How to Ditch Marketing and Make Friends
There’s a chasm widening between old school and new school marketers. New school marketers, typically those closer to social marketing channels targeted at Millennials, are telling me they’re having a hard time getting their projects funded internally because old school marketers in the C-suite don’t understand the new context and metrics driving social marketing.
This often results in CMOs retreating to their comfort zones and wasting money on what I call “studio-based” marketing channels, which still take their cue from the traditional awareness-consideration-action sales model that was debunked almost five years ago by McKinsey.
Studio-based channels require the slow and methodical creation of studio assets (via film or photo shoot) with the goal of beaming the creative to a designated “appointment” (a slot on Modern Family). The guiding principle is the content itself — any hope of conversation around that creative is mitigated by a marketing (not consumer) defined hashtag burned into the spot. It’s a one-way proposition at best, as useless and pretentious as the ethnocentric American who shouts the same thing louder and louder hoping that the Korean tourist he’s giving directions to will finally understand.
This type of marketing isn’t the be-all-end-all that it once was simply because the one unit of measure it relies heaviest on — time — is the same measure that will render its obsolescence. In today’s social communities, quick-thinking and hustle (not a precious and polished spot) are the currencies most revered. That’s because the audience most addicted to these social channels — Millennials — expect brands to live in the same world they live in, speaking the same language about the same issues they care about, find humorous, or strike an emotional chord. And since this generation collaborates online more freely than any other, the exponential reward of their sharing pays off with a far higher return on customer acquisition. For every Millennial customer acquired, chances are you’ll acquire another two Millennials for free just from their word-of-mouth endorsement on social channels (the “share” at its purest form).
In order to create content that thrives in this social environment and maximizes shareability — people having conversations related to your brands — marketers need to behave less like studios that charge by the hour and more like newsrooms that charge by the word (even if those words are limited to a mere 140 characters).
For brands that were born into the world with a Facebook page on launch day — think Virgin America, Lululemon, and Warby Parker (the Ryan Gosling of brands at the moment) — conversions don’t result from shouting product promotions; they result from a deeper emotional connection stemming from what’s actually going on in its customers’ lives and communities. It’s almost like making new friends in high school: You don’t walk up to someone and say, “Be my friend. Be my friend! I’ll pay for your lunch if you be my friend!” You need a savvier approach, striking up a conversation about something you may have in common with the prospective friend.
In order to contribute to and sustain a presence in social communities, brands need to post with the in-the-know mentality of your hyper-social friend on Facebook or Twitter — the one who’s exhausting to hang out with, but still knows what’s hot at the end of the day.
I refer to this method as “newsroom marketing”. Every post, every engagement is breaking news optimized for the speed of pop culture. In this model, it takes hours, not weeks, to create content — and it will cost you less than a :30 network ad on TV. These newsroom tactics complement typical display advertising, which now has the job of retargeting the user with promotional messaging several sites after the prospect enjoyed the newsroom-style branded engagement.
If all goes according to plan, the brand’s daily commentary becomes the opening joke of a stump speech, and the audience is more likely to consider that brand’s products and services when they are prepped for product investigation or purchase. Unlike studio marketing, the content isn’t king; context is.
So how do you gain footing in this new arena? At Virgin Mobile, we made the decision to learn from platforms that thrive in this environment — and who in turn need brands to help fund their innovation through paid media.
Our results from working with BuzzFeed for the past year have been extraordinary. On the day Instagram launched on Android, for example, Virgin Mobile could have simply announced its arrival on our Facebook page. Instead, we created an emotional connection among fans. “11 Things No One Wants to See You Instagram” hit a chord with readers who were huge Instagram fans, but could also relate to the trappings of tragic, try-hard Instagram posts. The piece’s virality shot up, allowing for roughly 1.2 million views of the post from over 8,000 sharers across Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, and LinkedIn.
In general, our subsequent clickthroughs from retargeted banner ads following campaigns like this are higher, and if we append a targeted flash sale to the campaign, we’ll often see lifts of 95% in phone sales. According to a Vizu study BuzzFeed conducted earlier this year, prospects who enjoyed our branded social content were 235% more likely to investigate Virgin Mobile for their next phone service versus those that didn’t see our content.
Currently, Virgin Mobile boasts an average 3 million views a month for its social content, rivaling the online audiences of Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. Why? Because we create content on a platform that was perfectly optimized for shareability. The name of the post, the length of the list, the photos selected — all these choices were thoughtful results from the A/B tests that founder Jonah Peretti and his disciples ferreted through before indoctrinating them as gospel. Of course, there are several platform options marketers can choose to take advantage of this trend in native advertising. But to truly reap the benefits of it, marketers need to tailor all of their assets — even their studio assets — to drive prospects to conversion by bridging seductive content with hard-core commerce. If a platform like BuzzFeed can optimize storytelling for content shareability, why can’t marketers optimize storytelling for sharing products?
The social “share” metric has single-handedly redefined what it means to engage with an audience on a regular basis. New school marketers are less concerned with the unique monthly views on their microsites and are increasingly more obsessed with “owning the water cooler” — that is, owning the spaces where stories spread most. Even if you don’t have a partner like BuzzFeed you can share a stream of photos on Instagram during Fashion Week, provide real-time commentary during the Oscars on Twitter, or create gasp-inducing fireworks GIFs on Tumblr to help strengthen your voice.
Before your C-suite execs finalize their bloated budgets in the fall, they should first take a hard look at the total “shares” from the campaigns conducted by their new school marketers. Hopefully they’ll realize that some of the best acquisition tactics are earned, not bought. In other words, stop acting like a marketer. Act like a friend.
Posted by Guest, Ron Faris, Virgin Mobile for Harvard Business Review