Building an Affinity for Ethical Analytics

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Politics was once a distant topic from the world of consumers and brands.  But 2016 proved to be a year when commercial practices and social beliefs collided. It’s up to marketers to use analytics where possible to determine how to protect brand integrity.

The election of Donald Trump has ignited sharp consumer activism.  Consumers are voicing brand preference based on whether or not they support the Trump administration. Marketers have only recently fully appreciated how empowered consumers can give voice to their experiences in social media.  That empowerment has morphed into deselecting brands in protest or support of political or social goals. 

Take Kellogg for example. The food brand announced that it would no longer advertise on Breitbart News, the alt-right political website formerly run by Steve Bannon, chief strategist and senior counselor to President-elect Donald Trump.  Critics have condemned Breitbart for featuring racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic content as news. and for publishing news based on unverified facts to advocate its main agenda.  The decision came after consumers alerted Kellogg to the presence of its ads on the Breitbart site. 

Such consumer alerts have been increasing, partly due to a Twitter account, Sleeping Giants (@slpng_giants).  The account asks people who see an ad on Breitbart to take a screenshot and tweet a notification to the brand advertised, using the Sleeping Giants Twitter ID. The account then tracks the brand response to see whether it eliminates Breitbart from media buys. (Editor’s note: As far as we have been able to determine, the operators of the @slpng_giants Twitter account have so far remained anonymous.)

The Kellogg advertising withdrawal is a reflection of how the expanding use of programmatic ads can leave brands vulnerable when affinity is not monitored.  Although programmatic ads are designed to sophisticatedly target individuals, the methodology can result in instances where potential customers can compare their values against those of the publication where the ad appears.

For example, Adweek reports that ROI Influencer Media makes programmatic ads available to social media influencers. This means a brand might become closely associated with the influencer’s values, with the risk in some cases of strong negative reactions from consumers. With a tablet or smartphone in hand, consumers quickly notice questionable associations and respond instantaneously.

#GrabYourWallet, for example, is a Twitter hashtag started by marketer Shannon Coulter as a response to the infamous Access Hollywood video of Trump.   A hashtag-associated site, grabyourwallet.org, maintains a list of retailers that carry Trump family brands, allowing customers to decide if they wish to support that retailer or not.  Boycotts on social media can effectively widen a movement and its message.

Trump advocates have been equally vocal, even when the supporting information is unconfirmed.  Trump supporters created a #BoycottPepsi tag when rumors suggested that CEO Indra Nooyi told Pepsi employees that the company didn’t want business from Trump supporters. Sources according to Business Insider later confirmed that Nooyi did not make the comment. 

No matter how business leaders have aligned themselves against the Trump administration, it is clear that sentiments expressed digitally can take on scale and velocity – the comments force many customers to quickly consider their values and how they align with a brand.  It’s the speed and scale of these reactions which create the need for the right tools, metrics, and strategies to formulate a response.

Boycotts are PR nightmares.  But there are a couple of analytic-related tactics brands can deploy to make a response to any assault on brand reputation more effective:

  • Use Google Alerts to track online mentions of your brand, product, or other important phrase. The alerts are delivered to an email address of your choosing, and the owner(s) should be accountable for monitoring activity
  • Regularly audit sites appearing in referral traffic analytic reports. Sites from a network planned for a campaign should appear in the reports, but many networks add third party sites where ads can be shown. This can mean your ad being associated with poor quality or objectionable content (and there can be a risk of click fraud)
  • Use affinity reports to understand which topics draw people to your site consistently. Affinity reports can help indicate if the audience reflects the interests originally intended for your product or services (I wrote about how to use these reports in this post); and
  • Be regularly proactive in communicating to media buyers on types of sites and networks that are out of favor for your brand.  

Advocates’ usage of social media to move public opinion – as well as the controversies surrounding the incoming administration here in the U.S. – will not abate anytime soon. A Pew Institute report claims that 20% of social media users have changed their views on a political or social issue thanks to social content.

In my own workshops for small businesses, I have spoken pragmatically about how businesses should not ignore sentiment.  Through customer values expressed on social media, boycotts or negative responses to messaging have become increasingly dangerous for brands that choose to be unaware of the affinities of the sites on which they advertise. What’s at stake is brand reputation – and ultimately customer loyalty.

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