Talking brands with Abena A. Yeboah-Banin (PhD): Word of Mouth advertising 2.0

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: Get consumers to advertise your brand through pictures/videos on social media

Advertising is expensive! Bummer: it will only get worse as your audiences insist on being different and having different media tastes and needs. And it doesn’t help the fact that when you advertise on social media, consumers can avoid your messages with such ease. Now they even have applications such as AdBlock and AdAway that enable them to avoid your advert. Frustrating, right?

Fact is that no one turns to media, whether new (social media, news websites, games, etc.) or traditional (TV, radio, etc.) to look for adverts. People are intentional beings who use their media consumption to achieve different needs. Often, adverts constitute a nuisance that interferes with whatever the purpose is for which they have turned to media. To catch the audience’s attention; therefore, your brand must be creative and savvy.

These days, part of the trick is to get other consumers to do your talking on social media. That explains the huge and growing popularity of influencers. There is also electronic word of mouth advertising where you hope that consumers who have had good experiences with your brand will go online and initiate conversations in your favour. People will trust what their friends, neighbours, relatives, celebrities, influencers, etc. have to say after experiencing your brand. And they will do so much more than they will believe if you told them in an advert that your brand can meet their needs. The secret is connections. People feel closer to their friends and families, celebrities and influencers (with whom the connection is actually only on a pseudo level) than they do even the most trusted brand. And this feeling of closeness builds trust, which is the basis upon which every message source is evaluated. When your brand speaks, they hear interference and distrust but when people in their networks (including pseudo networks) speak, they hear authentic experiences and opportunities to eavesdrop into their lives. So why not increase the voices in your consumers’ networks that readily speak for you on social media for free?

New research published in the Journal of Advertising suggests that creatively inserting your brand into consumers’ photos posted on social media may be a strand in the magic wand you need. The research is titled: ‘That’s so Instagrammable! Understanding how Environments Generate Indirect Advertising by Cueing Consumer-Generated Content’. Quite a mouth-full. But it actually is simple; create photo opportunities with your brand in the background and have consumers show you off without realising their role as advertising medium.

We live in a click-happy world powered by readily accessible cameras on phones and other devices. We also have more than enough ways and places to share the photos and videos we take to document and memorialise our lives. Brands can use cleverly designed physical spaces to inspire consumers to take and share photos and videos that result in indirect advertising for their offerings. Remember that inclination to take photos/videos when visiting interesting places? How about how quickly you pull out your camera when you meet your favourite celebrity and it looks like they will entertain a photo opportunity? The same logic can be used to turn your brand’s physical environment into a photo studio that gets you mentions and visibility on social media.

The real costs come from making your premises beautiful and interesting. Brands neither have to explicitly pay for advertising spot on the social media platforms nor do they have to incentivise the consumers to post. Thus, given that you must make your physical premises represent you well and, therefore, will invest in it anyway, why not add a touch of ‘instagrammable’?

According to the research, props, ambience and styling are your tools in this venture. Props are spatial elements you can insert into your physical environment for people to interact with or react to. Mosaic art, mural art, interesting furniture, a mascot or even photo hangings are all props that could activate consumers’ drive to memorialise and share their visit to your premises on social media. Imagine a paediatric clinic that has a dentist’s costume and a photo board at the reception for children to pose as dentists. You probably will end up with a parent or two mentioning you or at least showing you in their social media posts.

Ambience, on the other hand, is about creating moods. Designers can help you use lighting and other effects to achieve mood prompts that get your visitors clicking and sharing photos that give you free access to audiences. Then, finally, there is styling. You want to have something in your premises that gets the consumer to think “hmm, that is interesting” or “wow, I haven’t seen such an arrangement before”. According to the research, you have to understand what people normally expect when they come to a place like yours and use styling to create contrasts and disruptions. Whether the result gets them to smile or even question you, you may be on your way to achieving a photo shoot for your brand.

There is a caveat though. You need to ensure that your brand is the photo! There is little to gain if you make such investments without assuring that the resulting photos/videos will necessarily include you. Creatively insert your brand identity cues into the props, ambience and styles you deploy. Whether it be your colours, logos, etc., make sure something that distinctively identifies you will make it into the photo/video.

So the next time you think of what to do with the frontage, reception, offices and waiting areas of your brand’s physical location, remember that you are a photo opportunity away from ‘free advert’ as we say in Ghana.

The author is a senior lecturer at the University of Ghana, Department of Communication Studies, where she specialises in Marketing Communications ([email protected])

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