The Terminal Velocity of Your Message

31 Aug

Crazy-skydiving-10There’s a certain weightiness of the phrase terminal velocity. It sounds so final, like the next step stop must be doom. So imagine my surprise as a teen when I learned it really means the limit of how fast something can fall, more or less.

But the phrase remains one of my favorites, and it has taken on new life for me in the world of marketing. I am convinced there is a terminal velocity of any marketing message, which I define as the fastest a message can spread before the inherent meaning is lost.

For example, Just Do It, has taken on a life of its own, but at some point it stopped being just about Nike shoes. Hell, it’s now even the title of a book about a couple having sex for 101 days. That point was its terminal velocity. To be sure, Nike continues to benefit as the Just Do It phrase spreads, and countless attorneys are making a mint with trademark enforcement. But as a drive to sell Nike product, the phrase has hit the wall.

So what? Well, think about it this way. You are playing the social media arena because you want to get more bang for your buck. Ideally your consumers will drive the marketing for you, increasing your reach while reducing your expense. Have you ever paused to consider how successful you can afford to be?

Let’s say, for sake of argument you come up with the next Just Do It. How far would you go to keep control of the message. Would you let people put in their own designs? Sell it on t-shirts? Turn it into a double entendre? Get the point? You have to go into any social media engagement thinking about the boundaries. Think about the disasters.

If you are posting a copy line then think through the off-brand variations. Any successful image will be reused without permission. Videos? Expect to see them mashed up with new audio, images or remade all together. After all, you asked for it.

The mere act of entering the social media arena means that you are empowering people to talk about your brand. You’re not licensing them, nor are you paying them. So your control is non-existent. And that is a good thing.

What you’ll get from your real audience is far more captivating than anything you can come up with. It may be crude, simplistic or even tone deaf, but it’s theirs and they did it because your work triggered something strong enough in them that they wanted to create their own take.

So, how far can they go and still help the brand? You can help extend that range by making it easier to create their own content the way you prefer.

  • That means making your logo available in common formats, on clean backgrounds, but never in separate elements.
  • Host videos on a streaming server that allows users to embed them on their own site, but still stream from yours.
  • If you must post the actual video file, use a creative watermark that incorporates the brand.
  • And train your PR and social media teams to engage questionable behavior by re-channeling it back to the key message, not merely trying to shut it it down. “We appreciate your enthusiasm and creativity, but please remember that Brand X is about blah, blah, blah.”

The more you prepare for the worst, the faster and farther message can travel before it achieves terminal velocity. Damn! I do love that phrase.