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Published July 19, 2017
Published July 19, 2017

We share everything these days: Citi Bikes, Ubers, our thoughts, our photos, our lives, and our aspirations. We put everything out there for the world to see on the world stage that is Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. etc. etc. This sharing culture has fundamentally changed the way we consume.

We all know that the traditional construct of the consumer journey has been turned on its head by the Internet and that influencers are no longer restricted to TV screens and glossy magazine pages. Traditional digital advertising is also struggling to get our attention as consumer have become desensitized to sponsored content, pop-ups, banner ads, etc.

This was only corroborated by a recent Razorfish survey, which concluded the following:

  • Traditional top-down branding will become increasingly impotent as social media grows.
  • Consumers continue to rely on personal networks to learn about products and services.
  • Consumers are shaping brands as much as brands themselves are.
  • Brand management will require greater transparency and a stronger connection to consumers than ever before.
  • Today, consumers do not have complete trust in the marketing efforts of brands on social platforms—making brand management tasks all the more difficult.

So … what now?

We are all aware of the glaringly obvious product placement that happens courtesy of celebrities, Internet sensations, and social media influencers. We now can see through that too and, if we had not before, the IRS just blew up that charade.

But what if we gave average consumers a little taste of that glory? What if we changed the way consumers transact with brands all together? Forget Bitcoin and instant rebates; I am talking about social credit—peer influencers, regular people with robust social media networks that thrive on connectivity, who are respected and trusted in their social circles. I am talking about taking brands viral through Reach, with a capital R. Reach that almost anyone can actually monetize and that can finally yield real ROI.

But how, you ask?

The Razorfish study also discovered that “[K]nown peer influencers are the closest to both the purchasing decision and to the consumer. They are typically family members, or part of the consumer’s inner circle. They influence the purchasing decision most directly and have to live with the results of their family member or friend’s decision as well.”

Imagine this: I am Jane, I am not famous on or offline but I have 3,000 friends on FB, a healthy stable of Twitter and Instagram followers, and a whole lot of credibility … oh and I like to shop! The social media manifestation of myself happens to be in line with a certain brand’s identity. My demographic and those of my “friends” just happens to fit the criteria of a product that I really wanted. What if I could leverage all these attributes to actually “purchase” said product with this so called “social credit”? In other words, what if I was given said product (let’s say a t-shirt) for free and all I had to do was talk about it to my friends online using a unique #handle issued to me by the company that makes said product? The best part, is I can wait until I get the item to decide if it is really worth posting about and, if not, I can either send it back or pay for it. Oh … but if it is worth it I get a free shirt for 2 pics of me in that shirt on Instagram, 3 tweets, and a Facebook post!

Four things happen here:

  1. The cost of acquiring one customer (cost of said shirt) can be amortized against potentially dozens if not hundreds of new customers.
  2. “Regular” consumers all over the world are “activated” as brand evangelists.
  3. The consumer’s socialization of the item gives the company’s Product Dev team a direct line into consumers’ feelings about their products and they, in turn, can make improvements to their products more thoughtfully and expeditiously.
  4. Brands can issue specific #handles for these items so when your friends and family actually purchase that shirt the brand gets an instant read on your specific ROI to them.

My point is this: if navigating the “new” consumer journey as well as extracting actual ROI from digital marketing spend are still impossible, why don’t brands and their respective agencies find a way to track them both and empower the consumer in the meantime? No more surveys, no more focus groups, no more debates about advertising models that speak at, not with, consumers, but an honest and direct exchange between customer and company, where collecting social debt is not a bad thing!


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