Brands must live at the intersection of Stock and Flow

By James Gross , written on November 8, 2012

From The News Desk

At Percolate, when we’re introducing people to the concept of Stock and Flow, we use the following quote:

Change is a constant conversation in the marketing industry, but the last few years have brought two tectonic shifts: From campaign-based thinking to sustained messaging and from 21-week production schedules for television commercials to 21 minutes between tweets. Ultimately, we're moving to a world where brands start to recognize their roles as content creators. Many argue (and we agree) that brands always were content creators. But clearly there is a difference between a 30-second spot that cost millions and a 4pm Facebook status update.
Beautiful campaign-based assets that attract new customers, the type of content brands are great at creating -- that’s stock: timeless, durable, and traditionally working off of very slow-moving trends. Tweets, pins, tumbls, and status updates represent flow -- lightweight content that brands are expected to create in real-time to engage their growing social audiences.

Brands are still struggling to make their way in flow. Like awkward teenagers with gangly arms, brands are slowly finding their way into communicating with millions and millions of fans and followers on social platforms. Consumers aren't dumb, and they can be mean: They see the awkwardness and may even mock it. (Welcome to the mean girl clique represented by the Condescending Corporate Facebook page.) At the same time, it does us no good in the marketing community, as stewards of brands, to mock these awkward teenage years when we know they are going to grow up into powerful adults.

The key is to understand this awkward transition and how brands are going to get to the next phase. We have talked a lot in the past about why brands struggle in social, how brands have to consume in order to create, how brands have to stop depending on just listening for mentions, and how they need to become a magnet with their content strategy instead of simply mirroring their audience.

We have also talked about how, as a brand becomes more adept with flow, these lightweight messages can start to inform how they create their more expensive stock. It is at this intersection of stock and flow that brands will thrive. When brands can marry what they stand for with what the consumers they are trying to reach care about, customer engagement and loyalty will follow.

Being culturally relevant in real-time will allow brands to keep social audiences engaged beyond wheeling out those manufactured ‘timely’ posts: "Llike us if you like Friday. RT this if you like Friday. Pin this if you like Friday. Re-Blog this if you like Friday.” It might sound challenging to live at the intersection of stock and flow or to be culturally relevant in real-time, because it is. But it is a challenge worth pursuing.

The social platforms have themselves been exemplars in this area, with insightful posts from Facebook, Twitter and others explaining how brands can communicate with stock & flow strategies.

Paul Adams, in his his recent post "Six examples of brands doing great work on Facebook," showed how Oreo married its iconic stock asset, the Oreo, with an event that was culturally relevant: the Mars Rover landing. [See above image.]

Now, you might say that only fun, playful CPG brands like Oreo can do this. But witness Intel, the massive microprocessor company, and its recent Intel Man mashed up Gangnam style. Result? More 500K likes and one of its best  ever Facebook posts.

Twitter has provided great examples of how you can build a real-time brand with examples from Tide, Pepsi, and Bonobos.

Tumblr’s announcement of a real-time analytics partnership is also showing how brands can effectively create content on their platform, and that the passionate Tumblr community appreciates clever, relevant and interesting work. IBM with Smarter Planet and American Express with OPEN Forum are two brands doing work on Tumblr at the intersection of what their brand stands for with what is important to their communities. Stock, meet flow.

These examples together provide early suggestions for a standard that works well on these social platforms, for both brands and their audiences.

This emerging standard is very different from the digital boards of the past. The IAB did a great job of bringing together publishers and advertisers to build standards in a world where boxes were needed to complement content.

In this brave new world your content is your ad and the brand is the owner of massive audiences in social. Brands need to live and create in real-time at this intersection of stock & flow to make social platforms more engaging for everyone involved.

[Main Image: WikiMedia]