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Mirror versus Magnet: our approach to brand listening


Photo by oskay

One of the questions that comes up frequently when we talk about our take on listening is whether a brand should just pay attention to the people it follows (or those that follow the brand). The answer is no, but until recently I didn’t have a pithy way to explain it. The rationale for not just reflecting back what your audience is talking about is this: as a brand, you generally want to be aspirational. Even an attainable product wants to align itself with an idealized vision a consumer has of him or herself. Therefore, just mimicking what your audience is saying isn’t going to deliver the positioning the brand is seeking. (This is most apparent in the fashion world, where all communication is directed at the person your real consumer aspires to be and even features that idealized version in the visuals.)

When I was going through that (long) spiel at a meeting recently I was greeted with this: “We’ve been calling it mirror vs. magnet.” I immediately wrote that down and got permission to steal it for future explanations. It perfectly encapsulates the point I’m making, which is that brands are looking to be a magnet for their consumers, not just a mirror.

Where things start to get interesting, though, is that we can take the mirror versus magnet idea even farther thanks to our ability to quickly learn from the lightweight content we create. Basically brands can now set their magnet strategy and adapt it in real-time based on what the audience is engaging with.

Whereas in traditional advertising, the strategy was written, executed and examined after the fact, in social we can make those adjustments in real-time as we discover we maybe set the bar too high (or too low). That’s an exciting change and allows us to know for sure that our magnet is really attracting the attention the brand desires.


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