Monday, December 22, 2008

Social media utopia: it runs on dreams and rainbows

Adrian Ho from Adweek suggests that the future of branding is in a system of mini-communications between employees of a company and consumers. He posits that traditional marketing will go the way of the dinosaur and that communications will come from thousands of blogs and twitters that employees at every level will produce to which the public will listen. I think this philosophy is severely flawed on three counts.

The first two places I disagree with Mr. Ho are in regards to his idea about brands embracing the Zappos form of marketing where "mini-communications," if you will, between employees and consumers will form the backbone of future marketing efforts. Here are two reasons I believe this model will always be the exception and not the rule.

One- Executives will NEVER yield that kind of communicative power to the lowly ranks of employees of major companies. Zappos is an exception, and a wonderful one, but if you think for a moment that somewhere like Burger King or Starbucks is going to put the billions of dollars of carefully crafted public image they have created in the hands of their underpaid, overworked, largely disgruntled workforce, you're crazy. They're not going to allow it, much less encourage it. Why? Because most brands cannot, or will not, foster the kind of happiness and loyalty required for the kind of communications above to come out positive, much less consistent.

Two- Mr. Ho's model involves companies keeping employees around long enough to develop long-term relationships with customers. I'm sorry, anyone else here been paying attention to business models lately? Employment at any company is getting shorter and shorter by the year. Why? Companies are doing everything they can to cut benefits and keep wages down to manage costs. Employment is getting shorter and only showing signs of shorterning further as most companies create technicalities where their employees are all "independent contractors" to avoid paying any benefits at all. And I'm supposed to believe the future of brand communications is based on companies extending employment for the purpose of setting their disgruntled employees loose on the public's ear? Please.

My third bone to pick is this- While social media certainly has a place in future communications (especially if anyone starts figuring out how to use it successfully, reliably and cost-effectively), it will not replace all other forms of brand communications. Like TV, print, radio and outdoor, traditional media as an entity will not perish from the earth. They will simply move over and yield market share to new forms as they have throughout history.

More importantly, unless we delve into some sort of "brand heaven" where all employees have long employments at companies they love so much they want to tell the world, Hr. Ho's suggested model will be about as accessible as the fountain of life.

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