Showing posts tagged: advertising

No, I Don’t Have “Category Experience”. And That’s A Good Thing.

This is a slightly edited version of something I wrote for Heart, almost a year ago. Been thinking about it a lot this week though, and wanted to re-post it.


In our first several months of existence, we’ve had a wide variety of conversations, with a wide variety of people, from a wide variety of industries.

And one thing I’ve noticed throughout, is a generally strong desire for founders, marketing directors, CMOs, etc, to hire people and agencies that have specific experience within a specific category.

Quick serve restaurant wants quick serve restaurant experience. (sweeping shots of steaming food!)

Automotive brand wants automotive experience. (dramatic footage of car driving on a windy mountain road!)

Luxury brand wants luxury experience. (implausible moment with impossibly good looking people - and a horse or other exotic animal!)

So on and so on.

But if you only look for category relevant experience as a filter, you will only get more of the category convention. You will get what an agency did for someone else (maybe even for a competitor), tinker-tailored and adjusted slightly for you.

You will get more of the same.

You will be another indistinguishable choice in a crowded space. 

Because if you only work from what exists, how will you find what is yet to be imagined?

Apple didn’t hire the former head of Target or Best Buy to run their retail business. They hired Angela Ahrendts, the CEO of Burberry, an extra-category executive with a knack for transformation. Because as usual, Apple is looking to re-define a category, not operate within an existing paradigm.

Brave brands don’t give a shit about convention. They don’t care if you’ve done it before - they care if you can see what’s never been done before, and do it.

It’s about changing the game, not playing it.

Falling Back In Love With Owned Channels

I’ve been pretty unabashed lately with my criticisms of Facebook (and social media in general), contending that organic brand-engagement is a silly marketing fantasy, and that these platforms (at best) are merely paid media channels like any other.

Turns out, I’m not really wrong. Even Facebook themselves just out and said so rather bluntly.

Like many mediums, if businesses want to make sure that people see their content, the best strategy is, and always has been, paid advertising.

Yet for some reason, everyone feigned surprise and tried to muster some pathetic outrage when this came out.

But once again, we’re ignoring the gargantuan elephant in the room - that you (as a brand) have always participated in, and continue to participate in Facebook’s world, on their terms.

You’ve been renting their space.

Instead of building a house, you decided to rent an apartment.

This means they make the rules.

You own nothing.

Jason Loehr of Jack Daniel’s puts it perfectly in this Digiday clip. He calls Facebook and the like, “leased channels”.

He goes on to say that all of their owned channels, are now most important, and I couldn’t agree more.

Microsites and the like used to seem foolish, but now how do they look, compared to practice of pouring millions into building something you don’t own and can’t control?

Continuing Thoughts On Social Media

My post the other day (“Why Bother With Social Media?”) definitely struck a chord and generated some good conversation, as it was meant to do.

Based on some of those conversations and responses, I did want to add some more thoughts to the original ramblings.

First, I’m not saying never ever ever ever shall any brand spend time or money in building a social media community and fostering some sort of engagement through it.

Where there is some (relatively) clear connection between the core assets/function of a brand and the natural user consumption desires/behavior on a given platform, therein lies some potential opportunity for gain, and a decent argument for an investment creating and building a brand-driven social media presence. 

But what I am saying, is that instances in which this strong natural intersection exists, are the exception, not the rule. Most brands are awkwardly forcing this connection at best, and all things being evaluated equally, it’d make more sense for them to reduce their focus in social down to near zero.

Because my central point in all of this, is that every marketing plan should start from zero, and channels should be chosen unsentimentally, prioritized based on their ability to drive the bottom line. Which more often than not, would put social media pretty far down that prioritized list. If on the list at all.

Some of the specific points that people brought up in response to my post were:

  • What about customer service?
    Yes, sure. Social media has most certainly shaken up how brands and businesses need to address unhappy customers. Though I’m not quite sure anyone’s really cracked that nut yet. The most common tactic I’ve seen throughout the industry to date, seems to be the GFTO (get the fuck offline) approach, where social media managers play whack-a-mole, and try to herd complainers into established offline channels (phone/email/web) as quickly as possible. So, again, the resource case we’re making feels a bit disconnected from the reality of what’s actually being addressed - since most social media “customer service” amounts to a copy/paste apology and link to a form so reps can “take it offline”.

  • What about purchase influence?
    Jess made the point that social presences give the undecided users a sense of the brand. While I have a lot of love for Jess, I don’t necessarily believe that active exploration of a brand’s social channels is a deciding factor (or even an influencing factor) in the majority of user journeys. I’ll buy that people visit Yelp, or read Amazon reviews, or check out Consumer Reports, but I just don’t see Facebook pages as being an important part of that purchase path. Again, this feels like another tenuous hypothesis we inflate in order to justify what we’re doing.

  • What about awareness?
    Can a brand’s social media presence help drive awareness? Some, sure. Any interaction, or even noticing of any brand anything, can theoretically raise awareness of the brand in some small way I suppose. I’d tend to think though, that if you’re already a fan or follower of a brand, your awareness is likely quite high as it is. So maybe that content your posting, at best reinforces awareness. But I’m not sure that your owned social channels are creating any awareness where it didn’t  previously exist. And frankly, your ability as a brand to even do that much, is basically going away as we speak.

Again, these are just my opinions today, and this is an evolving point-of-view that’s based on a lot of recent observations and conversations I’ve been having of late. Nothing I’m saying is a 100% truism or universally unassailable fact for every brand out there.

I do believe however, that brand marketers should be more assertive in asking the question (“is social media really worth it?”), and that they shuld be looking objectively at the channels they spend against, versus diving blindly into checking the boxes thrown in front of them.

And I’m also asking those who sell social media tools and strategies, to dispense with the fantasy, and to re-focus on bringing your clients the plans and recommendations that they actually need – not just the ones that you can best profit from.

I look forward to continuing the discussion, so keep the comments coming.

Why Bother With Social Media?

I’ve been asking the following question of my peers (as well as myself lately), and getting some really interesting answers - if any answers at all.

If you are responsible for allocating marketing budgets for a brand (any brand really), how do you justify spending a dollar on social media over some other channel (print, tv, pr, content, etc.)?

Or, even more directly:

Why bother spending any time or money on social media?

And for clarity, I’m talking about the earned, organic, content-calendar, community manager, lets-build-conversation, engagement stuff here. The things that require man-hours, software, creatives, listening systems and the like. Not buying ads on social platforms (that’s just advertising).

Unsurprisingly, these questions, when asked directly, seem to cause some rambling panicked responses, and momentary crises of identity amongst my social media practitioner friends.

Because deep down, they, like me, realize that the charade is over. That the once grand promise of social media as a beautiful brand engagement tool, has gone generally unfulfilled. 

It’s a tough realization, and I’ve taken no small amount of angry shit from my colleagues in pushing these questions. In part, because there’s this sense that if you’re in the game, you’re in the game.

We’re all in this together. The agencies sell the platforms, the platforms sell the ads, the media company sells the ad software, the other agency sells the measurement (which always says “it’s working!”), and we all get paid. By the time anyone starts asking questions, it’s too late because no one in this industry stays anywhere for more than a year or two and we’ve all moved onto new jobs.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

But that hyperbolic collusion rhetoric aside, there are some real, honest questions about the efficacy of social media and value of investing in the building of “brand communities”.

The biggest problem that we can’t just sweep under the rug, is that broadly speaking, the average person gives zero shits about your brand at all, let alone connecting with it. In social media or otherwise.

We’re trying desperately to force a selfish narrative (that people want to engage with brands), when in fact the exact opposite is true.

People far smarter than I, have put this more eloquently than I ever could, so here are some quotes on the topic that I love.

First, from Seth Godin.

Start by understanding that no one cares about (the brand). People care about themselves. Anyone who tweets about a brand or favorites a brand is doing it because it is a symbol of who they are—it is a token, it is a badge. It’s about them, it’s not about the brand.

Next, from one of my favorite pieces of content, ever.

Our challenge is that people are not paying attention. Our challenge is that people really don’t care. Our task is not nurturing enthusiasm, but overcoming indifference.

So then, why are we spending so much money trying to make social media work, when the audience doesn’t care, and the efforts lag so far behind other mediums in terms of driving business growth?

image

Seems like your time and money is still better spent on the classics - paid search and email. It may be un-sexy, but it’s hard to argue.

  • But brands that set smart social goals, are making it work!” you say. 

    I’d say that this is a false construct peddled by those who benefit from the idea that social media works and is necessary. Meaning, we’re creating arbitrary social media goals to justify what we’ve already decided we want to do, versus allowing broader business goals to lead us into the proper channels with the proper investment. Which often times, won’t be social. When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  • "But we’re getting great engagement on our content!" you argue.

    The question isn’t whether or not people will engage with puppies and babies and click bait on Facebook (they will). The question is, what impact do those engagements really have on your brand and business? Again, we’re feeding into a false-construct of our own making. We decided that engagement = success, and then we figured out how to game the system so that we get engagement. But despite all of that engagement, social falls flat (and hard) when it comes to actually moving the needle where it matters.

  • "But Facebook fans of XYZ brand spend twice as much than non-fans!" you plead.

    This has always been a favorite of mine. Aside from the fact that the “data” here is dubious (“much of the data thus far has been anecdotal”), this argument is also a wonderful case of the confirmation bias approach that the industry takes to justify its existence. Is it also possible for instance, that heavy spenders are more likely to become fans? I know that’s an inconvenient possibility, but it is a possibility, yes? I fully expect select parts of this J.Crew story to be used ad infinitum in social media presentations henceforth.

I could go on, and talk about the myriad other arguments that I hear in support of social media, but my point is a fairly direct and simple one:

If you are an individual who is responsible for deciding where to spend your marketing resources (time and money), you need to ask your agency and your team why you should bother with social media at all. And you are owed good, honest answers to that question.

I met with someone last week, a marketing director for a near 100 year old financial institution that catered to immigrant families and the local community. She was concerned that they were “behind”, because they didn’t have a robust social media presence. As the discussion went on, we all agreed that they’re not losing customers because of their social media absence, and they’re not likely to grow the business based on their social media presence.

But prior to our chat, she’d seen a parade of agencies talking about big digital ecosystems, and the need to “engage” with their customers in social, as if not doing so made her a marketing pariah.

Of course each of these recommendations came without any consideration as to how doing these things would help her business - or even if at the most basic, whether or not these were the right channels for her to focus her limited time and resources on.

They were selling her what they had, not what she needed.

So I’d ask again (as I did in that meeting), why bother?

Quizzes As A Brand Marketing Tool

Seeing the resurgence of quizzes as a publishing/sharing/marketing device, has me nostalgic for the old days. When I, along with a merry band of awesome friends, product people, content writers, and developers built a min-quiz empire.

I always thought (and still do) that the brand marketing potential (from a branded content standpoint) with quizzes is huge. It hits all of the right notes at once, for users, publishers, and brands.

BuzzFeed’s marketing team also has access to the quiz template as a platform that brands could possibly take advantage of — think “Where should you go on a road trip?” sponsored by Hertz. Says BuzzFeed spokesperson Catherine Bartosevich: “You can expect lots of sponsored quizzes in your Facebook and Twitter feeds soon.”

It’ll be interesting to see if this catches on. We were doing these types of integrations back in the MySpace days, using quizzes as brand vehicles for clients like ABC, MTV, and Kohls (shown below), and had some good success.

So if anyone out there needs someone to be their sherpa guide when it comes to creating branded quiz content, give me a shout. I know this space inside and out.

Clients are assholes who take every good idea you’ve ever had and piss all over them, forcing you to go back to the drawing board and think of even MORE shit. But then, as you’re sitting and stewing and telling everyone what an asshole the client is, you usually come up with another idea, and it’s often better than what came before. Now, the client will also ending up rejecting THAT idea and reformatting an old Christmas ad instead, but at least you’ll have learned that you have a deeper well of creativity than you originally thought, and that your first idea isn’t always your best.

What the Fuck Makes You Too Good For Advertising?

(a counterpoint to “Do Not Go Into Advertising”)

The reason they are surprised and relieved, of course, is that most young men and young women—and tweens and olds and anyone, really, with access to a smartphone—act exactly like Sullen Male Youth. All the time. We Instagram meals before we eat them, tweet jokes about news stories we haven’t yet read. If anything, the unfortunate default mode for many of us is hiding behind phones, inside apps. Any other use case sends us into paroxysms of joy and relief.

Seriously, enough with this Apple ad.

If we in adland only ever see ad-shaped problems, we’ll only create ad-shaped solutions. But if we see people, all manner of new and exciting stuff starts to happen. As ever in marketing, progress lies in asking better questions and more imaginatively examining the lives, habits, needs, wants, desires, frustrations and dissatisfactions in people’s lives.

Martin Weigel

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