Branding, Banter and Bottom Lines

There was an interesting discussion on-line recently about Innocent Smoothie’s banter and funny posts, sparked by this one:

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Yes, it’s funny.

The interesting thing you’ll notice is that this is a ‘Sponsored’ post, so not only are Innocent putting money in to the salaries of the people that post this, they’re also paying to promote it. (They might also need to pay for a new stapler).

People – including me – love this. It’s great. (Unlike coffee shop bants, which are the worst kind of bants). But sooner or later we have to ask the awkward question: What’s the point? Participants in the discussion were quick to point out that it was probably to get shares, to get likes, to build their brand, to build their community and more.

So what’s the point of that?

Sooner or later the goal is to make more money. I’m sorry, but it just is…even if a company’s mission and vision is to inspire and change and connect or whatever. We live in a terrible world where companies are duty bound to at least break-even, and if you have share holders (as Innocent does) then you’re probably under pressure to make and disburse a profit.

So how are Innocent’s profits?

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Well, not great.

They started making a loss in 2008 (the year they joined Twitter) and continued to make a loss until 2012. The profit they made in 2012 dwindled and continued on a downward trajectory.

So is their approach to social media working?

Well some of the participants in this on-line discussion thought so: “It’s obviously worked as we are all talking about their brand. How many people who see this then talk about it offline too?” and “It’s 100% content marketing – and they do it incredibly well.”

Hmm…

I don’t know about you, but if my ideas for left-field marketing ran in unison with a loss-making year, then my CEO would start to ask questions. In the second year of losing money I’d probably have some serious explaining to do. In the third year I’d be gone.

Here’s an interesting interview with Helena Langdon, Head of Social Media at innocent drinks. In it she mentions that her team don’t get any pressure to show that their social improves sales. Well…whatever. If they’re happy to keep doing it and believe it works then fine. It’ll continue to entertain me.

But what’s the lesson for us? Especially those of us in the charity sector? And especially those of us in organisations with really limited budget?

I think it’s just a reminder that we have to be really, really honest with ourselves. Are you putting time and money in to social media because it’s fun? Because you like it? Because everyone is telling you that you should? Because people are exclaiming that it gets people talking? It builds your brand?

Or are you doing it because it provides a clear, demonstrable return on investment? More so than other channels?

And if someone is telling you it works, then ask for the numbers. ‘Brand building’ and ‘awareness raising’ is all well and good, but does it increase your income this year? Next year? In three years?

Or are the results so abstract and unmeasurable that you really won’t notice how little it’s done for you until long after your Social Media Manager has moved on to a better paying job?

I’ll leave you with this…

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