Face the facts

Friday 15 November 2013 by Andrew Wolfe

Dick Tracy Main

The digital age has brought us wonders that, until recently, were confined to the realms of science fiction. We have handheld communications in the form of mobile phones and tablets. We have almost instant communication methods in social media, instant messaging, text and email. We have almost immediate access to any information through the internet.

And if Apple gets it right, Dick Tracy's watch radio isn’t too far off, either.

With the digital world at our fingertips, we often connect online with people we seldom see in real life. The popularity of online interactions has led many to question the value of face-to-face connections – especially when it comes to their business’s clients and potential customers.

For example, word-of-mouth marketing – though difficult to quantify – has always been a crucial medium, and traditionally features a lot of a face-to-face interaction.

However, social media has become the digital version of word-of-mouth, and has brought it to the forefront of brand marketing. As Jeff Koyen so rightly puts it, “Social media has done more than simply turbocharge word-of-mouth. It has also brought this ‘alternative’ form of marketing into the mainstream.”

But even in this age of instant information, immediate communication and being connected to everyone and everything, it’s still meaningful – and human – to connect in person. Koyen observes that “most conversations about products and brands still take place away from the Internet.” In other words, people will always talk about brands and products they like – and, in particular, dislike – whether they’re on the internet or not.

While social media is definitely becoming more significant in marketing, brands still need to understand the value of word-of-mouth both online and offline. Some even take the viewpoint that the two should be treated exactly the same: “An online community isn’t different from the people offline. It’s a mistake to put people in these neat little boxes in terms of channels. You get a different company voice and that detracts from brand value,” says Kevin Sangsland, Sales and Marketing Director of Airfoil Public Relations, in Koyen’s article.

Face-to-face interactions are important for a host of reasons – building long-term relationships with customers and business partners; establishing a brand; getting feedback about a product or service; testing new ideas; learning about the competition; and recruiting new talent (to list just a few). Brands and businesses shouldn’t get caught up in the social media “hype” and lose sight of the value of speaking to their audiences in person.

Ryan Caliguiri agrees, saying that adding in-person events to the mix provides an opportunity to take the introductory engagement points made online to the next level, because rapport is better built in person.

Another good example of the advantages of face-to-face is conventions like Comic-Con, which TV network executives, show producers and writers, and game and toy manufacturers attend because of the value they get from interacting with fans in person. The interactions themselves are face-to-face, but reactions are spread by word-of-mouth, both in person and via social media.

These conventions are also a useful outlet to screen new shows and gauge the reactions of fans. Sometimes, these events are the only opportunities show producers have to meet fans in person. Rick Haskins, Executive VP of Marketing and Digital Programs at The CW, says, “It’s all about the fan interaction with the executive producers and the cast.”

Manufacturers and retailers also attend conventions to connect with their customers and get feedback about their products – in person.

Mike Drake of Mezco Toyz says, “This is one of the best places to get honest fan feedback. You don’t know online if it’s coming from a 5-year-old kid or an 80-year-old woman. Many people make fun of the passionate fans, but it’s the passionate fans that are really helpful with the minutiae of the product when you’re developing something.”

Similarly, tradeshows offer benefits that can be difficult to get from traditional marketing methods. Because of the industry focus, tradeshows are a good place to get feedback about a brand or product, and they provide a convenient environment to make face-to-face connections with sellers, buyers, and the competition.

As Ilya Leybovich comments, “The positive impact of exhibiting at a trade show isn’t confined just to the event, as 87 percent of attendees will pass along some of the information they obtained at the show, and 64 percent will tell at least six other people about it.”

So while social media has become an essential aspect of word-of-mouth in branding and marketing, face-to-face interactions – whether they’re conversations with friends, meetings with clients, conventions or community events — are anything but a dying art, and will always be a necessary element to consider in any brand communications strategy.

In your face, internet.


  • Branding
  • Digital
  • Social media
  • Marketing