Why People Talk About Products … And Why They Don’t

by Jason Falls |
Jason Falls
Jason Falls

As the influx of big brands into the social media space continues, we’re starting to see more and more marketing managers and executives become less, not more, comfortable with social media. The main reason is they expect instant returns and needle-moving. But most of social media is about building relationships, which takes time.

Still there are stories of some successful ventures into social media and creative forms of Internet marketing that get people talking and do produce some quick results. H&R Block’s Truman Green campaign moved the needle, though it was as much creative advertising as social media engagement. Quaker Oats blogger engagement worked for a while (disclosure: I was one of the bloggers they engaged thanks to my #twit2fit thing) and probably accomplished the types of goals they were looking for. (I had Quaker Oats Oatmeal Squares for breakfast this morning, so they at least converted me into a customer.)

But, for the most part, if a social media “campaign” doesn’t turn heads in the course of a single quarter on the calendar, brand managers are most likely to can it and buy more print ads.

So what we, as social media thinkers and/or marketers need to do is two-fold. First, we should continue to educate the brand managers of the time investment good social media takes. But we should also attempt to deliver what our clients are demanding: something that moves the needle.

We need to get people talking about our brands.

But who talks about brands and why?

I polled folks on Twitter Saturday, asking what compels them to talk about brands. Almost to a person, the answer was something along the lines of, “When I have an exceptionally good or exceptionally bad experience.”


People aren’t going to talk about your toothpaste, your soap, your car or your beer if it does what it’s supposed to do. People are only compelled to spark conversation when you do not meet their expectations, or when you exceed them.

I like Colgate toothpaste. I had the pleasure of meeting some of the members of the Colgate toothpaste team at SOBCon this year. They’re putting a lot of time and energy into social media and engaging bloggers about their product.

But their product is a commodity. There are hundreds of brands of toothpaste that do the same thing. If I clip the right coupons on Sunday, I can get any number of brands at a better price. Colgate, while a very good toothpaste, has little to differentiate itself from others. It does what it’s supposed to and, to my knowledge, nothing more. Thus, people aren’t going to talk about it.

The first avenue a marketer’s thought process goes down when trying to find a talking point for consumers, then, is the charities the brand can support or initiatives it can get behind. Sure, that helps, but in the end, all the other toothpastes are going to have charities and causes, too. Plus, the people wind up talking about the cause, not the product.

You can add giveaways, promotions or coupons, but they are not only short-lived, but cheapen your brand. (Just ask the pizza industry. They’ve coupon-ed themselves out of ever being able to sell at full price.)

So what are marketing managers of ho-hum brands — the commodities, utilities and, what I would call non-passion brands — supposed to to?

Xerox's Information Overload Syndrome Microsite
Xerox's Information Overload Syndrome Microsite

Xerox has taken a delightful stab at engaging customers through a new Internet marketing effort around a semi-imaginary disease called Information Overload Syndrome. (It has a real Wikipedia entry. It’s real, but Xerox is using a playful, over-exaggerated look at it.) They’ve taken a humorous look at people trying to manage all the work and messages of our over-teched world to drive awareness and interest in their document management solutions.

Document management solutions are certainly important to companies, large and small, but it’s not exactly a sexy topic of discussion. So, in order to differentiate and give the brand talkability, Xerox has a silly, but fun website built around Information Overload, an hysterical video, the social elements of customizing an IOS message to a friend, sharing your own overload experiences and more.

Yes, Xerox can differentiate itself with its products, but this is a great example of a company working in the social media and Internet marketing space that has found a way to differentiate itself and get people talking and thinking about a product that isn’t very talk-able, unless you’re in a board meeting with a bunch of suits.

I promise you, if Colgate came out with a spoof website about Funky Breath Syndrome with a video that featured close-talkers, coffee-stain-teeth guy and what-not, with some fun gags thrown in, and some customizable share functions that let you make fun of your friends for having FBS, more people would be talking about Colgate. (And yeah, I guess you can have that idea for free … or you could hire me to help you execute it. Heh.)

Whether or not the Xerox, or my imaginary Colgate campaigns actually do move the needle has yet to be seen, but the Xerox effort at least give the brand a chance to do so.

The point of this is that while you want people talking about your brand, often times your brand isn’t enough. That’s why God invented marketing. (Esoteric pun. Please don’t lecture me on religion.) Unfortunately, marketing has gotten to be stayed and commonplace as well, so bigger logos, neon “ACT NOW” stickers and low, low prices don’t work as well when everyone uses them.

So you have to make your product stand out. And in the world of social media, having a Facebook page, a Twitter account, some silly attempt at a “viral video” and a company blog make you more and more like everyone else.

As hard as it might sound, in order to get people to talk about your brand, you need to do something outstanding.

Let me know if you’d like some help.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).