Networks, media, communications, commerce – these days everything seems to be “social” in one way or another. What does that mean for brand communication? And how is the marketing aspect making itself heard above all this “social noise”? Jan Honsel analyses why and how social media is changing brand communication – now and in the future.

When they think of social media, the things that are most likely to spring to mind for a lot of decision-makers in companies are the ubiquitous cat videos, unicorns and the self-promotion of politicians like Donald Trump. But social media is a lot more than that. It is a huge, constantly changing and evolving ecosystem with technology providers, platforms, marketing tool and data providers, who are trying to use the resulting insights in a structured way for marketing purposes. These days, social media technologies and platforms have a bearing on pretty much every aspect of a company – whether brand awareness development, sales, reducing costs or improving retention in customer care management or recruiting.

The big, wide world

According to studies, the worldwide internet penetration rate is meanwhile over 50 percent, in terms of social media it’s over 40 percent, whereby social media use is growing much faster. And this digital growth is mainly taking place on mobile devices. More than 50 percent of today’s global internet traffic comes through mobile end devices with a growth of more than 30 percent. Mobile and social: these two phenomena are reinforcing each other and driving consumer behaviour worldwide.

So globally operating brands have to take a closer look at the relevant mobile technologies in their markets. Even if a large part (55 percent) of global mobile traffic is generated on smartphones, the share of so-called feature phones is still over 40% today. The reminder “You are not the internet” is as pertinent as ever. Most marketers like to work with Apple’s iOS devices. But with a worldwide market share of approximately 80 percent, and around 75 percent in Germany, as an operating system, Android remains much more relevant for most use cases…

Mobile is an opportunity and a challenge at the same time. We have to rethink a lot of what we have learnt in the last few years – what works on the internet, how to digitally present a website or an online shop, how to acquire traffic and push conversions – because mobile works according to different laws than the normal internet. This is a great opportunity, meaning that entrenched market weightings can be broken up and usage time is also increasing all the time. But both the advertising and transaction businesses have to follow different guidelines.

The world around us

In Germany, we have an internet penetration rate of just under 90 percent and the smartphone is meanwhile the primary vehicle for accessing the internet here too. So we can’t really speak of uncharted territory anymore. But with over 40 percent, our social media penetration rate still has a lot of development potential in comparison to our European neighbours. With an e-commerce penetration rate of over 70 percent and an average e-commerce turnover of more than 1,000 USD per shopper, Germany is among the top countries. If you’re advertising on social media these days, you’ll hopefully also have a mobile-optimised website. And if you still haven’t done this, it’s time for an urgent overhaul of your digital assets. In 2017, when asked about their investment priorities in a survey, 3,000 German marketing professionals identified social media marketing as the discipline with the greatest growth potential. Content marketing, video and mobile advertising were also defined as growth fields. Social media marketing in particular enables us to interlink and serve all these disciplines.

Social media marketing

With social media and the associated infrastructure, you can make the most of the complete marketing funnel. But you should also be aware that social today primarily means visual, i.e. image and/or video, especially in the target group of 18 to 34-year-olds. This target group spends a lot of time on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Co. and these networks have made significant developments with regard to (audio)visual content in the past year. The exciting question is: where exactly is this journey taking us?

1. Social instead of search

Social continues to replace search as a discovery mechanism. What does that mean? Classic search engines, for example, are very good at answering specific questions. These answers are usually the same for all potential users asking a question, e.g. in the form of an address or clear information about a product or service. However, people can’t always know or formulate exactly what it is they want. This is something that market researchers are familiar with – and the reason why they never ask customers directly what they want, as the answer is usually less than helpful. Which means that in many situations, users are more interested in discovering options and ideas rather than specifically searching for unambiguous answers.
And so the user, for example, starts with an initial emotion (“I think I need a holiday”) to the process of discovering and opening up options (“Do I want to be by the sea or in the mountains?”, “Do I want to go to Spain, Florida, Greece or Thailand”) down to a specific decision-making situation (“I’m going to Phuket in December”). In the early years of Pinterest in Germany, based on this kind of “discovery path” we explained and showed how the platform and user-created boards of content, ideas and inspiration can help open up such a decision-making process. For marketing, it is very exciting that this user discovery path is essentially congruent with the classic marketing funnel. So it’s worth appealing to the user at the beginning of their journey of inspiration and discovery and not just when they have already specifically decided on one or more brands and services. That’s why social networks are also often viewed as channels that generate demand rather than merely satisfying it. Social networks offer interesting approaches, especially in the various discussions about last-click versus first-touch attribution.

2. Video, video, video

Another important point: social these days means an increasing amount of video content. Social and mobile will have a lasting impact on the type and formats of video. 52 percent of all online video views worldwide are already taking place on mobile end devices. And 100 million hours of video content are currently being watched on Facebook per day, with each person watching 12 minutes of video content daily. Studies also assume that by 2020, 75 percent of global mobile data volume will be through video. The developments on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are currently driving creative and media developments in the video sector. Which is why when people say “video”, they are increasingly talking about “live video”.

3. Convergence of the systems, changing target groups and storytelling

Dark social, basically all private communication and the resulting traffic via messenger apps, already makes up a constantly growing share and will continue to increase. Worldwide, there are currently more messaging users than classic social users. With new formats and advancements of the already familiar products, we are currently seeing a convergence of social networks, media and messaging – a very exciting combination as the network helps to build up reach, the media functionality helps to distribute content and show it to this audience, and improved messaging functionality provides the chance to communicate 1:1 or 1:n.
That means that social messaging is now already becoming more exciting for marketing. Facebook is testing advertisements in Messenger. Bots are being increasingly used in marketing and incorporated into campaigns, across all industries such as content providers, FMCG brands or financial service providers. In Asia, the developments are already a lot more advanced. With domestic market leader WeChat, I can consume relevant content, schedule my doctor’s appointments, submit government documents, donate money to charities or transfer it to friends and family members, do my grocery shopping or order a taxi – in fact everything that we’re used to doing on our classic desktop or smartphone already works here via a comprehensive messaging system.

The interesting question is: where does this social/mobile/messaging dynamic come from? One reason is the changing and developing new target groups: Generation Y / millennials (1981-1996) are already very different from us decision-makers (e.g. Generation X (1965-1980) or baby boomers (1946-1964). They think differently and act differently. We still use our phones to call people, use apps, write e-mails. The current Generation Z (those currently under the age of 21) is very different to the millennials. Gen Z uses five screens at the same time, communicates mainly in images and videos, is extremely future-oriented and see themselves as creators and collaborators. This generation checks their social accounts up to 100 times a day, is always online and communicative: and firmly believes that non-communication is also a form of communication. They don’t necessarily share the marketing message they are sent, but customise it or directly create their own message. A huge chance for brands if they are prepared to let go and allow the target group into their brand. Gen Z has also created new phenomena, e.g. the boom of internationally popular make-up tutorials on YouTube, the boom of immersive content, as well as filters and lenses and the interlocking of the digital and real worlds. All new content and advertising opportunities!

Thanks to social media, these days everyone can become a media channel. Whether you’re a celebrity or an expert in a certain subject. As a brand, I can communicate directly. With my advertising message or also in recruiting. The agency McCann has used Snapchat to come into contact with young creatives. Agricultural machinery manufacturer Claas uses Instagram to attract female talent to its very technical company.

Social media content itself is also increasingly becoming the object of content. Whatever is happening on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is being picked up as a story. Data-based trends are being picked up in editorial contributions and further developed. Technology, screen sizes and social media formats are enabling and demanding new forms of storytelling.

In particular, this also applies to media-supported brand communication. The combination of mobile, social and video is requiring new, different approaches to creation. The “extension into social media” should become a thing of the past as quickly as possible. Social and mobile-first thinking and producing are needed here. Even the greatest 16:9-format TV commercial with the most emotional story and music will often completely miss the mark in a social networking context. Video on social media needs to be produced in a different format (feed-ready, vertical video), also has to work without sound (to be consumed on the go) and the ad’s climax needs to be inverse to TV content. The brand and its message have to be communicated at the beginning because after six seconds more than 40% of users will have already clicked away.

4. Social commerce & influencer marketing

Due to the growth of social media channels, more and more of them have become relevant sales channels. This can either be achieved organically, using social performance marketing or with intelligent influencer marketing approaches. The latter, newly emerging marketing discipline has experienced an increase in awareness and relevance in 2017. Top German influencer Caro Daur’s interview with Manager Magazin (in which she refused to answer a lot of the questions about the money she earns) or the Coral campaign (consisting of social media posts of influencers posing in staged photos holding a bottle of the laundry detergent) show how significant the discipline has become within the framework of social media marketing. The sales success of the bilou product range by Bibis Beauty Palace, the campaign for the “Schachtelglück” (a “happiness box” containing cosmetic highlights from German  drugstore dm’s range picked out by five German YouTube stars) and the brand development and establishment measures of watch brand Daniel Wellington have shown how much of an impact influencer marketing can have. There are meanwhile influencers who have audiences as big as some TV formats.

But the phenomenal results of Ritter Sport unicorn chocolate (crashed server, sold-out products, follow-up edition etc.) also show how relevant to sales social media can be. In terms of reach and sales, the activities and successes of drugstore dm with its unicorn condoms and unicorn shower gel show that recognising trends and the clever use of them on social media generates clear marketing KPI successes. Social commerce will experience another boost through the technical advancement of the big networks. With Shop the Look, Buyable Pins and Instagram Shopping, a few exciting formats are already in the starting blocks for a roll-out in 2018. The improvements of offline conversion tracking will also make the sales impact of social even more apparent.

5. Forecast

For 2018, I am expecting the aforementioned developments to continue. More mobile, more video, more cross-channel performance tracking, more influencer marketing and more new and exciting marketing platforms. Judging by my experiences for and with Pinterest, I assume that a further attractive advertising option can be added here for lifestyle and FMCG brands. As a result of increasing competition, Snapchat will no doubt continue its innovation efforts. The discussions between TV marketers and the big social media platforms will certainly continue and the investments in their own show formats too.

It will be interesting to see whether and how the media and creative scene will develop. Will we be seeing more developments such as upljft, where strategy, channel and content management, creation and media come closer together? Will we be seeing more cooperation between the big platforms and the agency networks? Will we be seeing further investments from business consultants in agencies? Will we be seeing the expansion of tech-tool providers in this market? In retrospect, at the end of 2018 I believe we will be able to answer all of these questions with a “yes” and can therefore look forward to another year of intensive changes for the marketing services industry, but also with exciting developments for marketing decision-makers and advertisers.

Jan Honsel

Managing Director of upljft

After starting his career at CScout/Mandalah and Deutsche Bank in New York City, Jan Honsel took on roles including COO and Publishing Director of the business media segment Gruner + Jahr Wirtschaftsmedien, co-founder of the multimedia brand BUSINESS PUNK and business angel of various start-ups, which enabled him to gain a wide variety of experience and expertise in the fields of (digital) media, marketing and sales. With this interdisciplinary background, Jan, who is from Hamburg, was responsible for the successful launch, dynamic development and expansion of social discovery platform Pinterest in German-speaking countries from 2014 to November 2016 and contributed to the internationalisation of the platform as a member of the International Leads Circle. Since March 2017, he has been managing upljft, a joint venture of thjnk, one of the leading creative agencies in Germany, and the martech company Facelift, one of the most successful providers of social media technology in Europe. upljft combines creative, digital and media agency expertise and offers clients brand strategy, creation, media and technology from one source.

In his keynote Social what? Whether network, media or commerce: what belongs together, grows together” at the Best Brands College 2017, Jan Honsel explained how “social” is changing, and will continue to change the face of marketing.

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