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Improvising Marketing in Real-Time with Social Media

Improvising Marketing in Real-Time with Social Media

Abhishek Borah, Sourindra Banerjee, Yu-Ting Lin, Apurv Jain and Andreas B. Eisingerich

oreo dunk in the dark

Conventional wisdom suggests that a firm’s marketing message is best pre-planned well ahead, organized, and kept one hundred percent under control by the firm. The potential advantages of such an approach are well understood. However, this strategy can also lead to a brand being seen as distant from its target audience and failing to capture the Zeitgeist (the trends, feelings, and ideas typical of the time).

A new study in the Journal of Marketing analyses improvised marketing interventions (IMIs) that firms can create to generate virality and firm value. For example, when Tesla debuted its Cybertruck in November 2019, the company’s top designer unintentionally shattered the truck’s window. In quick response, Lego tweeted a picture of a Lego truck with a text that said, “The evolution of the truck is here. Guaranteed shatterproof” with an emoji displaying a grimace. This tweet led to about 28,500 retweets for Lego.

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Instead of aiming for hundred percent corporate control, our research team urges marketing managers to carefully consider not only what they say, but, importantly, how and when they say it using social media. Lego’s response elucidates this point. Lego’s response to Tesla’s misfortune demonstrates that firms can generate viral tweets if they are created with humor and generate surprise or with humor and are timely. Via this tweet, Lego created greater brand awareness, was seen as being au courant on trends, and generated free media coverage because it will likely be included in the ongoing conversation about the event.

Typically, in-house marketing teams lack the responsiveness and latitude to use the opportunity presented by a current event to tie their brand message to the event for maximum impact. We highlight this hidden opportunity for managers to spot trends and utilize those trends to seed social media campaigns, which can become viral.

Numerous brands have yet to discover the potential of this marketing method. We encourage firms to empower marketing teams to be given the freedom to keep a close eye on trends and spontaneous chatter and to quickly formulate witty messages in response to these events. Because people employed in marketing departments will not have advance knowledge of some of these events, they need to be empowered to react spontaneously to unanticipated opportunities. We acknowledge that this flexibility may necessitate relinquishing some level of control over the message at times and it is possible that a marketing team may hit the ‘send’ button too quickly. Thus, it is important that firms find the right employees to execute IMI. For example, their sense of humor and timing should be on point and not offend the public or humiliate another company.

Nightmarish examples abound of consumer backlash against a brand’s own social media posts when a company’s brand reputation is fragile. However, given the right employees who are empowered to act, IMIs—social media actions composed and executed in real-time proximal to current events—have the potential to enhance brand awareness. They also cost a fraction of the advertising expenses for sponsoring events like the Olympics or World Cup. Furthermore, we show the extent to which the characteristics of IMI affect not only perceptual metrics like virality, but also the objective metrics of a firm’s stock returns—a metric of immense interest to a firm’s managers and shareholders.

Social media platforms such as Twitter constitute a significant source of additional, novel information for investors. Still, managers often believe that the only time they can influence stock market investors is when the firm releases its quarterly or monthly sales reports. Our findings show that managers need not wait for quarterly or monthly sales reports to have an impact on investors. We argue that IMIs can provide investors with instantaneous, critical information or live diagnostics about the firm’s marketing performance. Firms are encouraged to make use of IMI messages by using humor paired with timeliness and humor paired with surprise because these messages can influence investor behavior and subsequently the stock market.

Ultimately, managers need to consider IMIs proactively in order to be part of and shape the current Zeitgeist—rather than be driven by it—and to achieve greater virality and generate stronger stock market returns.

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From: Abhishek Borah, Sourindra Banerjee, Yu-Ting Lin, Apurv Jain, Andreas Eisingerich, “Improvised Marketing Interventions in Social Media,” Journal of Marketing, 84 (March).

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Abhishek Borah is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Washington.

Sourindra Banerjee is Lecturer, Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds, UK.

Yu-Ting Lin is Teaching and Research Associate in Marketing, Imperial College Business School, Imperial College London, UK.

Apurv Jain is CEO and Co-Founder, MacroXstudio, USA.

Andreas B. Eisingerich is Professor of Marketing and Head of Analytics, Marketing, and Operations, Imperial College Business School, Imperial College London, UK.