Ep 28: Serious Social – Why do we keep reinventing the wheel?

In this episode of serious social, Katy Howell and CJ get right under the skin of the misinformation shared about social media marketing. You’ll hear how the past is the key to unlocking value from social with old fashioned marketing practices and a slug of common sense.


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Full Transcript

Welcome to the Serious Social podcast, created by the straight-talking social media experts at immediate future.

In this episode, we’re talking data. Associate Director Belle Lawrence is joined by Managing Director Colin Jacobs as they discuss the data you should be collecting from social media and how to utilise it within your marketing mix.

– Hi, and, okay. Be prepared for this Serious Social. It’s at the sharp end of advisory. Why? Because this subject is born from a great deal of frustration, and a lot of sighing. Frankly, there is so much shite talked about social media, I just have to speak out. We need to stop reinventing the wheel and get back to some of the marketing fundamentals I learnt 30 years ago. Because traditional marketing is the new social. Frankly, it always was, once we looked under the shiny stuff. You see, gurus and experts shout out ways to hack social for more engagement. Tell us that all we need are more followers. And endlessly explain how a raft of influencers from who knows where will make it all better. The strategists with less than 12 months experience and no marketing qualifications offer advice, which is at best naive, and at worst plain wrong. I know I’m being harsh, but I love our profession. Over 100 of years of marketing, it’s been honed into a craft that I’m proud to be. The truth is, whilst the delivery has changed, as we’ve moved to digital, the basics have not changed one jot. So, let’s remind ourselves what we should be doing to make social sing. So, I asked, and I’m just going to bring him along. I asked CJ, our MD to join us. Not just because he too is as old as the hills, but because we have two differing backgrounds, I come from ad agency and he comes from PR. Oh, and both of us are pretty opinionated.

– No!

– So, CJ, I’ve had a little vent at the daft advice touted about social. What’s the one thing that grinds your gears?

– One thing, can I give you a top 10? Probably the proliferation of misinformation. We entrust a lot in industry, and understandably, brands and their leaders are very busy people. And so we kind of take on face value some of the messages that have been put out there, this is how we should be doing it, this is where we should be playing, this is right for professional services, this is consumer. There’s a lot of myth-busting that brands need to go through. And sadly, there are people in our industry who frankly should know better, stop pedalling the myths, and go and seek the truth themselves, to then advise their clients on where, what, how and why they should be playing in social. And if everyone joined up on that journey, a lot of the misinformation would very quickly dissipate, and brands and their leadership teams would be getting where they want to go far quicker.

– Yeah, couldn’t agree more. So, let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Let’s talk about the basic mistakes, the basic mistakes around strategy, I can always, always spot an approach that risks failure from the outset. And that is the channel first approach. The plan that starts by saying, “We must be on Twitter, or Insta!” CJ, this is probably best explained with B2B and LinkedIn.

– Yeah, it’s the easiest way to explain it. But, you’re dead right. Consumer brands are not immune from this. The first thing that’s always said to us, when we do a meeting with a brand is, “This is where we want to be, this is how we need to be doing it, and this is the type of content we push forward.” And then we ask, “Why?” And very quickly they realize that perhaps their understanding and knowledge is wrong. The B2B explanation and LinkedIn, I have not met a single B2B brand who hasn’t told us we need to be in LinkedIn, but here’s the thing. We do a lot in LinkedIn, because yes, LinkedIn was incepted as a social media platform for professional services and to aid the networking. I’m not going to say otherwise, it absolutely does do that. But, the proliferation of information at certain job titles is so high, that it might not be right for your brand and your staff to be playing in LinkedIn, from an organic perspective. Let’s take a chief technical officer. So, anyone who’s trying to reach a CTO, I guarantee they are putting content. into LinkedIn right now. Recruitment ads, technology ad, services ads. That’s before we’ve got to marketing. Every form of buying that takes place within a technology company, those brands are pushing content. We do an annual report for CTOs, because we do an awful lot in the technology space. And the surprising finding last year was whilst all those CTOs are on LinkedIn, they are also drowned by so much noise that they move away from LinkedIn. Their dwell time on channel by day was very low. Now, take a look at Facebook, for example, and the shocking insight for those same CTOs, who by the way, are getting younger each year, because society’s evolving, their dwell time on Facebook was off the chart. I mean, we’re talking hours a day, not minutes. So, from an organic perspective, we could then draw a conclusion that, well, if there’s less noise in Facebook for these individuals, and they’re spending more time there, surely we should be pushing content to them? LinkedIn has a role, but you need to be playing in paid, and it ain’t cheap on LinkedIn. So, I’m not saying it doesn’t have a role to play, it absolutely does. But you need to understand why you should be there, and how it supports your journey. And that brings you back to strategy, right? And fixing the what, where, how, why, and when, of social media for your brand. And I don’t think enough people start there.

– Oh, you are spot on. And it’s two-fold for me. It’s the, start with your audiences. Part of the problem is setting the wrong goals. Back when I started Immediate Future, 16 years ago, we had to set goals that dovetailed into marketing and PR, lining up to things like brand equity, reach, ROI. Now it feels like the waters have muddled with vanity metrics. CJ, let’s talk about the difference between vanity and sanity metrics, because I think we’ve been banging on about this for a long time, but we still get asked, we still get asked, “Can we have more followers?” And it is driving me insane.

– Do you know, it’s a really interesting one. And I think this answer is muddied by some of that proliferation of misinformation, I mentioned that at the start, that there is a place for both vanity and sanity metrics. But, and it’s a huge but, if you’re a brand that is only measuring using vanity metrics, you’ve got it so wrong, and you need to stop doing that immediately. Vanity metrics, your likes, the follower count, the initial shares. You need those thumbs up to affirm that the content that you’re putting out is resonating. If you’re not getting any vanity metrics at all, that’s your audience saying to you, “Yeah, your content’s not doing anything for us.” Now, you might not get likes, but view time of video, you would have metrics coming back off of that, if people are watching your content, and consuming your content. So, pay attention to the vanity metrics to give you the thumbs up that your content is performing. But you’ve quickly got to move across to the sanity metrics. Which start measuring your share of voice in industry, the brand impact that you’re actually making at a category level, brand recall, all of the more tangible measurements that show you’re not only influencing category, but you’re starting to get market share gain within category. If you don’t measure the same stuff, you’re never going to know how you’re shaping up with your nearest and dearest, and you’re certainly not going to be laddering back to any of those big commercial goals. Too many brands, and it happened as recently as last week, are coming along and saying, “We need to drive followers on this.” Well, why? Why do you need to drive followers? I can’t believe a CEO sat me down and said, “We need to get 10,000 followers on Facebook.” There has to be a more commercial rooted reason that you need to acquire audiences. And then, understanding that, firstly, means you can start looking at what you’re doing from a comms and a strategy perspective, but then your measurement. If you’re not aligning to the commercial goal you’ve got to fix, well, you’re just wasting time, surely. But I’m over-opinionated on this.

– So am I, mate, so am I. I think my biggest frustration is lining up to goals that matter to the business. And when we don’t do that, when we’re sort of over here being all social and fluffy, is that the reality is, we will never get the budgets to make a difference. We will never get the staffing to make a difference. We will never make a difference. You know, being an old lady, I’m 30 years doing this job. I want to make differences for the clients that we work with, and help people actually drive change, and drive results. I think I’m just hugely frustrated by this, which is my little additional rant.

– For anyone making their way in industry, this is such a key point for them. And if you take one thing away from it, please, please, please, please listen to this. I talk a lot about Fujitsu because we do some amazing things with them. But critical to that is how amazing Fujitsu are with us. They make their leadership team available they give us insight into the big commercial challenges that they’re facing, and what they need to fix. They listen to advice that we give them, and they get behind us when we put an idea on the table. And I know it’s not easy for all brands to do that. But if one of the biggest technology employers on the planet, one of the biggest tech companies out there, can justify their leadership team getting involved in strategy and the impact that that’s having on bottom line, then surely smaller businesses can learn something from that. I promise you, it’s not time wasted, and you’re not taking things away from middle or junior management, you’re actually helping their learning and enablement. If they understand how the boardroom is measuring, and what the boardroom’s responding to, and how they align their campaigns to it, that’s going to evolve them as businesspeople which is going to benefit your business tenfold, going forward. So, if you’re a junior person, and you don’t know how to do this, go into your agency or business today, and say to your senior boss, “I want to learn about how we align to commercial goals.” They’ll give you the time, and it will benefit your role tenfold, I promise.

– Just moving on, there’s somebody who I adore. And if I was brave like him, I would swear quite a lot at this point. Is the awesome Mark Ritson, who has very recently been talking about an approach to strategy, which is called bothism, over the last few weeks. And you need to have a look, I’ll pop a link in this afterwards, but if you follow him on Twitter, he’s done a presentation that explains it all. But the basics are, bothism is about marketeers needing to play both the long game and deliver the short cycle. So, creating long term brand, whilst running short term campaigns, that have impact, and deliver results. And it is exactly how your approach should be to social. And, you know, for those that have watched the conversation I had with Princess Cruises, you’ll see the same kind of understanding that at a brand level, that the long gaze needs to go out, to build trust, to build those things that really matter, versus the short term campaigns, to get those bookings in, to get people to sign up to next year. So, you’re kind of running two things at the same time. And, you know, we talk about hero activity, and we talk about a heartbeat activity on social. Just stop with it. Stop! Let’s start thinking about long term, how we’re getting that brand message across, because trust is everything right now. So, CJ, you published a blog yesterday about people just getting too tactical, and why that’s a mistake.

– Yeah. And for disclosure, I was the person making all those mistakes years ago. I was just fortunate to be surrounded by some brilliant people in industry who would say to me, “Okay, that’s a tactic, that’s not strategy.” Look, you need to fix your strategy first. Where are we going as a business? Where do we want to be? What does that look like from a customer acquisition, a customer retention perspective? Where are areas of growth coming from? And then you need to start defining where those people are. And if it’s social media that you think has a key role to play, and in today’s day and age, 90% of the time, it will, you then need to start looking at where those people are playing. Now you’ve got your information, your data, and now you can start thinking about how you influence them. To Mark’s point, when you fix your strategy, you will come up with an array of supporting tactics. Now, some of the tactics ideated won’t be right for the strategy, get rid of them straight away. And don’t be distracted by the shiny tactic you just moved over here because it wasn’t right for the strategy. And then start looking at how your tactics influence the short term, the medium term, and the long term, and set everything off at the right time, at the same time, I should say. The short term tactics will influence bottom line in the coming quarter. If you’re a consumer brand with low price consumer products, you can absolutely be trading on the vanity element, the impulse to buy, as we call it. If you’re a bigger tech brand who operates on million, billion-dollar contracts, your ability to do those big numbers in the first quarter is probably limited.

So, how do we influence your client base and actually start getting incremental work out of the companies that are already plugged in with you? Some of your quick wins will come from there. But the longer term stuff, the big influence of category, whether it’s consumer, or B2B, you absolutely can influence opinion, and spend, if you share the right content. But the right content is not a single, one off ad placement that goes out there. That worked for the FMCG, fast moving consumer goods brands when they were putting up billboards. If we saw a can of Carlsberg, it got us thinking about alcohol, for example. But the single ad set is not going to influence consumer spend when they’re in their shopping baskets for online, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, other brands available orders. You need to get into the minds of your audience. And you need to give them reason to want to buy your products. You need to give them reason to want to consume or engage with you. And in the B2B space, you need to help them understand how your product or service solves problems for them. And if you’re doing that, and splitting out tactics, rightly across the lifespan of your campaign, underneath your overarching strategy, you’ll be doing more of the right stuff. Sadly, there are people out there that don’t fix the strategy. They come up with a tactic, and they go and do it. Now, if you fire off enough tactics, eventually one of them will work. But here’s the thing, particularly in the influencer space, and with some of the younger people are playing, in social, because they’ve not had the people around them, to help them with the strategy, and benefit from understanding the impact that can have, in helping to shape their brilliant thinking and ideations, where they should be investing their time, they become a scatter gun. The old fire engine hose as we used to call it and they start throwing mud. You have to throw a lot of mud for a bit to stick on the wall, right? So why waste all that energy and talent? Take that energy, take that passion for doing something great, but wrap it in a strategy and say, “Right, this is right for our brand, “and if we influence those people, “that’s going impact our bottom line. “Now how do we go and ignite them, “and get people thinking about us?” And use all that wonderful passion and creative energy that the people out there have got, but just hold the fire hose quite tight, so it’s pointed in the right direction.

– I love that analogy. I love it. So, like I said, at the start, I think what we do is a craft, I think you’ve just explained that, to be honest with you, CJ. And never more so than today. GDPR curtailed our cavalier attitude towards personal data, and the loss of cookies will cut deeper into our knowledge about our audiences. On social, Facebook and LinkedIn data is really hard to get. It means we need to go back to basics. Jerry Daykin, Global Media and Digital Marketing at GSK says, in one of his brilliant articles on The Drum, “For the first time, “marketeers have to start facing the possibility “that this kind of evolution of data “might mean facing a world scarcer, “not more plentiful of data.” Now, anyone who knows me knows I love data, but now our approach needs to be different. The future will be about pooling data, rather than personal identity, testing, context and content, and keeping data ethical. We’ll lean on techniques and crafts before digital, that came before digital. So like surveys or focus groups. It will return us to the need for skills that straddle the art and the science, the maths and the creativity. What do you think, CJ?

– Well, it’s inevitable. Look, this is happening. We’ve seen it… It’s a bit controversial, but for years, there was that cliche, that consumer brands were supposed to be more creative, but the B2B brands were well ahead with their data modelling, and the mapping, and understanding. And that was absolutely, absolutely true, until a couple of years ago, we saw B2Bs go, “Well, I’m not having that. “We’re going to be more creative.” And the consumer brands said, “Give us the data, we want it.” We have seen a big fall off, resulting from GDPR. Traffic to site is harder to actually discern where those people have been sourced from. So you can run a big campaign in social, get a big data pool showing the reach, the impact, even the consumption time, the dwell time on a video, in some cases, so people don’t think I’m talking about three second and 10 second videos, I mean hundreds of thousands of people consuming 16 minute, long form videos in social, a real trigger that there’s intrigue and something in that video that resonated with them. You see that big splash, big numbers. But then because of GDPR, you actually get a very low traffic.

Now for those that don’t understand the GDPR bit, there’s what we call a double opt in. So, audiences now say, “Yes, I’m happy to be tracked. “No, no, I really, really want to be tracked.” And because so few people do that, we don’t get the site side data. So, attribution modelling, and attributing ad serves, their impact, and what that means to brands is absolutely coming back. So, if you’ve got people that know how to attribute, and people that that know how to make correlated campaigns, they are going to be more invaluable than ever to your brand, and your agency going forward. If attribution modelling is causing your eyes to glaze over, well then you’ve got a bit of homework to do. This is where we are going. How have we served an ad? When did we serve it? And people are going to say, “Well, this is no different to what we’ve had to do with out of home and billboards over the years.” And you’re probably right. But you need to think about how you segment your campaign. So if you’re running a campaign on social, traffic it, so it’s separate to how you’re tracking other campaigns. So, going back to that vanity and sanity bit, if you’re running an out of home campaign alongside social, you need to know the impact that both are having, from an attributed perspective. And I tell you now, as a social agency, we want to be attributing as much of that impact to us, in the same way an out of home agency will want to be attributing actions to themselves. So be mindful of that. And traffic when you serve stuff. Have a strategy, have a media lay down that supports the strategy and measure everything, and attribute the results back to the bottom line of your business.

– So true. So much true. And, yeah, mapping attributable content is a real challenge, I know that. I know that I know that there is often a fight between channels. And it is not a perfect science either, because there are way more variables than just how the media has performed. So, we often see that, you know, good weather can change the variables. So, it is about being very buried in the data, in a way that looks at the flex. It’s the part of marketing I kind of quite like, it’s almost like the instinctive marketing. But, you know, maybe that’s me. I’m weird. Because I’ve been thinking back to the old days. Maybe it’s my age. When fax mailers were a thing. The challenge was that everyone used fax mailers. Machines would churn out those reels, do you remember, the reels, so that weird, really scratchy, kind of (squeaking) noise that they used to make. Every second day, the only way to get cut through was to write the best copy ever, and we did. We wrote, and we rewrote, and we rewrote, we argued, we tweaked, and then we rewrote again, because it was the only way we could get attention. It was about what we said, and the way we said it, and the language used, the pain points or challenges we addressed. While speed of social is very different, we are constrained by word limits that we just didn’t have. The reality is, we’re still competing for attention, and that still matters. So, copying need and must be crafted. The focus has to be on gaining and holding audience attention. And that means copy cannot be flung together in 10 minutes. The bit that really drives me mad, CJ, is the idea that the written word is less important than the visual word. And I disagree vehemently about this, because I think that there is such an opportunity, and that asking someone just to pop this on social, or can you shout about this now, without any thought or reference to the strategies you talked about, or any thought, any reference to how you’re going to attribute success of this post, means that we’re flying out with stuff that really is just meaningless garbage, instead of finely honing it. So, I’m interested in this, because you come from a PR background, and you know, better than anyone, how brands should approach copy content.

– Well, I think there’s a lot we can learn from journalism and the great old years of advertising. In my time in PR, I was fortunate enough to work alongside an awful lot of former journalists in house at the agency. People that had written titles for the red tops, The Sun, The Mirror. There’s a real talent with those individuals to be able to write the headlines and the by-lines, because they’re aimed at hooking you in on the written story. They need to grab your attention in such a short facet of time, that there’s real correlation to what was done in the great old years of journalism, and what we’re doing in social now. Aligned to that, what’s happening with Facebook, they don’t want words on adverts. They want to see a big piece of beautiful creative that’s visually alluring. And over the years, they’ve done various things with their algorithms to penalize copy on their creative. Now that’s all well and good, if you’re able to create the picture that speaks a thousand words, but that’s a talent in itself. And whilst it will get dwell time, a beautiful image will fix someone’s gaze, and get them looking at it. You very quickly then want to make sure you’re landing the first thought requirement. And what I mean by that is, in your brainstorms, when you’re looking at all of the tactics, you’ve fixed your strategy, now you’re coming up with the supporting tactics, you’ve fixed that we need an acquisition, campaign running for eight weeks, and we’re going to be using these channels because… You’ve got all of the data that supports why you’re doing that.

Now you need to be making sure that your imagery and your written content all speak to the first thought that you want the reader and consumer to take away. And if you’re not doing that, well you’re wasting a lot of creative and written talent. Because going right back to the essence of strategy, if you’re in the consumer world, you’ll know the McKinsey loop. You’ll start with brand awareness, then you’ll have a period of consideration, which takes you to the trigger point of purchase. And then after that, we’ve got the loyalty loop, bringing you back to the brand, the McKinsey loop. In the B2B world, we use the funnel. And it’s a case of pushing people through the funnel, from initial awareness, down to purchase. But the mechanics are still the same. People will become aware of your brand, and then they need to be nudged, nurtured to the point of transaction. And I don’t mean spamming them every day saying, “Have you bought yet, have you bought yet, “have you bought yet?” Because that’s a sure-fire way to kill any potential transaction. But conversely, a single ad isn’t going to nurture people. Once they’ve had their interest peaked, they’re going to be considering rival products.

Now, if you’ve got beautiful copy, that is speaking to the first thought that you want your audience to have, and you’re taking them on a journey to trigger, you’re going to have greater success. If you’re just throwing that requirement to somebody who’s fresh out of university, but didn’t necessarily do a degree in writing, you’re actually placing a huge pressure on them to come up with something that’s integral to the success of your campaign. You need somebody, or people that understand how to write influential copy using few words, understand the talent of loaded words, eradicating dog words, um duhs, and all the rest of it. You need people that understand that, who can now bring copy alive, that does justice to the brilliant creative your studio has spent hours, potentially days to produce. And if you do that in context of where you’re going, tactically, and strategically, you will have far more success. How’s that?

– It’s a return to the craft. That’s all I can say, without sounding like a weird witch. So, as you know, I love new and shiny. After all, it’s why we set up Immediate Future before social was even a thing. But we have to remember our behaviours on social media platforms are often a reflection, or an evolution of our behaviours, that are already there in society. The need to connect, be part of community, the need to follow, and be followed, and recognize our desire to be part of something. As I mentioned in the teaser, we would learn dance steps in the playground, and the steps would kind of jump from school to school, just like TikTok’s do right now.

So, understanding behaviours haven’t really changed at the very basic level. And that means we can’t ignore them when we think about content. Our audiences want to be entertained, informed, hear stories, much like they did back in the day, and I am really going to show my age. When we were all in love with the Oxo family, where Smash, absolutely meant mash, and who didn’t love those Martians? And the “What’s up?” I did that terribly. Well, don’t you agree?

– Oh, wholeheartedly. And in fact, I know I’m not doing this from my home office today. If I was, as you well know, Katy, I’ve got a lot of the old adverts on my wall, nostalgic adverts. There was a great time in industry where they understood all of this.

The famous Campbell soup advert, that was put on a billboard to actually inspire people to consume that warm, tasteful soup. The science that actually went into how that was created, where it was positioned, the time of year it was deployed, so going back to your warm weather versus cold weather, there are too many brands that don’t think about like warm foods being autumn time, and cold foods being summer.

I still see random adverts appearing all over. But there’s a real talent and a real art to that. And in fact, nostalgia cuts through with a very specific age group. So, anyone sort of 35 upwards, if you want a quick tactic to connect your brand to them, figure out the ads or the messages, or the TV programming from their youth, and understand a way to weave it in. And you will make a nostalgic connection that will win you dwell time. But that ad tactic on its own is not going to do everything for you. You need the truck and trailer. If that’s the truck bit to win you the dwell time, the trailer’s got to be the same information imparted from your brand to the consumer. So how you use these great tactics to distribute information in line with your strategy is very much a recurring message of this. Apologies for repeating myself, but you can learn a lot from those old adverts. Katy, you know, at IF, we do brainstorms, where we all come along with old adverts, and we figure out what was great about them, and how they transcend today. Sony Bravia, we’ve spoken about many times over the years, haven’t we? The colourful, bouncing balls down the street. The colour was a big message for Sony at the time, because their TVs had a new colour palette. But the striking, colourful and creative images drew people in.

And all of the copy and all of the visuals in their ad sequence was really bright, colourful, the copy was bright and colourful in tonality. It all knitted together. So, go find those old great adverts, whether it’s a VW advert from the ’80s, and start thinking, “What’s great about this?” “Why did it connect? “Why did it resonate? “What can we learn?” I promise you, that great period in the ’80s, although Mad Men showed us there was a lot to be corrected in industry, and rightly so, by the way. There was some, creative talent there that needs to be celebrated, and we absolutely need to learn from it today.

– Oh, yeah. And because when we throw away that comment of storytelling, when we say, “Oh, it’s all about this.” We need to slow down. Good stories take time to kind of mature, and quality content has got to perform better over just getting stuff out the door. I think my advice as social gets so hectic and noisy, is actually slow down. Slow down and take your time and get out content that actually means something. See, I suspect CJ, you and I could go on for hours, we could go on for hours, you know we can. We could for hours.

– We’re just getting started. And we certainly have a few anecdotes that will not only make you laugh, but maybe your hair curl. She says looking shame-facedly down.

Do look backwards to inform how you might step forwards. And remember marketing is a craft, and the fundamentals still stand today. Do get in touch with me or CJ, if you want more insight, or actually, get in touch if you fancy reminiscing about the good old days, when there were only six channels.

Thanks for joining us and do come back next week for another Serious Social. Thank you.

– Bye.

If you’re after more know-how to break the social boring, subscribe now and check out the show notes for links to our website and social profiles.

 

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