Today a client had asked a group of us what we thought the social consumption habits of Gen Y would look like in the next year or so, and more specifically, around their brand. Our collective response was "What exactly do mean by 'social consumption', and, do you consider this media, platform or 'line' agnostic?"
The even better response would've been, "Ask us in a year from now to the day, because every day tells a different story". In other words, trends are starting to mean very little in the grand scheme of things (and this a topic for another conversation).
Naturally, we face some serious challenges with clients over this whole notion of what social media is (I find the term to be oxymoronic), how it is used and why, but the real question we should be asking is "What really drives us to connect, engage, and ultimately, purchase?"
With over 75 million captive users and growing, platforms like Facebook Causes have already shown us that brands are becoming more relevant in the world simply because they've embraced the fact that they need to help improve it. Stalwarts like Kelloggs, Nike and Aflac are setting a great new example for the rest of the marketing world in this regard.
Further, online environments like Wired to Care and Project Label are making brands way more accountable for their actions as well as their words.
But the reality we also face is that causes can potentially be played out and manipulated... just like trends. So perhaps we need to reestablish that causes or cause-related dynamics of an initiative or specific forms of outreach don't have to be philanthropic (at least by clinical definition), but rather what they are inherently... which is causal.
So what defines causal marketing?
Initially it is the birth of an idea, culled from market needs tied to (but not necessarily bound by) environmental, social, political and/or economic variables. This idea then engenders a sense of true purpose for the individual or group, and empowers them to adopt or create messages as currency, as well as spread it.
How do we go about doing it?
Identify a need state, establish a cause to act, and within that intersection is borne an idea that can manifest itself in any number of ways, all of which is a solution to a larger problem. And since market needs and world needs are almost inextricably linked, the larger problem resides within the larger context of the world, which means that our marketing solutions might actually mean something beyond a campaign or a crude media buy, or even better, outside of what all of our polished up historical data wants to tell us.
Perhaps this is what "social marketing" has intended to do all along, and our mistruths about the media associated with it have led the marketing majority to believe that this is still a push mechanism that rams direct sales vehicles down their throats through the veil of conversation.
Look, at the end of the day, people are media, so it's time we figured out ways to better motivate them, whether they're looking to buy a product or a service... or not.