New-age brands like Facebook bet on old-fashioned nostalgia

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It is all about engagement say marketers, as brands go all out to hook the customer in a range of personalised communication initiatives at the end of the year. To do that, they are dipping into vast reserves of customer data at their disposal and; instead of pushing targeted discounts and offers or pitching new products and services, the marketing teams at Facebook, Uber, Twitter and YouTube among others are encouraging users to get nostalgic about their everyday routines.

Brands like Facebook have been placing the customer at the centre of their storytelling efforts for a while now, tracking their usage details to push messages about everything ranging from their favourite destinations to the best restaurants they ate at. It is applying the same logic to present a year in review for its users now. YouTube has done the same, only instead of tracking personal activities and likes and dislikes, it has mapped users’ tastes for its year-end outreach; a string of top ten lists of most viewed videos to the most popular YouTubers. The aim here is to create a sense of community among the platform’s users.

Such occasions serve up  an opportunity for brands to use data in a non-commercial engagement initiative say experts. “What these new age brands are looking for through year-end stories is basically to provide a return on engagement (ROE) rather than return on investments (ROI). The more users share and promote this content, it provides greater value for the brand itself,” said Ajay Kelkar, co-founder and COO, Hansa Cequity a market research firm.

A recent report by global investment firm Omidyar Network noted that Indians spend up to 40 per cent of their time online using social media (dominated by Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram). Another 14 per cent of internet usage is spent entirely on consuming content on YouTube. 

Facebook was early to spot the opportunity, collating user posts into video stories to be shared with friends. A slice of the past has become  Facebook’s mainstay over the past couple of years with users being served with their memories, on a number of special occasions through the year. Uber is the new brand on the bandwagon this year with its ‘Year with Uber’. It has launched the campaign in the Asia Pacific markets which turns trip data into personalised, animated music videos. 

“We invested as much effort into representing local character as building an engine that could stitch together the elements instantaneously and infinitely,” said R/GA Singapore’s Senior Technology Director, Lauren Thevenet about the Uber campaign. “The complexity is concealed, making it an engaging user experience that seems effortless,” she added. Sanjay Gupta, head of marketing, Uber India says that the campaign aims to bring together data and moments, among them Indian cultural elements and festivals. “We are excited to launch a campaign that takes inspiration from the everyday experiences of our riders across over 100 cities in the Asia-Pacific region, including 29 cities in India,” he said.

For content platforms, year-end stories are a means of boosting content visibility too. YouTube’s Rewind video with the most popular content creators in a single video is a case in point as are similar efforts by Instagram. 

The objective behind most of these initiatives is mainly to make the consumer feel special. And even if the user is not always at the centre of the tale being woven around the year gone by, brands hope to establish a sense of camaraderie by tying them into a common web of experiences. Such communication also usually sees a very high number of clicks, indicating that customer curiosity is kindled and retained through such initiatives.

Kelkar adds that year-end engagement initiatives are more popular among new age brands and (surprisingly), traditional businesses and e-commerce players haven’t caught on the opportunity yet. “If your online shopping website gave you personalised feedback on your annual shopping traits, not only would it be a great insight for you but also provide significant consumption patterns for the brand itself,” he said. 

Brands use metrics like the number of shares and mentions of these posts to measure the engagement level of these initiatives. Given the huge numbers notched up, they continue to create more of the same. But that is a trap; to keep users interested, brands must continue to innovate and surprise with their use of customer data.   Also, Kelkar cautions, brands should not view such data-led engagement only as a year-end opportunity. That would be myopic.