Everything You’ve Learned about Building Brands Via Social Media is Wrong

We know what you’re thinking: “But how could that be? That’s how we’ve always looked at branding, and our brand is doing quite well.”

Therein lies the issue: Yes, that’s how we’ve always looked at branding, but social media and the internet have opened us to a whole new world of advertising.

Brad McCormick, our artistically shaven Chief Digital Officer, is someone who understands the long-held branding techniques – and he understands they’re all wrong. He’s taken both his muttonchops and his advertising chops to the likes of companies such as LEGO, Capital One, Gillette and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (don’t ask him about his time at DHS — the Feds may show up at your doorstep). With almost two decades of experience under his belt and a thorough knowledge of the classic branding principles, Brad can confidently say one thing:

“They’re all hogwash.”

Using Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow as his main influence, Brad spoke to a group of advertising professionals at the Social Media Breakfast Dallas and dismantled long-held branding assumptions.


Here are a few of the damaging assumptions that we often make in branding:

Assumption: Differentiating our brand from the competition is an absolute must.

Reality: Distinctiveness is vital to branding, not differentiation.

What makes Coke better than Pepsi? Mac better than PC? DC Comics better than Marvel? The answers to all of those questions really aren’t all that important unless they’re branded correctly and unforgettably.

soft drink 2For example, the year 1985 saw Coca-Cola introduce the product “New Coke.” New Coke abandoned the classic contoured bottle (the “hobbleskirt” bottle, as it is officially called) and opted for a straight-sided bottle as the means for setting that particular product apart from Coca-Cola’s other offerings.

According to John Philip Jones’ How to Use Advertising to Build Strong Brands, the decision resulted in successful taste tests but poor sales. for a while, and the curvy glass bottle left the market in exchange for a straight-sided bottle. Coke decided to completely scrap New Coke, but instead of promoting the taste of Classic Coke or the supposed reasons why the contour bottle better, the promotion was based around the contour bottle itself. Coke isn’t necessarily defined by its taste, but by the contoured bottle, the little red can and the polar bears.

Assumption: Price promotions bring in new customers, who then become loyal customers.

Reality: Those new customers will be long gone, and you’ll lose money from your loyal customers.

Theoretically, discounted prices would be incentive enough for non-customers to give your brand a try, but, in quoting Sharp, Brad said, “Price discounting absolutely works, but as soon as the sale goes away, those new buyers go away.”

Additionally, the vast majority of the discounts will be used by loyal customers. Price promotions and coupons are typically distributed through mailing lists and social media, so only those who are already loyal see those promotions. So instead of bringing in more money with new customers, you’ll actually be losing money with your loyal customers

Assumption: Mass marketing is a recipe for disaster.

Reality: Everyone is the potential buyer of everything, so cast a wide net.

Social media and online advertising has enabled advertisers to really focus on who they want to send their targeted messages to, so there’s an emerging belief that mass marketing is dead – that the one-size-fits-all advertising strategy is going to be a huge waste of money – but that’s simply not the truth.

The truth is that most everyone is the potential buyer of everything – really! “If I’m only talking to Coke [drinkers] – and not trying to get Pepsi [drinkers] to come over,” Brad said, “you’re preventing yourself from growing as a brand, so if we cast our nets as wide as we can, we can hit our fans and our non-fans, which will increase our chances of growing.”

In fact, 72% of people who drink Coke said that they also drink Pepsi, so even some of the most ardent fans aren’t quite as loyal as they were once thought to be. “No one’s really loyal to their brand; everyone’s a brand swinger,” Brad claims.

So when we compartmentalize potential consumers as, say, “Coke drinkers” and “Pepsi drinkers,” we isolate and discount an entire group of people and cut off potential growth and market share.

Assumption: Your buyers are a distinct and specific type of person

Reality: Everyone is pretty much like everyone else.

In a study out of the UK during the 1990s, researchers found that people who drove a Range Rover were statistically just as likely to judge people by the car they drove, abhor untidiness, keep up with technology and consider the primary reason for car ownership as means from getting from point A to point B as someone who drove a Chevy Cavalier.

UK Study

So, no matter who you think your target audience may be based on their interests, lifestyles or gender, the vast majority of buyers within your category are going to respond to brand messaging in very similar ways, which, incidentally, lends further proof to the potential effectiveness of mass marketing.

If you can manage to step away from niche groups and see them all as a whole, you’ll be on the road to success.

Assumption: 20% of your buyers are responsible for 80% of your total sales.

Reality: 20% of your buyers are responsible for a little under 60% of your sales.

This is the old business adage that every one of us has heard, but have those statistics actually been verified? Yes, but the results show that less than 60% of total sales are made by 20% of your buyers, not 80%.

Instead of focusing the bulk of your marketing efforts on those 80%, make the efforts to speak to those who aren’t part of your supposed target audience – those who are part of the 20%. It’s going to take a lot more than just a fifth of your buyers to keep your brand afloat, so take steps to reach beyond your Facebook and Twitter followers and invite others to give your brand a try.

What Brad really wants to drive home is that the current marketing assumptions many in the industry hold just aren’t going to cut it. If you want your brand to stand out from all the rest, be weird, be absurd, be unique – be distinctive – to everyone on a massive scale.



posted on
November 4, 2016
written by
Jace Whatcott