Sunday, February 14, 2010

Guessing Less

This article will be published in Campaign Brief, Feb 2010.


2009 was the year of the nosedive, for obvious reasons. The economy went pear-shape, and all things considering - everyone was wishing it were a different year, or better still, decade.

Suffice to say, this downturn translated into a different way of doing business. Spending changed and priorities shifted. Tightening the purse strings happened by force, no longer for the ulterior motives of commandeering massive profit. There was more pressure to achieve results - and ones that could be found in measurable terrain beyond feel-good territory.

This also came at a time when social media marketing began to really take off, with more and more opportunities to speak to a larger, more engaged audience. Facebook was becoming more than just a soapbox for sharing stories of baked goods and weekend frivolities, Twitter became a forum for sharing news, not just the weather.

It seemed social media was going through puberty. It was finally finding its adult voice and experimenting with the big wide world in new ways; yet the chest hairs of measurable results and success were not so easy to find.

Companies started experimenting with these social networking tools that offered seemingly endless opportunities. Marketing minds were fascinated with the creative potential available and excitement found in the unexplored. The lure of rapid word-of-mouth was out there with these tools providing a great platform for discussion and unsolicited recommendations and criticism by users.

Was this just a matter of pure coincidence? Or was it the result of cheap social medial tools forced into sweatshop labour to combat a reduction in spending? There's good reason to suggest it was both. Whatever the cause and effect ratio was (or still is) the timing has been perfect.

And the result of this shift in gears? What we are looking at now is not marketing budgets changing drastically in size, but rather altering in their breadth and depth. The total figures might not adjust much, but the size of each piece of the media pie will.

Forrester Research found in a recent survey of 114 global marketers that more than 50% will increase their spend on social marketing. The research group also discovered that 45% pull together funds when needed, and 23% scrape together money from wherever they can to put to use for various social media efforts.

Kristen Vang, Principal Digital Strategist at Thinq says "social media is not "alternative"; it isn't a flavour-of-the-month for the tech-savvy; it's just the way the Internet is now. Google displays tweets and blog posts as real-time search results; newspapers are rolling out online subscription revenue models; Hulu broadcasts the best American TV shows on the web (legally). Marketing managers and upper management need to understand and accept this before budgets will allocate digital it's rightful share."

Of course this kind of spend will all depend on the intent of each campaign. For example, an integrated marketing campaign we developed for a group of Western Australian wineries whose message to wine drinkers was to buy local, had approximately 30% of its budget allocated to a social media component. The results were impressive. Before the campaign – known as “Summer with The Locals” – had even launched in traditional media such as press, radio and outdoor, the social media forums of Twitter and Facebook had gathered over 1,000 fans and followers of the wine collective.

Spending a significant portion of the budget on communication with a loyal fan-base with these relatively inexpensive tools proved to be a catalyst for a successful campaign that could be measured not only with awareness but with people contributing individually to spread the client's message.

It’s the power of Facebook news feeds, online fan competitions, and simply the personal recommendations of individuals reaching out to their average 150-friend lists that stretch dollars further. And it's all because of that old chestnut, communication.

Awareness for the need to support local industry grew massively in the campaign’s infancy, purely with viral nature of Facebook updates and Twitter. And with the campaign’s traditional media supporting the social media presence, it only made sense that budgets were skewed in an online direction.

“Two years ago most of my clients didn’t have a line item in their marketing budgets dedicated to social media – now they all do. As a marketer, it is clear that the tide is really shifting with big brands like PepsiCo forging the way as they make bold decisions such as reallocating all their television Superbowl advertising funds to social media. Pepsi has realized what many other companies quickly are – consumers are in control of brand. The landscape has been totally democratised and as a brand you simply can’t afford not to be talking to your consumers” says Sarah Payton, Senior Vice President at digital agency Affinitive in New York.

However, social media adoption by marketers is still relatively low, especially in Australia. But we are on the brink of major changes. The epidemic is growing, and most companies today are with little doubt of the need to invest in social media; any uncertainty they are experiencing is now how to make it a long-term reality and how to translate this into monthly budgets and billings to client.

The success of traditional marketing has always been difficult to grasp accurately. So it's no surprise that the measurement of social media is going to be as equally as hard. This shouldn’t be a turn off, though. More than anything, it should be a reason to search harder for the results and answers to the "why" of social marketing.

And why? Currently it seems that social media spend is often “scraped together” to pay for what is considered a tentative or experimental solution. But while the results may not be startling obvious, this kind of afterthought mentality puts long-term social media projects in jeopardy.

There is now a need to look across various communications channels - and allocate accordingly. Otherwise an experimental attitude negates the idea that social media is here to stay. The campaigns need to be managed properly to garner results, or else there will be tomes of figures and dollars, allocated against "experimental" campaigns that appear without justification and will be easily quashed next time by powers that be.

Looking forward, we will see greater reliance on consumer intelligence and the continuation of the conversation with the faces behind the suburban computer screens. Social media marketing is here to stay, but to make it a permanent inclusion in effective integrated marketing campaigns, they need not only to work, but be seen to work. Beyond experimentation.

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