Is Social Media Killing Brands?

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“Killing Brands Softly” is a new study about to be published by two well-known and highly-regarded marketing experts, Professor Don E. Schultz and Professor Martin P. Block of Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University. The study, based on 1,100,000+ online questionnaire responses and 1,500+ individual brands, found that regular users of social media (especially Facebook) showed higher levels of “No Brand Preference” than those who used less social media.

The study also reports to have found a correlation between increased social media use by individuals and a reduction in specific product brand preferences by those individuals in a majority of the product brand categories that were covered.

Does this mean people’s engagement in social media dilutes their brand loyalty? I have requested to obtain a copy a draft of the working paper “Killing Brands Softly” in order to examine the findings in greater depth. While not claiming causality, Schultz provides some interim cautioning advice for FMCG marketers:

…while social media may be interesting, involving and, in some cases, engaging, the value of the tools based on this consumer research, is still to be proven.

22 Aug 2013 Update:

Following up from my last comment, I received the draft paper from Don, as well as a second draft paper, titled, “Brand Preference Being Challenged”. Both show a “non-trivial” increase in preference of consumers for the No Preference option over the last decade. The research is hard to ignore as it is based on over 1,000,000 responses based on 16 broad food store departments and included 73 specific product categories and 1,526 specific brands (in the US).

“In short, most brands” summarises Schultz in the latter study, “…face a high risk of ‘commoditization’”. He goes to conclude that “traditional methods of understanding and measuring brands may longer be adequate or even relevant” and if brand is one of the major assets of an organisation then whatever has been done with brands and branding over the last decade “is simply not working”.

Do you think this trend can be reversed by applying new-age strategies or does this mark the beginning of the end for brand differentiation on supermarkets shelves as we know it? This discussion is being continued on our LinkedIn community, Clever Marketing.

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