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Social “Intentions” are Transparent!

2009 brought a surge in the number of  brands using social media. In 2010 we’re likely to see more frequency in use of social media and experimentation with different approaches and methods.  However the overriding issue brands should ask themselves is “what is our intent?”.

Why Are Intentions Important?

Intentional actions and communications illuminates  the factors which influence people’s judgments of whether an action was done for the suppliers benefit or the buyer. In other words the intent is considered social if the message is in context to the buyers needs, wants and desires.

The historical intent of advertising and marketing methods have been focused on creating a result, a sale. However since the web has become “social” marketers will have to change their intent or suffer “side effects”, both intentional and unintentional.

What Are The Side Effects?

In marketing, an adverse effect is a harmful and undesired effect resulting from a campaign or other communications to the market. An adverse effect may be termed a “side effect”, when judged to be secondary to a main effect, and may result from an unsuitable or incorrect message or impression, which could be due to a lack of thinking through “social implications and side effects“.

The social web has increased the implications of not thinking through the effects of communicating the wrong things and the implied intent of communications. Lets consider two examples:

  • Verizon ran an ad implying their network was bigger and better than AT&T (The map with red beads). AT&T responded with an ad that implied Verizon’s ad was misleading and not factual (the ad with all the Verizon beads falling). Verizon’s ad could be considered “anti-social” whereas it tried to belittle its competition by propagating  misleading information into the marketplace. The intention of the Verizon ad was to position itself as superior when in fact the side effects of the ad made their intentions appear misleading and anti-social. AT&T is suing Verizon for misleading the market.
  • Sub-Way ran an ad campaign titled “$5 Dollar Foot Long“. The intent of the ad was simple. Promote value using a short jingle that gets attention.  The ad was originally suggested by a store manager in Florida. Corporate marketing rejected the suggestion, as did their ad agency, yet the store manager ran the ad locally. The response was overwhelming. Subsequently Sub-Way corporate ran the ad national. The end results, $3.6 Billion in additional sales! The irony is the original ad idea came from a store manager and not the marketing department or the agency.

The important point is that in both cases the intent was to create results, increased sales and brand awareness. However, Verizon’s ad created “side effects” that hurt the brand. In other words their intent was wrong to begin with and subsequently they hurt themselves in more ways than can be measured.  Sub-Ways ad created intentional side effects, increased sales and brand awareness. In both cases the intent was transparent to the marketplace.

For individuals and businesses the use of the social web makes your intent transparent. Whether running an ad or simply engaging in conversations. The purpose of an ad is different than a conversation but both should be aimed at intentional benefits for the receiver, not the sender.  The intent of all media needs to be aimed at the value the content provides to the marketplace of conversations. Not doing so could be very costly in more ways than you can imagine.

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