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Posts Tagged ‘Earned Media’

In his post on Advertising Age’s Small Agency Diary, Marc Brownstein offers some thinking on ‘free media’ and whether or not it poses a threat to advertising and media agencies.  Despite the soaring popularity of social media, do brand efforts in these media advance the strategy and differentiate the product?  Can a fanpage create enough attraction on its own without an introduction via a TV commercial?  Is the platform even viable for self-promoting sales messages?

What?  All You Got Is A Hammer?

What? All You Got Is A Hammer?

In the end, Marc gently and tactfully demurs, his answer boiling down to “possibly, kinda, but not really…’  I’ll be more direct; absolutely not.  There is simply no way ‘free media’ will usurp paid media. First of all, the entire notion that there are ‘free media’ is flawed.  The placement of brand messages within social networks may not have an associated cost the way a spot does, but the time required to create bespoke responses to each individual inquiry/complaint/compliment/request for more information can be staggering.  For most companies, the current means of working social media amounts to little more than a new take on the old department store complaint office; you create a human face for the brand that allows people to talk and engage directly and conveniently.  But that requires staffing.  And man hours.  And training.  None of which come free.  I far prefer the title ‘earned media’–and savvy companies that commit to that investment are very likely to earn meaningful media placements in this emerging space, if for no other reason than there efforts will be have a strategic foundation.

Second, advocates love to trot out a few high profile examples of success in these arenas to demonstrate the emerging power of social media.  While a few efforts merit our attention, even those require a bit more sober assessment.  Yes, @DellOutlet is a notable success story for social media with it’s Twitter-exclusive offers and 600,000+ followers.  Its growth has been phenomenal, earning two million in annual sales in less than two years.  All of which is remarkable.  But it’s chicken scratch compared to the company’s total 2008 revenues of $61 billion.  Twitter sales represent maybe .003% of total Dell revenues, which makes me think it’s a bit premature to toss aside the traditional media powered sales channels and throw everything into free media.

And lastly, do consumers really welcome brands as active participants in these spaces?  They are, after all, social networks; the ‘social’ notion comes first and foremost.  Some brands can navigate this challenge, offering enough interesting content to keep people engaged, but that requires consistent, steady effort to insure your exchanges mesh with the brand’s strategic voice.  Treating social media as a separate silo will inevitably create dissonance between brand messages.

I believe every brand should engage with social media because brands are opinions and social networks let marketers assess ever-shifting consumer opinions of their brands in real time basis. Since social networking provides opinion with a powerful mass channel, marketers must take steps to actively influence brand opinion in that channel.  This is why we see such powerful convergence in the form of advertising and word-of-mouth.

If you truly want to integrate your messages, you can never rely on simply one tool.  You need to use you entire toolbox in thoughtful, strategic concert to build a truly great brand.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Last week, Gene Liebel, a managing partner at Huge, wrote a terrific piece for Mediaweek that took a skeptic’s view of engagement as the ‘metric du jour’ for success in digital projects.  As someone who has a turnkey presentation titled “Engagement is the New Black,” I read Gene’s article with a decidedly vested interest.  What was most interesting is that he doesn’t discount the importance of engagement; he simply doesn’t believe it is an accurate indicator of the ultimate metric of in-market success.  He considers engagement more of a ‘side effect’ and offers very strong cautionary arguments for anyone who would make it the end goal.

Actually, This Is NOT How It Works

Actually, This Is NOT How It Works

Possibly the strongest point he makes–and one that’s not surprising coming from a User Experience expert–is how optimizing an e-commerce web site to make finding products easier will actually reduce page views and time on site, both of which are key measures of engagement.  At the same time, that type of optimization will increase a site’s conversion rate dramatically as visitors find what they need more quickly.  So even though engagement falls, sales increase–a powerful argument against making engagement your end goal.  Liebel contends consumers rarely invest time ‘engaging’ with brands anyway; when consumers visit sites, they have specific, practical needs–whether that’s information or purchasing.  Staying on a site longer does not necessarily correlate to deeper engagement–it could just indicate that consumers must dig deeper to accomplish what they want–a strong negative.

What he’s really arguing for–just like so many other leaders in the field today–is a better measure of value.  In a difficult economy that continues to squeeze marketing budgets, we need to arm our client partners first with programs that work and then with solid proof that those programs work.  As data points continue to improve (Google claims 85% of all media will be trackable by 2012), we will need new measures of our programs’ in-market effects.  More importantly, we will need multi-dimensional measures; today’s socially-networked world of mass-channel opinion requires a new measure of the combined impact of both paid and earned media, and how that drives sales.

Sales may be the ultimate metric for brands, but accountability remains the ultimate metric for agencies.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Picture 2This week’s cover headline on Advertising Age reads “Cannes swept by PR, integrated, internet winners” with the subhead “Tally suggests ad age is over–or, at least, it’s evolved to higher plain.”  Setting aside my issue with the subhead’s overuse of commas, this still reads like a textbook example of a classic journalistic mistake: burying your lead.

The headline should emphasize that advertising is “evolving to a higher plain,” instead of continuing to forward the whiny, helpless hand-wringing that’s become endemic to our industry (“it’s over–everything we’ve ever known is now wrong!”).  Yes, social networks are a critical platform that our industry needs to address.  Yes, the media landscape has changed radically.  And yes–most critically from my perspective–advertising alone is not enough anymore.

But here’s the thing: it never was.  For advertising to really work, it has always needed a great product or service, attractive design, and engaging street and retail programs.  But somehow, the simple fact that the advertising environment has become exponentially more complicated over this past decade has led some people–including apparently, the editors of Ad Age–to subjectively dismiss the foundation of our industry: generating creative messaging in paid media.  And that fries my bacon, that salts my shorts, that makes me pigbiting mad…

Because here’s a newsflash: advertising works.

Please read that sentence again.  Better still, let’s read it aloud together, shall we?  Advertising works.

Television?  Still works.  In fact, that audience is bigger than ever.  Radio?  Still works: we may court disaster by texting in our cars but all that commuting time is still filled by AM/FM radio.  And print?  It may be changing radically, but answer this question: would you rather have your name mentioned in the online version of the New York Times or the actual paper?

It’s time our industry corrects itself from this odd fever of self-loathing.  Because the facts don’t support all the wailing and gnashing of teeth.  In the June 22 issue of Adweek, Mark Dolliver wrote a story unfortunately relegated to a short item on the Adweek Media page.  In it, he cites an Adweek Media/Harris Poll recently fielded that concludes that yes, indeed, people are still swayed by ads.

Is advertising alone enough?  Of course not.

The real innovation our industry needs is the strategic melding of creative messages distributed through a coordination of both paid and earned media.

It’s not one.  It’s not the other.  It’s both.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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The HSBC 'Points of View' Campaign   

The HSBC ‘Points of View’ Campaign

For the past four years, HSBC has run a provocative poster campaign from JWT.  Using a brilliant media buy in high traffic airport jetways, the ads highlight paradoxical points-of-view.  Simple graphics and headlines illustrate the insight that people from different regions, backgrounds or cultures often view the same phenomena in vastly different ways.

More than anything, this campaign demonstrates the fungible nature of opinion; something that’s become all the more relevant with the massive informational and behavioral changes brought on by the pervasive, worldwide adoption of the participatory Web 2.0.  By most any measure, opinion’s recently emerged mass distribution channel makes it far more impactful than TV, print, and radio combined.  We may not think of it as a traditional medium per se, but we ignore it at our peril.  As word-of-mouth experts are fond of saying, as much as 92% of all purchase decisions are driven by recommendation, which is nothing more than vocalized opinion.  More importantly, opinions have never been easier to come by; out culture is literally awash in it.

Google “review of Pixar’s Up” and you get 3.6 million entries in .33 seconds…  Every product on Amazon features buyers’ ratings and other key retailers like iTunes, NetFlix and eBay encourage prominent feedback opportunities.  The crushing volume of blogs and soon the exponentially larger world of Tweets can be simply searched.  We even edit our own networks to match our personal opinions, watching Fox News, listening to Air America, or subscribing to magazines and blogs because they reflect our personal politics.  Opinion is literally everywhere and louder than it has ever been.

All of which threatens the relevance and usefulness of those long-held marketing saws ‘brand truth’ and ‘consumer truth.’  What is ‘truth’ in a wold where opinion holds such dominance?  And whose truth?  Can there truly be a universal product or consumer truth?

Instead of the classic Venn diagram that guided years of integrated marketing by highlighting the intersection of ‘brand truth’ and ‘consumer truth’ we now have one vastly larger, much less uniformly shaped universe of consumer opinion, with all of it’s variants, anomalies and conflict.  Brands are opinions–and so our agency job today is to determine not something as debatable as brand truth, but rather the Brand Authenticity (and yes, Authenticities) within all of that opinion and then help meld and coalesce them into a universally-accepted Brand Authenticity.

Do that, and you bring powerful alignment to the often warring worlds of paid and earned media.

At least, that’s my opinion…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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As a direct result of Web 2.0 and media fragmentation, consumers have dissed advertisers.  Specifically, they’ve dis-integrated marketing.  Over the years, advertisers accumulated and adopted new media for their messages, and their agencies worked to integrate all of them around a common look, feel and tone. All of which made a ton of sense in a push media environment; in the best cases, common elements made the sum of all these integrated parts greater than the whole.  Advertisers appreciated and encouraged the growth and perfection of integrated marketing.

You Have A Choice: Choose Well

You Have A Choice: Choose Well

Consumers however, had their own ideas.  They may understand that commercials are the tax they pay to enjoy free entertainment, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it.  So in recent years, as the internet and DVR’s and DVD boxed sets allowed them to consume media of their own choosing from specialized niche programming channels on their own schedule and terms, they quickly adopted new platforms and technologies.  Even as advertisers worked to integrate marketing, consumers effectively dis-integrated it.

This is one reason social marketing experts are so loathe to use the “campaign” word; traditional campaigns are hardly adequate to span our hyper-fragmented, disintegrated media environment: an environment extending far beyond paid media to include earned media like recommendation and word of mouth.

That’s also the key reason why the means to organize and link all of this dis-integrated marketing lies in brand missions.  Not simply brand stories–those inform the mission, but are not enough by themselves.  We consider advertising an active verb–communication that works, that creates, that does something; specifically, Element 79 thinks it should Incite Interaction.  That’s why a brand mission makes sense–it’s something to do.  Somewhere in the intersection between the authentic brand story and the relevant consumer truth lies the brand mission.

Once you determine that, once you define it and make it real and begin seeding it across all of your paid media, consumers begin to understand the brand’s mission and what it means.  And if your insights are correct and your brand truths are genuine, they take up that mission on their own and begin spreading it on the brand’s behalf.  And disintegrated marketing no longer looms as a scary threat.  Because now people can rally around an idea, which travels much further than an execution.  And they can adopt missions, which they take in much deeper than mere messages.

All of which means that today, the ultimate question for agencies is: “Do you know your brand’s mission?”

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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