Confused Definitions

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More is better, according to the leading marketing theorists when it comes to brands participating in social media. Blogger how-to lists and entire books are dedicated to the proposition, and there are services that will tee-up “content” so you can repurpose it into the mediasphere. The Conventional Wisdom not only says this is effective commercial speech but that it’s a replacement for old approaches, like advertising. Spend more of your marketing budget on it this year or risk being oh so 2010.

Best Buy is a leader in the pursuit of this ideal, having enabled its part/short-timer-heavy workforce to tweet their opinions to curious customers (its Twelpforce, pictured above, has won awards for innovation and marketing brilliance), and now planning to roll out a “multichannel network” full of programs about technology, gift guides, even movies that’ll run online and in-store.

Here’s a prediction for the near future: we’re going to look back at this sort of stuff and think it’s glorious and unadulterated nonsense. Definitions are confusing Best Buy and other marketers these days:

  • Content isn’t a synonym for information, just like data isn’t the same thing as knowledge. It’s fashionable to talk and behave otherwise, though, as if a generic idea of content — defined broadly as “stuff” irrespective of validity or merit — has some absolute value to brands. It doesn’t; worse, it’s an expenditure of consumer attention and goodwill, not an investment in it, because
  • Entertainment isn’t a synonym for meaning or relevance. Not even the most entertaining content has any implicit value, and every argument that it supports brands relies on brands first creating and delivering an ongoing foundation of “old” media branding values…i.e. it only matters because the rest of the marketing matters, and there’s no way of seeing its merits without that context (unless you measure metrics made up for it), so
  • Engagement isn’t a synonym for authority or reliability. The problem with the Twelpforce program is that it presumes just that, substituting the glib and impromptu content from employees (however well-intentioned and/or even good quality) for communications from the institution of the brand. It has effectively outsourced its branding because it couldn’t figure out how to make it work

What’s the alternative? Could Best Buy’s new network have real value, along with its social presence? Of course…but there would have to be a new set of definitions for its strategy:

  • Authority. Why couldn’t programming on its network comply with high standards of content and conclusion, so it could actually say things that mattered? The pitch for viewership wouldn’t be generic but rather a “you can’t get this level of insight anywhere else, and here’s why” approach. Ditto goes for the Twelpforce (i.e. why aren’t employees somehow certified to be truly sales-agnostic?)
  • Reliability. How about producing programming that not only took solid positions on things — products, issues, whatever — but then provided consistency over time…revisited and changed or clarified things, thereby earning consumer involvement that was less episode-based (i.e. that was funny) and more of a true relationship (i.e. “I need that program”)? This would also build longer-term reputation for the brand.
  • Utility. Purpose is not really a dirty word in marketing but instead almost wholly absent from most strategies, as so much marketing is based on getting consumers to engage with marketing. What a beautifully circular argument! If the Best Buy network is running in-store, why not use it to promote immediate buying opportunities? Why couldn’t an authorized employee add a special offer to an agnostic response to a would-be customers’ tweet for help?

I think Best Buy’s latest foray into the content creation business is doomed, no matter how much it gets lauded in the marketing media. More isn’t better; better is better. Enough already with the nonsense about content.

What am I missing? Best Buy social monitoring…are you listening?

(Image credit: The Inspiration Room)

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