Since 2005, Richard Stacy, founder of Stacy Consulting, has been focusing on the emerging world of social media, helping organizations to move into this space while avoiding mistakes and wasting money. Although most consumer product organizations recognize the need to fill the social media space, he maintains that few understand how to use it to their best advantage.
“The best way is to realize that social media is not a channel that you can use to reach your consumer,” he said. “The channels of social media are controlled by consumers and they will therefore use them to reach brands—often in ways brands may not appreciate. The only way to use social media is to stop seeing it as a channel that can be owned or controlled and see it instead as a shared space which may be permitted (by the consumer) to contribute to.”
Few companies in the cosmetics and toiletries industry are using social media effectively and those that do tend to be smaller niche brands. For example, King of Shaves has been extremely successful in building an online community using its website, www.shave.com, as well as personal blogs and tweets from founder Will King, who recognizes the benefits in being available to anyone who wants to comment on his products. As of Jan. 30, 2010, he had 1,459 followers on Twitter, which he uses to announce new product launches and retail promotions as well as comment on other brands, such as the new Apple iPad. Not everyone has the time or inclination to engage in this kind of dialogue, but it enables brand owners and marketers to obtain consumer understanding of their products which would be hard to achieve through traditional market research methods.
Stacy sees evidence of companies trying to force-fit traditional communication campaigns into social media channels, but maintains they are always doomed to failure. He rates Dell as the best large company using social media to its advantage.
“They have realized that the key to success is identifying and participating in the four key social media spaces, which are the same for any company,” he explained. “These are: the space where people are saying things you like and want to support. The space where people are saying things you don’t like and want to challenge or address. The space where people want to ask you (or your competitors) questions and the space where people are suggesting ways to make you do better. Engage with these four spaces and you are ‘doing’ social media.”
A new research tool called Insight for Search has been launched by Google to help understand consumer behavior. It is free to internet users who can do their own research online using different criteria such as a time period or specific location. The tool reveals a statistics graph illustrating users’ interest for terms such as time plotted on a scale of 0 to 100. According to Gianni Pulli, industry leader, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), cosmetics, luxury and health at Google France, consumers can look at trends over time, local interests, most frequent searches and associated queries and queries by categories.
“As for the cosmetics industry, the tool Insight for Search can help brands spot some special trends, such as the green cosmetic trend, celebrity trends, the luxury trend or the science trend,” he explained. “For the green cosmetic trend it could be interesting to study the evolution in a given year of green technology and product searches.” He suggests companies can investigate by region whether consumers are interested in science, luxury or celebrity brands.
Google Insight for Search can be useful to advertisers, marketing managers or any internet user who wants to raise their knowledge on new trends and specific topics. For example, green and earth preservation are the most popular trends online related to cosmetics, according to Pulli. “The trend is useful because we can see what people are interested in at a certain period, all for free,” he states.
At present, the internet is still not a priority for FMCG brands that continue to focus on classic media. According to Pulli, recent research and case studies show that not only is search marketing the most effective format, but it is also the most efficient. “When advertisers realize this, we will probably notice a major shift in media investment,” he maintained.
Meanwhile, the next big thing, from a consumer’s perspective, is going to be the building of own communities and networks using tools such as Ning, which helps people create a network for their neighborhood, hobby or interest.
“People will probably get their first experience of shaping these sorts of networks via the workplace in the same way that people got introduced to email via the workplace,” suggested Stacy. “From a brand/media perspective, the next big thing is the new content that answers very specific questions, is very cheap to produce and has a long lifetime, rather than content that broadcasts mass messages and is here today and gone tomorrow. It looks nothing like ads, newspaper articles, TV programs or any of the content the media and marketing industry currently produces.”