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Oct 06, 2015

The Digital Anatomy of Popular Brands

The Digital Anatomy of Popular Brands

Some brands are just indomitable. Across the decades, since exponential levels of growth began to strike certain companies in various industries with a perfect mix of good fortune, desirable product, and effective marketing, strings of these strong brands have become staples of internationally renowned business, with equally famous and pervasive marketing styles which themselves have permeated into the cultural membrane of Americana. Brands so effective at turning profit that it is, as the old saying goes, as if they have been given licenses to print money, as their marketing presence has predicated practical guarantees of profit. But if you are not Starbucks, or McDonalds, or Verizon, or any number of these objectively few brands we all know, there are things that your business does not do that those giants can. There are abilities and strategies they are capable of which only companies of their insurmountable stature (and budget) are, and there are social realities which support such powerhouses that smaller businesses dream of, even pursue, but are actually rather misleading examples for even the most upper class of companies to take, so long as they are those that appear dwarfed in comparison to those titans of industry which are so ubiquitously present in our culture today. But there is a small something to be gleaned from these behemoths, just enough to take in for yourself if you too want to grow your digital brand.

To be concise, and because it is a perfect example of one such megalithic company, simply consider now the Starbucks Corporation. Striding along through 2011 as the third most successful restaurant chain of the day, having reaped $9.07 billion in domestic sales the prior year, Starbucks is just such an indomitable force when it comes to devouring revenue and expanding their market ambitions. Since 2011, one source claims (and these aren’t even the highest numbers one can find reported) that the Starbucks Corporation’s spending solely on marketing pursuits rose worldwide from 244 million US dollars, to the claim of 2014’s spending report, which at the end of the fiscal year declared to have climbed up and over 315 million. These numbers are fantastical, extravagant, and impossible to wholly appreciate beyond the number of zeros trailing behind it. Yet through its ad spending and by observing its techniques, we can see a special sort of feeding effect being produced, stemming from this inconceivable size, and dependent upon it. While it is easy to understand the idea that a company which spends so many millions of dollars marketing its brand would be successful, and why the vast majority of businesses operating cannot think to pattern themselves in such a way after them, there is a more relatable technique which Starbucks also employs that smaller businesses can engage in, though admittedly without the same reach and level of success.

Starbucks’ digital strength is visible in their utilization of what they refer to as “the call to action” technique, which is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy by virtue of their immense size, but also one of advisable note. Like any strong brand, Starbucks is narrative-minded, developing both straightforward stories and communal interaction, whether through their website in places such as “My Starbucks Idea” or social media campaigns. Starbucks’ Chief Digital Officer, Adam Brotman, hailed their social media efforts as “brand storytelling”, engaging their consumers by integrating their product into public life and building interest through a form of native marketing. Their 2013 “Tweet a Coffee” campaign was as rousing a success as it was due to their being largely popular outside of social media first. In this way, consumers give large brands extra ad exposure by virtue of those companies being larger. Where some smaller, less popular social media accounts must pay for the appearance of popularity as a method of attraction, large companies have a performing appearance, meaning that the numbers shown which influence others to join the following actually exist as a base of users rather than fictitious shell accounts, and can contribute to campaigns. This is the most obvious and impactful effect of size going into social media campaigns. The size transfers, and is authentic.

Starbucks also manages to possess not just one but two verified accounts, a distinction reserved for only the most necessarily influential bands. The first account being simple branding and the second operating as a company news provider, the only really noticeable difference between the two seems aesthetic, as despite their theoretical demarcation, both aggressively utilize their official Starbucks hashtag, #PSL, promoting their infamously popular “Pumpkin Spiced Latte”, which is historically their most efficacious example of brand storytelling and digital marketing. With almost ten million followers on their primary account, and an extra 75K on their news account, Starbucks doubles down on its digital presence for thousands of consumers, while also remaining a constant part of their employees’ lifestyle, and furthering their cyclical social media marketing campaign. Go into a physical store, and the hashtag is still there, written on their boards, keeping the digital campaign alive both where it seems to end in person and where it begins online, feeding the loop back onto social media and thereby generating further attention. While the social media marketing cycle can be used by any size business, and often is, two verified accounts is a prestigious placement indeed. Starbucks is heralded as one of the top 10 brands on Twitter. The popularity of their name feeds into itself with greater velocity for better success than any smaller brand could hope for, as the #PSL would trend with or without sponsorship from the brand itself. This is even taking into consideration the fact that the #PSL is also the accidentally shared hashtag and acronym for a totally different manner of event and organization, the Pakistan Super League, a recently launched cricket organization in the Middle East. Currently, the organizations are quietly sharing the digital label, with a simple Twitter search yielding an odd admixture of distinct product communities. And yet Starbucks still gains attention and following by propagating the hashtag against the diluting tide of the cricket game contrast. The international weight of the Starbucks brand here is used in an overwhelming fashion, once again providing a testament to the benefits of its size and influence, its integration with consumers’ emotional lives; that they can share, and in fact, more than marginally be somewhat drowned out in the social media sphere, yet still effectively market their product.

According to Brotman, digital media “…gives us lower cost of marketing per customer…we can spend and rely far less on traditional and paid marketing.” Comments like this are infinitely revealing. To think that a corporation which spends over 300 million dollars a year on marketing feels their most effective technique is also their cheapest is a point no business can afford to overlook when marketing their own brand, because the key here is that this statement is universally true. Across the board, for every size business, accurate brand storytelling through digital media platforms can be laughably inexpensive and profoundly effective. The anatomies of these massive brands are shifting in the changing sands, leaving pockets for newcomers and reinventions alike to come in and widen their share. The cyclical campaign style of feeding consumers into a marketing loop in this way isn’t reserved for companies the size of Starbucks. It’s an essential factor for all business employing native advertising, the evolving future with places in the front still yet to be taken- and it works.

written by Edward Colligan


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