Mike Redwood


International Leather Maker

Apparently, a lot of quite senior executives still think that communications is all that marketing does, but it is in only one small, but important, part of any marketing course. Business objectives, strategy, culture, consumer behaviour, market segments, target markets and the competitive landscape all fit in any marketing studies, along with many other areas.

Yet, this century, digital communications have created turmoil in the use of media that a business will need to access and talk to its customer. “Talk” is significant here as customers are now able to answer back, so modern marketing communications involve collaboration and dialogue, thus relationship building. Even when AOL Instant Messenger appeared in the late 1990s, users could communicate with each other in real-time. Things happened rapidly after that. Friendster launched in 2002, Myspace in 2003, Facebook in 2004, Reddit and YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006, Pinterest and Instagram in 2010 and Snapchat in 2011. And then, of course, TikTok started in 2016.

A Klout score of 40 was required for a job in marketing

And yes, I know I have left out Second Life, Bebo, Six Degrees and even the mighty Foursquare. How foolish were we with our time? But, for marketing communications, they all mattered and, in December 2013, readers might remember that I wrote in this column of the importance of achieving a Klout score of 40 if you wanted a job in marketing. Klout was a crude calculation of level of involvement and interaction across all social media platforms, with users given a score between 0 and 100. Above 60 and you started to become an “influencer”. True to the digital world, Microsoft made an investment in Klout in 2012 and then Lithium Technologies bought Klout outright in early 2014 for US$200 million. They quietly closed it in May 2018.

During those years, using social media for marketing retained some humour and still felt rather amateurish, although many companies like Burberry used it skilfully while others wandered into PR trouble by not getting involved or being incompetent when their company’s service upset a customer who had engagement on Twitter. A lot of companies developed rules of being able to respond within 30 minutes to a tweet – something we could do with today – and I remember complaining on Twitter about my room in a Marriott hotel south of Boston. By the time I had descended to the reception in the lobby, the manager was waiting with a key to a new room.

The landscape was changing fast and has continued to evolve since. This is now a world that mostly requires professional involvement, or individuals willing to devote endless hours. The measuring tools are precise and the oligarchic control of the most important social media places does not feel healthy for the future. The diversity of different platforms used to offer slightly different audiences to target, with some more designer oriented and others for varied sets of consumers. This is less so today – they all do cats.

It is also a much less honest place. The new ownership of Twitter, now X, has opened it up to gross abuse and many people have abandoned it altogether. I note that nearly half my followers are no longer active, and I have largely moved away. Politicians and some journalists and academics still use it, so it can be good for information if sources are carefully screened. For news, it is necessary to stick with trusted media.

Leather has always had to deal with the work of PETA and committed vegans or animal rights fanatics, who use carefully selected, often quite wrong data or deliberately misinterpret facts. But now social media is the home of some quite vitriolic behaviour. People or organisations determined to spread false information often use automatic “bots” and other means to overwhelm the feeds and tap into algorithms built not to aid the consumer but to make money for the site owners.

Given what we know of modern social media, we require governments to deal with this, and whether they either can or will is unclear. We must nevertheless realise that this is all no more than ordinary marketing communications being carried out on a different canvas and our basic rules must still apply.

It is an area where people answer back and that can be both overwhelming and unpleasant. It is one where we can often actually sell products so, for the first time, marketing communications can become a significant income stream. Both require very well-trained staff and an always present mode of work. Online buyers, and complainers, will not fit into your head office working hours or holiday periods.

What never changes is the need for everyone in the leather industry to retain integrity. Millions of jobs are at stake here and using falsehoods and bad science undermines the essential value of the material.

When I was deeply involved in advertising in the 1980s and 1990s, claims had to be scientifically validated in many countries like the U.S. New European Union rules are planned to try and stop improper green claims and force marketing communications to avoid misleading consumers. This is a fundamental aspect of what all marketing communications should be doing.


Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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