Double dare you: Following Birchbox’s leap into untested social platforms

by Andrea Wilson, vice president, strategy director & luxury practice lead, iProspect

As people, we naturally crave comfort. We seek stability and even predictability sometimes. But, as marketers, we have to fight that impulse with everything we’ve got. A marketer needs to know how to read the data tea leaves, spot opportunities, and be flexible enough to pounce on them when they arise. We need to get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. In short, we need to be bold.

Here’s an accepted truism tied to that claim: “The digital world/landscape/ecosystem moves fast/is fast paced/never slows down.” We’ve all heard a version of it before, but every cliché holds a small amount of truth. This one is no exception.

Digital is all about speed. Consumers are fascinated by the new, early adopters prosper and brand marketers need to keep pace with that metabolism if they want to survive. And while it takes a certain kind of organization or personality to upset the apple cart, all marketers should feel empowered to test the cart’s balance even in small ways. Innovation is what keeps brands vital and thriving — seeing a market gap or consumer need and jumping in quickly with a solution. Marketers who fixate on the status quo might think they’re playing it safe, but they’re risking the long-term health of their brand.

But it isn’t easy to be limber with big budgets, slow-moving corporate structures and all the usual KPIs that leave you sluggish. It’s easy to become enamored of core customers and neglect new opportunities and trends that could have a big impact on our bottom lines if only we can put a bit of spend behind them. The fearless marketer needs to stay true to fundamental tactics while shifting a few extra dollars from her budget to gamble on an emerging trend or market niche.

Take, for example, Facebook’s latest video product, Facebook Live. It doesn’t take a prescient marketer to see opportunity behind the initiative’s exploding watermelons. Many brands have already invested resources in building a large Facebook following, and Facebook Live is a new way to reach that audience, yet even now there’s a sense that some have missed a golden moment.

Rachel Silver of Birchbox, an early adopter of Live, told Digiday that the heyday may be in the rearview mirror. “The problem now is reach,” she said. “When [other brands] weren’t using it a lot when it first launched, the reach we were getting was crazy.” Live is the definition of an unconventional choice. There’s no way to square a totally new medium with the traditional ROI ratios that marketers often rely on. By having the flexibility to experiment early and the courage to broadcast live, Birchbox gained exposure that other brands passed up by keeping their eyes glued to their analytics dashboards instead of the road ahead.

Brands saw similar gains with Snapchat’s on-demand geofilters. The social messaging app is something of a black box, with many of its offerings delivering few KPIs that digital marketers know and love, but a some adventurous marketers are seeing results. It’s a cycle that’s repeated since the dawn of digital, from YouTube to Vine. Even the first banner ad was a gamble. That particular artifact of digital history had a 44 percent click-through rate and a totally unknown path to ROI.

Of course, speed is only half the battle. Marketers need to surround themselves with smart data and trendspotting structures. Being a bold marketer doesn’t just mean having creative flexibility. It also means shifting budgets, when necessary, and devoting resources to novel endeavors even when traditional ROI is tough to measure.

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