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Facebook's Brand Timeline Can Be a Bridge to Millennials

An Interactive Heritage of a Storied Brand Can Pull In a Generation That Doesn't Know the History

By Published on . 5

Matt Wolfrom
Matt Wolfrom
Matt Makovsky
Matt Makovsky

Facebook's IPO will be the largest ever for a tech company, and it has every chief executive asking the CMO, "What's our Facebook strategy?" And with the buzz around the launch of a "brand timeline" at the Facebook Marketing Conference in New York this week, the stakes for lead marketers to deliver results in an increasingly complex environment will grow exponentially.

While the brand timeline will unlock opportunities and also expose risks for many CMOs, we envision a world of possibilities for heritage brands to build connections with millennials.

This generation is the largest, most diverse, educated, affluent, complicated and influential consumer base that CMOs have ever encountered. Even with more than 800 million users, Facebook remains a platform that was created by a millennial, for millennials. With this timeline feature, brands can now interact through a "virtual life story" that is inherently authentic to the brand and its history, on a medium that 's second nature to a generation.

How can heritage brands take advantage of the new timeline? Take Western Union as an example. The company is the largest player in a huge flow of resources -– the transfer of billions of dollars every year involving one-sixth of the world's population. It has a history of innovation and an entrepreneurial culture. Yet its brand promise, as reflected by its Facebook page today, is lost among negative consumer posts.

The brand timeline will empower CMOs to turn this situation on its head. While negative posts will never disappear, marketers will have a digital canvas on which to create a visually rich, compelling story to engage audiences in a more meaningful way. As research proves, millennials view relationships with brands as a partnership and a form of expression. Once they have formed an opinion, a reverberation affects brand preferences. Facebook's brand timeline may well be Western Union's "digital bridge" –- connecting its 160 years of innovation with the previously untapped group of millennials who don't think much more than "wire transfers" when they consider the brand.

Facebook has been tight-lipped about how the brand timeline will function (first in a trial phase to select marketers), but there are a few key enhancements to the user experience that heritage brands can capitalize on:

Interactive content can be time-stamped from a brand's inception. Whether it's the virtual creation in 1973 of the first pair of Nikes or, better yet, the race footage of Prefontaine's record-setting performances as Nike 's first sponsored athlete -- millennials will be able to experience a brand's entire digital history on one page.

Everyone is familiar with "likes" on Facebook, but a new brand vernacular is developing. As consumers begin to "read," "order" or "pin," they deepen their interactions with brands. The longer the heritage, the more creative marketers can be in developing ways for millennials to experience the brand. For example, imagine Coca-Cola's nearly 40 million "likes" redefined as "refreshed," or millennials "drinking" a Coke in 1892 after visiting that segment of the timeline.

What steps must CMOs take before plunging into timeline?

  • Craft the brand story. Make sure your core story is quick to understand, easy to remember, emotional and inviting of participation.

  • Be transparent. Every brand has a past, and given the ease with which millennials can discover skeletons in the closet through the internet, it's important to disclose painful history and how the brand dealt with it. Otherwise the backlash could be severe.

  • Tap millennials within your marketing organization. Smart CMOs are complementing their traditional marketing acumen with adept millennials.

    While it is too early to know exactly how the Facebook brand timeline will connect with the market, we believe the principles we've outlined will prepare heritage-brand CMOs to capitalize on the seismic shift about to occur on one of the world's largest marketing platforms.

    ABOUT THE AUTHORS
    The authors lead the Technology Practice at Makovsky & Co., a public relations firm. Mr. Makovsky is assistant VP and Mr. Wolfrom is exec VP.
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