Brands Stumble Before They Walk

Alan Wolk was asked by Valeria Maltoni to look into the future and tell us what he sees.

I think we’re going to see a lot of brands behaving badly in social media.
They’ll behave badly- or foolishly- because they can’t fathom that the one-way conversation is over and that consumers aren’t fascinated by what they have to say.
And they’ll behave badly because they’ll be advised by bad social media strategists, the ones who focus on quantity over quality, and by ad agencies who still see the clever punch line and the name capture as their most important goals.
Some will get it though, either on their own or with a wise hand to guide them. They’ll realize that it’s a commitment to more than just responding to blog comments in a timely manner and keeping a Twitter account. That it’s about making the customer front and center of whatever you do and of giving them products and services that they’ll want to tell other people about.

In other words, social media isn’t about social media at all. Social media is merely the expression of a more deeply rooted customer-centric behavior in the company.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Don’t mean to deflate Mr. Wolk’s predictions, but, well, no duh. We’re seeing a lot of brands behaving badly in the traditional media spaces. What on Earth would lead you to believe it would be any better with new media? But it’s not just the clients and advertising agencies that haven’t figured things out. The majority of digital shops are making it up as they go along too. Beware the ones who offer a wise hand of guidance—or the bloggers who seek to leverage themselves as consultants.

  2. We’re seeing a lot of brands behaving badly in the traditional media spaces. What on Earth would lead you to believe it would be any better with new media?
    How about learning from past mistakes? Or the fact that there’s a wealth of information available regarding best practices in online marketing? And if those don’t do it, there’s always prayer.

  3. There are certainly a lot of best practices for areas of digital – SEO/SEM, email direct marketing, website development, etc. Not so sure that’s the case with social media. I wasn’t disputing Wolk’s statements. Rather, I was merely pointing out that clients (and agencies) are not even behaving well in traditional media. As Wolk says, clients and agencies still want to control the messages and even their own actions (they call themselves brand managers for a reason – but they don’t realize they are no longer managing things, especially in social media). I’m also not convinced there are a lot of wise hands to guide you – and there are certainly not a lot of clients willing to be guided, as they are used to managing their agencies too. Again, I was mostly responding to the obviousness of Wolk’s prediction. For anyone actively operating in the digital space, it’s not a prediction. It’s happening right now, and has been for a while. You’re actually correct in suggesting the use of prayer (or the appropriate alternative based on one’s spiritual bent).

  4. Brands will stumble, but the luxury of social media is that it has an extremely short memory and is extraordinarily forgiving if the effort on the part of the brand is authentic. We are in the age where the value of the brand is not in its tagline, but rather how its operations reflect whatever tagline they choose to characterize their brand with. The exciting part for marketers is that we have the opportunity to engage the consumer in understanding a products value, rather than sitting in an in an industrial chic creative hot bed conjuring up a brand statement. What’s interesting about DiGuru’s point is that those agencies who don’t acknowledge their own capacity to fail cannot possibly authentically connect and sell that strategy to their clients. It’s a shift, but a welcome one for all.

  5. John,
    Funny, I had originally noted the fear of failure/willingness to fail in my past comments, but wound up deleting it. Your observation brings up another issue: a renewed or redefined relationship between agency and client. In these days of ROI obsession, a willingness to explore (and occasionally fail) can be a tough sell. Agencies and clients have to collectively embrace change and the challenges. On abstract levels, it’s about going back to the old school ways, where agencies sold the ideas that made clients nervous. But in the digital arena—especially with social media—the agencies can’t display the bravado of the past, as most are unfamiliar with the new terrain themselves.