Battle of the brands: How to engage in ‘branter’ on social
Weetabix recently lit up social media with a tweet about a very divisive breakfast, which other brands leapt upon. With a lot of reputations at stake, Tamara Littleton, CEO at The Social Element, explains the perfect recipe for brand interaction on social.
Back in February, a heinous crime was committed. Well, that’s at least according to Yorkshire Tea, after Weetabix sent Twitter into an explosive meltdown.
With just a single image, showing the cereal brand’s iconic wheat biscuits covered in tin of Heinz baked beans, it opened a marketing Pandora's Box and unleashed a range of extreme reactions from brands and consumers alike.
For as long as brands have been on social media they have had a role in shaping and leading cultural moments.
From KFC arguing for prosecution under the Geneva Convention, to the NHS calling for a health warning, what we saw was the perfect example of brands taking an opportunity to collaborate and speak to their consumers in a truly relatable way through brand banter, or ‘branter’.
Above: Weetabix's breakfast suggestion, tagging in Heinz, was a siren call for other brands to get involved in the conversation.
This form of brand interaction isn’t new. For as long as brands have been on social media they have had a role in shaping and leading these cultural moments. As social platforms have grown, and the communities on them have grown too, brands have used trending conversations as fodder to share moments of humour with their fans and engage in genuine human conversations. It can exist in those planned interactions between brands, and it can also evolve organically from opportunities like Weetabix’s campaign, where smart and prepared brands can jump in on the fun. But it can also be a key tool in the moments that catch brands off guard.
Like most moments of branter, brands have a choice to make; to engage or not to engage.
The recent social media spat between Aldi and M&S over claims to their caterpillar cakes is a case in point of what can happen to brands that are pulled into these conversations against their will. For M&S, its legal approach to the issue swiftly became a battle for its reputation after Aldi cheekily and swiftly brought the issue to social media, thereby distracting from the legalities and pulling M&S into the court of public opinion.
Like most moments of branter, brands have a choice to make here; to engage or not to engage. What the public saw as a bit of brand fun could have been an opportunity for M&S to strengthen its position as the brand in the right. After all, it’s actually a smaller brand than Aldi by yearly revenue and was protecting a cake dedicated to raising money for MacMillan. But it didn’t know what to do quickly enough. As a result, when they did respond, their attempt at branter fell flat and played into the hands of an agile retail underdog, beloved by consumers for its low prices.
When [M&S] did respond, their attempt at branter fell flat and played into the hands of an agile retail underdog.
So, what can brands like M&S do to ready themselves for all moments of branter and win the battle of the brands?
Above: M&S's social media response to Aldi's tweets about their Cuthbert cake were stale by comparison.
The holy trinity
Before engaging in any form of brand-on-brand interaction, it’s essential for brands to understand the holy trinity of social media engagement; audience, values and competitors. Knowing what to say in these moments requires knowing who you are, what you stand for as a business, and who you are talking to.
The purpose of branter is to garner recognition for being witty and quick in order to gain the affection of readers.
You need to define the causes and interests that your audience cares about, what cultural opportunities fit with what your brand believes in, and what differentiates your brand from the perspective of your audience. The purpose of branter is to garner recognition for being witty and quick in order to gain the affection of readers, but you can’t execute quickly if you don’t know how much capital you have to enter those conversations.
It's all in the planning
Some of the most successful moments of brand banter are often the result of an excellent social media team who are ready to jump in at the right moment. To do this effectively, brands need to have the right processes and agile team structures in place, alongside a deep understanding of your brand’s tone of voice. If your social teams need time to think of an appropriate response it will hinder your ability to quickly reply to challenges made by the other brand. Brands that do well at branter are also willing to trust their social teams to communicate on behalf of the brand without needing sign-off from the top.
Brands that do well at branter are also willing to trust their social teams to communicate on behalf of the brand.
Having an engaged and readied team is not only an essential component for making these cultural moments successful, it’s also critical for when things don’t go to plan. As M&S learned the hard way, without having an agile process, or having properly prepared for a crisis with simulations, they couldn’t predict Aldi’s response. They didn’t have their own line ready to smack down Aldi and garner public support. As a result, it became less of a brand value mission and more of a brand saving mission.
Above: Timing is key when it comes to engagement on social media.
Short term moment, long term value
With your values and teams in place it becomes a matter of waiting for the right moment. That moment can come from anywhere. Social never sleeps and spotting an opportunity to engage in branter is part of everyone’s role. Using social listening tools can help brands to understand current conversations around the latest memes, sentiment towards their brand, and what other brands are saying within their own conversations. People on social want brands to speak their language, so keeping on top of the latest trends will help make any engagement accessible.
People on social want brands to speak their language, so keeping on top of the latest trends will help make any engagement accessible.
It’s also important to not think of examples like the Weetbaix opportunity as siloed moments of brand engagement. Successful branter isn’t a one-and-done marketing exercise. It needs to be regarded as a long-term investment not a short-term gain. Building a brand’s personality requires consistency. This comes down to your social media teams living and breathing your brand message through their everyday community engagement. Over time they will begin to know a brand inside out and have the confidence to jump in when they see an opportunity or know when to avoid anything that looks contrived.
After all, that’s the lesson here: Branter isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of a brand’s personality. Personalities are made in the little moments of engagement in every single touchpoint with your consumers that add up, over time, into a consistent voice.
Successful branter isn’t a one-and-done marketing exercise. It needs to be regarded as a long-term investment.
Branter is simply an opportunity for brands to flex their comedic muscle. Muscles which grow stronger from knowing who your brand truly is. Lift the corporate veil by remaining connected with your audience in a genuine way in all that you do and your brand will be in a strong position to win the battle for consumers’ hearts.