Who Cares What Coca-Cola Has Learned?

Just Because Coke Finds No Boost From Social Buzz Doesn't Mean Your Brand Won't

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Coca-Cola recently learned that social-media buzz doesn't correlate with its short-term product sales. The findings -- which tracked online conversations, but not sharing or video views -- have stirred debate in the advertising industry, but nobody is asking a crucial question: Why should the rest of us care what Coca-Cola learned?

Soda simultaneously creates the most and least involved consumer purchases. Many people will buy it mindlessly, with virtually no thought to brand selection. It's inexpensive and inconsequential. But then soda-heads will go to the grave unbelievably loyal to either Coke or Pepsi.

In other words, your brand most likely has nothing in common with Coca-Cola. Your product is likely more expensive, and typically your customers think long and hard before purchasing from you. They consult friends and family for advice and conduct research online; they aren't influenced by irrational brand loyalties.

Tracking conversations about your brand is extraordinarily important for your business decision-making. At any one time, thousands of people will provide you with candid input about how to improve your products, services and brand positioning, and how you can make an emotional connection with your target audience. Just because Coca-Cola hasn't found a correlation between social buzz and short-term sales doesn't mean that social listening can't be a powerful tool. In fact, responding to the debate over buzz, a top-level Coke executive argued that social media is an important element of an overall marketing strategy.

It is important for all of us to study macro trends. Yet, many of these trends are severely skewed by categories like soda, beer and automobiles, which consume a large share of total purchasing power. While it's important to learn from the experience in these industries, you need to be skeptical, because those categories are so special. Dig deep into the research, find categories similar to yours, locate brands that you want to emulate. Trust your instincts. Without a doubt, social listening can create a competitive advantage. I have seen it for virtually all of our clients. But only after hours spent finding the useful data and turning it into a usable story for strategic planning.

Coca-Cola has shared one key finding about social listening. Don't be persuaded by Coca-Cola's findings, and hope that your competition is.

Jeff Rosenblum is founding partner of Questus, a digitally-led advertising agency with offices in New York and San Francisco.
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