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Social Media: Changing The Brand Perception of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras Brand Perception Study Tom Martin Social Media

As I embark on yet another Fat Tuesday, I can’t help but flashback a decade (yes, it’s been 10 years since I first invited you to experience Mardi Gras via my Tweetstream) and marvel at the power of Social Media to build brand perception. Back then, my little experiment was novel (no one had ever live streamed an outdoor event like Mardi Gras much less tried to use Twitter to alter brand perception). But yet, still so many fail to grasp the power of social media platforms to create, enhance or change your company’s and/or your individual brand perception.

Using Social Media To Change The Mardi Gras Brand

For those of you that may not have been following me back then, let me give you a brief background.

In 2009, I got a crazy idea. I would live tweet (it was kind of a new thing back then) Mardi Gras and I’d see if people that followed me changed their opinions of Mardi Gras. I invited a few Twitter Influencers, my “Select Six” as I called them. Heavy hitters like @ChrisBrogan, @MackCollier, @LisaHoffmann, @Armano, @BethHarte and @AmberCadabra.

They in turn told all their followers about what I was doing… live tweeting Mardi Gras and encouraged their followers to follow @TomMartin to get in on the fun. Throughout my little campaign they were also gracious enough to RT a lot of the tweets.

What they and I didn’t tell anyone was it was all a big research study. I invited everyone to take a quick brand linkage survey before I started tweeting. Then I started….

Tom Martin changes the brand perception of mardi gras with social media

After the five day tweet fest, I thanked everyone for following along and asked them to take a quick survey to tell me what they thought. I didn’t tell them it was the same survey. And what we found out was nothing short of miraculous. In fact, it was so incredible, I did it again in 2010.

Only this time, I invited mommy, travel and influencer bloggers to join in on the fun. And we utilized brand new mobile video streaming technology from Livestream to livestream countless hours of parade footage over the two Mardi Gras weekends. This included putting uber blogger Peter Shankman on a Rex float on Fat Tuesday and having him livestream his entire ride while he simultaneously hosted a little Tweet In Show where folks could tweet him questions and he’d answer on the 3 hour livestream.

Yes I know… so easy to do today… back then we needed a special modem connected to 8 wifi hotspots, a small computer and a backpack to house it all. But I digress.

Social Media Changes Brand Perceptions

Here’s the thing. I’m always telling you that you should show, not tell if you want to change minds. And man did these two experiments demonstrate that in spades. For both the 2009 and 2010 efforts we did a pre- and post-survey to establish brand linkage.

It was a simple test where I asked a few questions and then asked a matching question. I asked each respondent  “When you think of Mardi Gras, what comes to mind? (click all that apply)”

Then we gave them 10 choices:

  • Beads
  • New Orleans
  • Parades
  • Floats
  • Crazy
  • Beer
  • Flashing
  • Food
  • Ladders
  • Family
  • Tailgating
  • Church

That last one, Church, was our control variable. While most folks don’t know this, Mardi Gras is actually a religiously induced holiday. So, as I expected, very few folks linked Church to Mardi Gras. Likewise, during the course of the campaign, I did nothing to link Church to Mardi Gras. Didn’t show any churches, never mentioned the religious connection, etc. Thus, if in the post study Church didn’t show any movement in terms of brand linkage, I felt like that indicated a fairly “clean” data set.

So what happened on the way to the parade you ask? See for yourself.

mardi gras brand perception study by tom martin in 2009

Look what happens to Crazy, Flashing and Family! Crazy drops by 17% and Flashing drops by 37%. Conversely, Family jumped 58%, Food rose 23%, Ladders (82%) and Tailgating (122%) rounded out the major changes.

And that was the point. I was trying to reframe Mardi Gras from Girls Gone Wild, to family friendly fun. And it worked. Followers were far less likely to limit their brand perception of Mardi Gras to the three B’s — Beer, Beads and B….

Instead, they saw it as a family friendly tailgate, where parents and their kids hung out, ate an insane amount of food and had a great time.

Perception equals reality, right up to the point of experience

Or does it? Is experience truly the harbinger of brand perception? One would think so, but the 2010 data suggested that maybe social media exposure was more powerful than actual first hand memory.

Social Media Is More Powerful Than Actual Brand Experience

One thing I didn’t do in 2009 that I did in 2010 was segment the survey by attendance at Mardi Gras. The goal with the segmentation was to understand how brand perception would change based on prior direct experience with Mardi Gras.

It’s one thing to change brand perception amongst folks that have never experienced the event or brand you’re trying to effect. But it’s quite another to change someone’s point-of-view after they’ve actually had first hand experience.

Or so I thought.

Here was the baseline — total sample set before and after campaign brand linkage. Notice that it is strikingly similar to the 2009 numbers, but the Church number does fluctuate from pre- to post-survey. Keep an eye on the bar charts that I’ve highlighted with a red outline. These are the three key drivers – Flashing, Crazy and Family. Watch how they change when we look at folks that have and have not attended Mardi Gras in the past.

mardi gras brand perception study results

The chart below is people who have NEVER ATTENDED Mardi Gras. Look how much lower the Family linkage (pre-survey) is vs the overall sample set. This is the Girls Gone Wild effect. These folks think Mardi Gras is all about flashing and crazy.

Mardi Gras Brand Perception Changed for Non Attendees

Now let’s look at how the data changes when you pull out those folks that HAVE ATTENDED Mardi Gras in the past. They’ve been there, seen it first hand. So you’d think that our little campaign wouldn’t really cause a huge change in their brand perception. And you’d be wrong.

Mardi Gras Brand Perception Study 2010 previous attendees

Remember, these folks have all been to an actual Mardi Gras. And as you can see, they were far more likely to link Family to Mardi Gras in the pre-survey vs the non-attendees. They were also less likely to attach Crazy and Flashing, which makes sense… because if you’ve ever been here for Mardi Gras and actually go outside the Quarter, you see the real Mardi Gras – one that’s pretty family friendly.

But here again, by exposing them to the campaign, we were able to significantly reduce Crazy and Flashing linkage and likewise increase Family.

Using Social Media to Manage Brand Perception

The data here tells the story. If you’re not using social media and its cousin content marketing to build, enhance and manage your brand’s perception, you’re missing a huge opportunity in the sales & marketing space. And yes, while this was more of a consumer driven experiment, it would work no differently in a B2B world.

A brand is a brand. And people are people. If you’ll focus your attention on just showing them vs telling them what you want them to believe about your brand, you’ll succeed in actually communicating your brand accurately.

Are You Using Social Media To Manage Brand Perception?

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About Tom Martin

Tom is 20+ year veteran of the marketing and advertising industry with a penchant for stiff drinks, good debates and digital gadgets that helps digitally challenged companies create innovative and effective digital marketing strategies. He is the founder of Converse Digital , author of The Invisible Sale and a contributing writer for Advertising Age. Tom guides clients through the digital marketing maze and helps companies teach their sales force how to Painlessly Prospect their way to more sales. Connect with him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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