Recommendations Are the New Advertising

Visa gets it – that the marketing world has changed significantly, and even the big players need to change along with it.  In fact, Visa’s head of marketing, Antonio Lucia, reported that Visa has increased their digital media investment from about 11% to at least 36%.

But Visa not just putting their money into digital media, they are also changing their approach to marketing.  Lucia said last month in his keynote at ad:tech San Francisco that Visa is now guided by three principles of social media, with one of them being “recommendations are the new advertising.

I couldn’t agree more!  Consumers are overwhelmed by ads, and even if a brand does manage to get consumers’ attention by traditional advertising, they have a huge trust hurdle to jump.  So consumers are turning now to recommendations (Earned Media) as their trusted information source.

When someone wants to know what service provider to use, or which brand provides the most consistently-performing product at a price that meets their budget, where do they turn?  Social media. They ask their friends, relatives, and colleagues… and even people they don’t know, but still trust simply because they are part of their extended social network.  The key being that another individual – not a brand promising perfection via one of its ads -- recommended a service or product.

Some marketers might see this shift away from traditional advertising as a negative shift, but I see it as a huge opportunity for marketers.   Recommendations are more likely to lead to action (a purchase or passing on the recommendation, for example) due to their interpersonal nature, and also because recommendations are often requested with the intent to purchase.

Our job as marketers then needs to shift from creating the most eye-catching advertisement ever to facilitating and nurturing relationships that lead to these powerful recommendations. It’s these relationships that create Brand Advocates – those people who are so delighted by our product/service/brand that they can’t wait to tell their friends and their whole social networks about their experience.

We need to make it EASY for Brand Advocates to make these brand-reinforcing recommendations. Give them the tools to interact with your brand so they can hear your consistent message, ask their questions, give you feedback, and then pass your message on to their network.  Those recommendations will catch fire in ways that traditional advertising simply will not.

Take a look at your marketing strategy – how many times does the word “recommendations” or “Brand Advocates” show up?  I bet there is room for more!

-Ted Rubin, Social Media Strategist