Titled P&G Digital Guru Not Sure Marketers Belong on Facebook," the article quotes Ted McConnell, Manager of Digital Marketing Innovation at P&G in Cincinnati. The money quote: What in heaven's name made you think you could monetize the real estate in which somebody is breaking up with their girlfriend?"
As I read on, I became certain that the article, which has gotten a lot of attentiongiven P&G's profile in the marketing world, took what was clearly McConnell's nuanced view and gave it all the subtlety of a Michael Bay film.
Social networks may never find the ad dollars they're hunting for because they don't really have a right to them, said Ted McConnell, the article begins. It then goes on to lay out the reasoning behind such an assumptive lead: McConnell doesn't like random banner ads, and Facebook's targeting, which purportedly solves the issue of randomness, leaves him cold. Given those two things, Ad Age drew what I must say is an extremely lazy conclusion: Advertising on social networks doesn't work look, a senior guy from Procter says so!
Well, I'm here to call bull on this myth. And I'm pretty sure McConnell would agree with me.
Let's break it down. To begin with, the article makes this easy assumption: Social networks are hunting for ad dollars. That presumes a very traditional approach to media that social networks have traditional packaged goods media assets (like, say, a television show or a magazine), and are out big game hunting IE, trying to sell proximity to those assets to big game like P&G.
But as I've argued (over and over and over) social media assets don't look like packaged goods assets, and neither should social media marketing. As McConnell rightly pointed out, you can't barge into the middle of an intimate social situation, yell buy my stuff! and then leave. A brand that does that will certainly be remembered as a clod.
And that's the point. No matter how good the targeting, marketing in a social environment will not work if it fails to grasp the nuance of a particular situation. Algorithms do a great job of finding a target, but they fail miserably at deciding when to pull the trigger (see my rant on ad networks here). So far, there's simply not an algorithm for understanding the nuance of conversations between humans, and conversations between humans are what drives social media.
So does that mean there's no future for marketing in social media? Of course not! Quite the contrary: Social media is an extraordinary place to market. But you have to understand the medium you're in, and act appropriately. In short, as a brand, you have to understand how and when to have a conversation. That's a new muscle for most marketers, but it's one many (including, in my experience, P&G) are quickly strengthening. If you take a conversational approach to marketing, targeting algorithms and banner inventory are great tools to help you succeed. But without a conversational approach, they're cloddish and ineffective, just as McConnell pointed out.
So what do I mean when I say a conversational approach? Well, let's break down what makes for a great conversation. First, all parties involved are in the conversation because they've chosen to be not because they're been tricked or cajoled into it. Second, there's a strong value exchange a give and take between parties which makes everyone feel like they are gaining something. Critical to this, of course, is the value of listening, internalizing, and responding. Third, each participant understands who the other participants are there's transparency and integrity in the conversation.
In order to market conversationally, then, a brand must not simply insinuate itself into the media others make (Consumers weren't trying to generate media. They were trying to talk to somebody, is how McConnell aptly put it), but rather create their own valuable conversations, and/or underwrite organic conversations that contextually make sense for that brand to support. There are scores of examples I could point to where this is already happening (check out Intel's PopURLs Blue, for example, or even this site, American Express's Open Forum Blog, a longer list is here).
In short, if your brand creates or underwrites a valuable conversation, you are accruing value to your brand, and more valuable brands, be they soap, computer chips, or charge cards, are brands more folks will buy. Customers will reward brands that have added value to their lives. And at the end of the day, isn't that what marketing is all about?