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Selfies are not dead yetÛ_at least not in the corporate world, according to a recent article in Fast Company.

"'Selfie' is now a word most often heard out of the mouths of marketing execs," the Fast Company article revealed. Companies such as Wheat Thins, Applebees and Sony have joined the self-marketing bandwagon at one point. Although the concept of self-portraits has existed long before the rise of Instagram and Snapchat, the popularity of the word "selfie" to describe it gained traction in 2012.

But the article also cautions that following the selfie trend often does not make business sense, arguing that "trend chasing in the Internet era is desperate and lazy."

The trend is so pervasive that there's even a Tumblr blog dedicated to shaming brands that exploit selfies for marketing. "I'm hoping this [blog] makes clients and creatives everywhere think twice when they start to sell an 'innovative' selfie idea," the blog's creator told Digiday.

Jake Katz, VP of audience insights and strategy at the TV network Revolt, told Fast Company: "If it's trending, you already missed the moment. You cannot give the people what they already have."

Still, it's hard to blame companies for trying. Memes such as selfies can provide great hooks for marketing campaigns - but for that to happen, you need a solid understanding of your brand and of your customers. If you'd like to use selfies and other memes in your campaigns, here are 4 critical tips to consider:

  1. Make it relevant.

Meme-based marketing is not a strategy; it is a tactic that should support a bigger marketing goal such as increased brand awareness or more sales. You can only achieve that goal if the meme that you're trying to use can naturally link back to what you have to offer. If people don't immediately get what the meme has to do with your brand, you're doing it wrong.

Your campaign should also be relevant to the people you're trying to reach. "It helps to know your customers," writes Aaron Paquette, Vision Critical's EVP of TV & Film, wrote on MediaPost about meme-based marketing. "If you're in the wedding business, figure out how people are popping the question, sharing the news and tracking the engagement and big day online. If your business relates to babies, how are couples announcing their pregnancy to their networks?"

By knowing your customers first, you're more likely to identify the memes and events that are most relevant to your brand and to your target audience.

  1. Make it about your customers, not about you.

Many companies that attempt selfie marketing require customers to pose with their products. (Wheat Thins, the focus of the Fast Company article, is an example of this.) But often these campaigns do not resonate with people.

Remember: Storytelling in marketing is about putting the spotlight on the customer. If you want customers to buy from you, make them the hero, not your company.

"Make sure you understand the language and the culture of the audience you're targeting," adds Aaron on MediaPost. "The way to do this is by maintaining an ongoing relationship with customers. Using your community of customers as a sounding board for new ideas will save you a lot of grief later."

Whether you're asking people to take a selfie or using the success kid's pic for a cheeky campaign, make sure that the underlying message is one that speaks to your customers' wants and to the challenges that they face.

  1. Make it unique.

While it's tempting to follow what customers are already doing, there's something to be said about doing something different.

The Fast Company article highlights Kraft Singles' recent campaign, Know Your Singles, which uses rich photography and conversational language to talk about the product. While the campaign is not tied to a specific meme, the message feels timely because it speaks to a wider trend in the market: the increasing demand for natural products among foodies. More importantly, the campaign drives home an important marketing message: Kraft Singles don't have artificial preservatives. "It rewrote old ideas," the article said about the campaign.

  1. Make it a two-way conversation.

As with any social-media campaigns, meme-based marketing can potentially backfire once it's already out there. Listening for feedback and making quick adjustments is key to avoiding a PR fail.

"Put simply if you're getting involved in a trend that people have strong opinions about, you'll always be vulnerable to negative content," Ben Austin, CEO of Absolute Digital Media, told about selfie marketing. "But with this brings the potential for far better reach."

Engaging with your customers before you launch a campaign will help identify potential problems. Ad testing with your customer community, for example, can ensure that you hit the right tone and message.

Engaging with your customers before you launch a meme-based marketing campaign will help identify potential problems. (CLICK TO TWEET)

As Ellen's record-breaking Oscar selfie shows, meme-based marketing has the potential to increase buzz for a brand. But memes aren't only good for marketing inspiration: they can also reveal something about your customers.

"Memes can also be a source of customer insight in and of themselves," writes Aaron on MediaPost. "Following social media events and memes related to your industry can be a great way of tapping into emergent demands or attitudes that will affect your business in the future. Use these events as a source of inspiration for the questions you should ask your customers in your research."

In short: You may not need to ask your customers to take selfies after all - even if selfies are still apparently a thing.

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Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria was the former Content Marketing Manager and was responsible for Vision Critical's blog and social media marketing program. Before joining Vision Critical's global marketing team, Kelvin worked at Dunn PR, a Vancouver-based public relations firm. His experience includes working with lifestyle, real estate, and non-profit clients to develop social media marketing and PR strategies. Kelvin has a Bachelor of Business Administration from SFU's Beedie School of Business.
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