Forget Facebook: Go For Face TimeSeptember 17, 2012
First Posted on thesundaytimes.co.uk
September 16, 2012
Beware of putting all the marketing effort into social media
Marks & Spencer brought in Martha Lane Fox to help with digital strategy (Francesco Guidicini)
Start with the story, not the technology. Twitter, Facebook and their social media peers are the flavour of the moment with marketing directors, but persuading people to “like” your product on these sites does not mean you have built a real relationship with consumers, according to the co-author of The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in a Digital Marketplace.
“Social influence is huge [but nearly all of the time] it takes place offline, in the real world and mostly face to face,” said Ed Keller, who is also the chief executive of Keller Fay, a marketing business. “In the UK, for example, 93% of the time conversations about products, services and brands take place offline, and only 2% of the time do they take place through social media.”
The upshot is that companies risk getting burnt if they prioritise online marketing over other forms just because it is new and exciting.
In the book, Keller cites PepsiCo as an example of what can happen when a business “succumbs to the social media gold rush mentality”. Two years ago the drinks company cut its spending on traditional media significantly and turned to an online campaign that promised to distribute $20m (£12m) to local charities instead of that money being spent on advertising.
The campaign won awards for creativity and was praised for contributing to the social good, but it did not help the company sell more drinks. Diet Coke overtook Pepsi in the fizzy drink popularity league tables, while sales were down 6%, Keller writes. Pepsi quickly returned to traditional advertising and sponsorship.
“This is why it’s important for senior executives to push their organisations to start with the consumer and understand how, when and why they talk about your brand or your category — rather than starting with a technology-centric approach,” said Keller. “Only then will you uncover the powerful and dominant role that real-world social influence plays.”
Keller is not a Luddite who wants businesses to ignore social media. They have their place, he believes, but they should not distract companies from keeping customers at the centre of their thinking about marketing.
“I would not recommend that any senior executive [comes to] the conclusion that social media marketing is a failure, or that the people who are pushing for social media solutions are trying to sell you snake oil,” he said. “Rather, it’s about understanding how, when, where and why it fits.
“Use it, experiment, build on what works and stop what doesn’t, but don’t fall prey to the belief that, ‘Oh my god, we need to go running hard and fast into this area; let’s stop what we have been doing elsewhere that works so we can funnel more money into this area’.”
Digital channels and social media are hot topics at board level, said Karim Jalbout, a consultant at Egon Zehnder International, the search firm. “The number of clients we talk to who say that their No1 priority is maximising Facebook ‘likes’ [is high], even though the challenge is not getting those ‘likes’ but what you do with them.”
Jalbout agrees there is a risk of getting caught in the hype, but he argues that businesses do need to “embrace digital” and make it a strategic priority.
Adding a non-executive director to the board who specialises in this area is one option for organisations that need to find the right way to think about digital without being blinded by the glitter. “For example, Marks & Spencer brought in Martha Lane Fox [the co-founder of Lastminute.com], while Matt Brittin [the UK managing director of Google] went in to Sainsbury’s,” he said. “The real benefit of injecting talent that understands this space is that they can help . . . build digital into the business in a way that goes beyond the hype.”
Boards may need to be open-minded about the track record of digital specialists, Jalbout added. “These non-executive directors do not have a traditional profile. They tend to be younger and they don’t have chief executive board experience, so it’s a learning curve for everybody. But what they do bring is strong understanding from their own experience.”