brands, fickly jumping all-in on the next bandwagon passing through town may be a dangerous investment in time and money to only find themselves clawing back to recover. Listen to your consumer, focus on your product and choose a medium that works. You can always dabble and experiment with new avenues of communication and there will inevitably be some great ones down the line, but the tone and the manner in which we speak has never been more important.

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