At the iMedia conference in Brighton this week there was a good deal of discussion about social media and how best to measure it.
Oddly though, there was little consideration of the fact that different verticals will be able to benefit from social media in very different ways.
One way of looking at verticals is to place them on a grid where one axis runs from low to high emotional importance and the other axis runs from low to high rational importance. Verticals with high emotional importance contain products that we buy because they “say” something about us. Verticals with high rational importance contain products that we buy because we need them.
Using the emotional-rational grid we can divide verticals into four sectors:
High rational, high emotional (HRHE) verticals like travel, motor cars and electrical devices. These are verticals where the functionality needs to be right, where we are risking relatively large amounts of money, and where part of why we buy is because we feel comfortable with the brand
Low rational, high emotional (LRHE) verticals like fashion, print media and charity. These are verticals where we are not risking a great deal, where we don’t really need the products but where we do feel emotional engagement because the products we buy “say” a lot about us
High rational, low emotional (HRLE) verticals like banking, retail and utilities. These are verticals where the functionality needs to be right, where we are risking relatively large amounts of money, but where we are not emotionally engaged with the brand
Low rational, low emotional (LRLE) verticals like washing powder and petrol. These are verticals where we are not taking great risks and where there is no emotional involvement with the brands. While products in these verticals are important the functionality they deliver is generally simple.
HRHE verticals can use social media very creatively. As well as using social media to research the marketplace by listening to conversations and to manage their reputation they can actively “campaign” messages through social media.
LRHE verticals are in a similar position – able to exploit their emotional connection with consumers through social media, although they may need to work harder as there is little they can say about rational benefits.
HRLE verticals however will find it far harder to exploit social media for campaigning. They have little emotional connection with their consumers and proactive use of social media platforms will frequently be considered intrusive – who wants to hear from their bank on Facebook? They can however use social media for market research and importantly for managing their reputations. For instance few people are likely to praise a bank’s service to their friends but many will criticise it if something goes wrong.
LRLE verticals are the Cinderellas of social media. No one is interested in them: why would you blog about washing powder or review a cleaning fluid? For brands in these verticals social media are far less important. While they should monitor conversations just in case a big issue starts to brew, they need to do little more than that.
Both HRLEs and LRLEs need to employ advertising techniques to add a layer of emotional connection to their brands. But for HRHEs and LRHEs that are considerable opportunities to enhance their brands through social media.
The lesson here is that brands should consider whether they are in a vertical that can usefully use social media for active campaigning or merely for research and for more reactive communication. A failure to understand this can result in wasted budgets and in losing the opportunities that more powerful media activities can deliver.