Social Media is a Tactic not a Strategy

May 5, 2011


            It’s the headline of our times “Brand X Moves to Social Media.” It’s the hottest trend in marketing with executives from the corner offices at Coca-Cola to the front lines at the local barber shop talking up Twitter, Foursquare, Groupon and Facebook.

            Since the Great Recession hit, we have been forced to do more with less and what better way to accomplish this than with social media. Compared to traditional advertising, a social media campaign is cheap. But is it effective? It all depends.

            Fall of Advertising photo After we wrote the 2002 book “The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR” a lot of companies got excited about PR. They ran out to hire PR companies and to launch PR campaigns. This resulted in a lot of lame and ineffective PR campaigns.

            Any company can run an advertisement, but with PR there are no guarantees. You can hire an agency, host an event, run a contest, pay a celebrity, launch a website, pitch reporters and bloggers alike and sometimes the media doesn’t cover it, nobody notices it, nobody tells their friends or hits the “like” button on Facebook.

            And the same is true with social media campaigns. What is social media anyway?  It is an evolutionary development of PR and word-of-mouth marketing. The internet has allowed people to interactively communicate in real-time, 24/7 on a global basis. Both PR and social media are tools but to be effective they need the right brand strategy first. That was the point of our book. We didn't talk about why "doing" PR was good for any brand, we talked about how PR gives new brands credibility and how to develop the right brand strategy to help make a PR campaign effective.

            The goal of marketing is to get your brand into the mind of the consumer. To own a word or a category in the mind. Starbucks owns high-end coffee shop. Google owns search. Twitter owns tweets. BMW owns driving.

            The first question any company must ask itself is, what does our brand stand for? Unfortunately, that question rarely gets asks. Instead, the focus is on what social media can we get into? Too many companies get PR, social media or advertising campaign all wrong. They forget that the brand strategy should come first and the execution should follow. Doing it in reverse doesn’t work.

            A typical example is a headline in today’s NYT “The Tupperware Party Moves to Social Media.” The Tupperware Brands Company has decided to greatly increase its presence in social media like Facebook and Twitter. They will have a Facebook page devoted to the theme “Chain of confidence” and feature women who will be confidence counselors. The company hopes to use social media “to reach out to a younger demographic in a more interesting and dynamic way.” The goal “is to find more disruptive methods to dispel perceptions that we are your mother’s Tupperware,” said Rick Goings chairman and chief executive of Tupperware.

            First thing first. What’s a Tupperware? It’s a party your mother bought plastic tubs at. Changing that perception in the mind is going to be difficult. A Facebook page and a few YouTube videos about confidence are unlikely to change that perception at all.

Tupperware party
            “Chain of Confidence” what the heck is that? Since when do confidence and plastic tubs go together? Sure, I get what they are getting at: Women who work for Tupperware gain confidence and skills. But Tupperware doesn’t own confidence; it owns plastic tubs sold direct.

             Broad ideas like confidence and quality aren’t specific enough to be ownable. And even if you want own something like “great customer service,” you don’t do it with a “we love our customers Facebook page.” You do it with a specific and tangible concept like: “Free shipping. Both ways.” The concept that put Zappos in the mind and gave Tony Hsieh something to tweet about.


            What Tupperware needs to do first is focus on the idea. What idea can Tupperware own in the mind? They have to start from where they are at and slowly shift that. Plastic tubs save food. People are eating at home more, bringing lunches to work and school more. I would start with that. There is also the idea of saving the environment. Instead of throwing cheap plastic containers away, you buy Tupperware and keep them around a lot longer.

            Nothing is going to help overnight. The problems at Tupperware have been brewing for a longtime. And many of these ideas would have been better implemented years ago. Nothing works better than pioneering an idea or movement.

            Instead, most brands muddle along and introduce brand extensions like Tupperware stainless-steel pots and pans and rush to do social media not because it makes sense for the brand but because it is the trendy thing to do today.

            Marketing isn’t trendy. It’s simple.

            Focus. Own a word in the mind. Then decide the tactics.

            And if your brand is yesterday’s news, consider the possibility of launching a new brand.

            Social media actually works the best for new brands that are (1) focused (2) appeal to a new generation and (3) have news value.