Finding Your Social Mojo

I’ve been working on a presentation to give at iMedia Sydney Australia, built around the idea that we need to think about creating relationships with consumers as akin to courtship, nuptials, and married life. In it I am using examples from about 20 countries to show how a variety of brands are courting their customers socially.

And the most salient observation I can make is that the idea of a one-size-fits-all approach to brand participation is patently absurd. Our collective rush to identify and exploit digital magic beans sometimes makes us forget that our brand campaigns have to be as unique as our brands.

For indeed social is simply participatory marketing, not a medium. Social is permeating every media channel, reflecting the truth that consumers prefer personalized experiences across the board, not just on sites where we friend one another.

Preparing the presentation has been a great experience because it has forced me to seek out examples and industry news from across the globe – which is not something I want to do during a typical week. I’ll leave to you to interpret whether that is marketing xenophobia or simply focusing on what matters most in my job today.

In my quest for examples, I’ve learned about Walls, a UK food company that has a multimedia effort showcasing the unique eccentricities of Britons. The campaign asks ordinary Britons to compete to appear in ads where they can showcase their peculiar passions. Mind you, this in a country with a high standard for eccentricity. Where an obscure aristocrat collected thousands of wigs that stuffed every room in his manor house from floor to ceiling. A country where Chelmondeley is pronounced “Chum-Lee”. A place where yeast extract is a delicacy. There is a unique, delightful form of crazy that Britain has a lock on. Tender Britons’, please note that I point to your obscure behaviors with loving support. Long live the Belisha Beacon!

But back to the contest. Entries range from “Extreme Ironers” who press clothes while balanced on speeding cigarette boats, to a knitting circle that has created a blanket the size of a soccer field. Where seniors have organized a club in which they compete at pole dancing. Where other people delight in making ginormous versions of snack foods because…well just because. And the whole kit and caboodle of this effort goes far at reinforcing the uniquely British “Proper Food” Walls excels at producing.

The campaign is superb.

And so is the wonderful Australian Tourism effort in which Aussies were asked to submit photos of their favorite hideaways across the country. More than 29,000 people participated, providing what has to be the only travel site that didn’t use (or for that matter, need to use) pro photographers to capture azure ocean vistas and the Opera House at sunset.

Personally, I’d much rather see a snapshot of someone’s favorite billabong.

Another: the fascinating Raymond Weil campaign that asked consumers to describe in their own words what the brand should be in the future. To read these entries is to vicariously experience sincere love.

Which is not to say that good old Yankee ingenuity is dead. Not by a long shot. Pepsi’s Refresh Everything effort and its remarkable charitable overlay are growing that brand as it cures social ills that for whatever reason our government is unwilling or unable to address.

My point is each of these campaigns is wildly different. Each took the essence of its brand and its customers and shaped a participatory initiative around that message. They all recognized that social isn’t a channel. It’s people. People who are anxious to be part of the brands they love.

I for one am delighted to participate in a marketing era where a major national brand is delighted to associate itself with extreme ironing.