Social Media is Making Better Brands

Social networking is king in 2010. I realized the level of saturation online networking sites are achieving after I received a Facebook friend request from my 71-year-old mother earlier this year. In fact, Facebook has more than 500 million active visitors, and Twitter has exceeded 100 million. And while most of us use these sites for chatting with friends and sharing our latest ‘cute kid’ photos, the gap between screen and shelf is getting smaller by the minute.

I was surprised to find Facebook and Twitter icons on the back of a bar of Tom’s of Maine soap the other day. It made me think about how brands are capitalizing on this medium, their perceived value and longevity, and the strategies brands are employing to reach consumers in more meaningful, collaborative ways.

Certainly the Internet has turned the old way of marketing products on its head. Gone are the days when a brand’s media strategy was anchored by the 30 second TV commercial. Our marketing vocabulary is now flooded with words like podcasting, crowdsourcing and RSS feeds. And package design is not immune to this evolution.

I can’t imagine a better example in recent years of the Internet’s affect on packaging than last year’s Tropicana debacle (my apologies in advance to Pepsi for beating this dead horse). While consumers have always been able to ‘vote with their wallet’ when it comes to what they like on shelf, social networking sites have given consumers a platform to easily voice their opinions and gather what would be akin to an angry mob. It’s a nightmare for brands that make a misstep.

On the other hand, it can be a real windfall for brands doing it right. Before Facebook and Twitter, often consumers with negative comments were the only ones you heard from. They were the only ones motivated enough to take the time to complain. But not anymore. Whether it’s individual blogs, social networking sites, branded websites, email; heck, we’ve even had people create videos on YouTube about how much they love the brands we’ve worked on. It feels good…and keeps us on our toes.

It’s also become easier than ever to get meaningful feedback on packaged goods – what people love, what they hate, what’s working, what’s not. We can talk to people in the comfort of their own homes, while they are using and interacting with products, and we can do it very cost effectively.

It’s a fascinating time to be working in this business and it’s scary as hell. Consumers can love us or hate us, and be very vocal about it. They can applaud us for transparency, and bury us for greenwashing. They can become true, vocal advocates for brands with the click of a button.

So how will the online world continue affecting package design in the near future? It will certainly evolve research and brand strategy; informing and molding consumer insights, needs, and preferences. From a practical standpoint, it certainly seems that many brands would look to offer design specifically for online sales – distilling it down to a cleaner variation that reads on screen. Most importantly perhaps, it will make for better brands. As brands continue to embrace more complex consumer interaction, along with greater transparency, it will make us all better at what we do.

About the Author

John founded Little Big Brands in 2001. He’s a veteran of the design and branding world, working for industry leaders such as Sterling Group and Landor since 1992.

Over the years, John has been instrumental in creating unique packaging, identity, and brand platforms for a blue chip list of clients, including: Burger King, Coca-Cola, Gillette, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer, Unilever, Salomon Smith Barney, and Louis Vuitton.


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