Can social media professionals learn
anything from the world of advertising?
When Jason asked me to answer this question, my first reaction was he had it backwards. Shouldn’t the question be, “What can advertising professionals learn from the world of social media?” I mean consider that the consumer has become the medium, the distribution channel, and in some cases (think Don Draper on Twitter or Coke’s fan page) the content creator. Isn’t it the ad practitioner who needs to learn about social media, to understand how conversation has become the new marketing? What can outdated ad guys possibly teach social media types?
But as I thought about it, it’s obvious that both disciplines (I actually predict they’ll soon be one and the same) can learn from each other. Ad agencies and advertisers can learn new ways to listen, engage and take advantage of emerging tools and platforms for the distribution of their content. At the same time, perhaps social media types can take advantage of what advertising professionals know.
So here are three things that every social media person might want to learn from advertising folks.
1. Good advertising tells you what a product does and why you should buy it. Great advertising expresses what a brand stands for an invites you to share in its beliefs.
The best advertisers and agencies know that consumers buy into a brand’s values as much or maybe even more than the individual products. Nike advertising doesn’t push shoes; it encourages, inspires and promises individual achievement. Monster.com doesn’t tell you how easy it is to explore job options; it reinforces your right to a fulfilling career. Coca Cola doesn’t talk about what’s inside the bottle, it brings to life what’s outside the bottle: joy and happiness. You can see this over and over again in the best advertising.
What’s the lesson for social media? Don’t push a product. Don’t generate content that’s limited to offers or coupons (like some retailers do on Twitter). Instead, demonstrate what you stand for through the content and utility you offer and the community you nurture and inspire. Think Zappos, which stands for customer service and practices it using Twitter. Emulate Whole Foods, which expresses its belief in health, nutrition and the enjoyment of good food, evident on Facebook and Twitter. Model your approach on WalMart, a retailer proving its commitment to value by aggregating and generating useful content through it’s Mom blogger program. These are brands that aren’t saying what they stand for, they’re living it in a way that invites participation.
2. Elevate your creative before you increase your budget
The great agencies and the best advertisers all know this. A big creative idea is the ultimate competitive advantage. You can always buy presence, but you can’t pay for memorable. Think of ideas you’ve seen that you’ll never forget: Absolut Vodka’s bottle art, Budweiser’s Wassup, E-Trade’s Chimp, Monster.com’s When I Grow Up, The Milk Board’s Got Milk? These are all campaigns from years gone by. But chances are if you saw them just once you remember them always.
Or consider more recent efforts. Cadbury’s drum banging gorilla. Or even my own agency’s recent campaign for the Boston Bruins. The latter two had virtually no media dollars behind them at all. But they had the creative power to attract attention, become viral, and worm their way into the current culture.
The fact is it’s only a matter of time before every brand has a Facebook fan page, a presence on Twitter, and a YouTube channel. Simply being there won’t be enough. What will separate one brand from another will be the quality and creativity of the content, the program, and the experience. Consumers will want experiences that aren’t just relevant, but interesting, entertaining and inspirational.
3. Recessions are the best time to make a move
It’s been proven definitively that companies willing to spend on new programs, acquisition and advertising during recessions far outpace companies that make big cuts. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies raced past Post Cereal in the early 1930s by doubling its ad budget. According to McKinsey, companies that took equally aggressive approaches during the slowdowns of 1981-82 and 1990-91 enjoyed similar results. Why? For the simple reason that when advertising is scarcer, the brands that do advertise benefit from a greater share of voice and visibility. Yet despite all the evidence, most brands fail to take advantage of this time-tested approach. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to think about building an addition when the house is burning down.
But there’s a huge lesson here for social media. This new approach to marketing is still in its infancy. The first ones to get out there will grab a much larger share of attention in relationship to their effort than they will in another two or three years, when the social media environment is far more cluttered and consumers will have even more content to sift through and communities to choose from. It’s a chance to do what Kellogg did. Establish yourself when there’s less competition.
So there you have it. The value of shared beliefs. The power of creativity. An understanding that timing is everything. Maybe there is something you can learn from the world of advertising. Can you think of anything else?