Thursday, 17 December 2015

2016: The Year The "Social Marketing" Bubble Finally Burst

Between Xmas and New Years of 2006-2007  I stood in a small village's market square in central Guatemala watching the real deal:  a guy standing on a soap box in the midst of a crowd of indigenous people holding up a small bottle of oil, extolling it's magical healing powers (and swallowing some to demonstrate how easily it went down).

Watching him and the enthralled crowd as he worked them up to the point that they started digging in their distinctly striped pants pockets for change, I felt nothing but admiration for a vanishing skill (outside of the Shopping Channel).  I had the privilege of witnessing one of the last of the Snake Oil salesmen plying his craft.

Here before me was a real marketer (in an actual market, no less!) who, like the last of the Carney Barkers, could stand up in front of a crowd, 'balls to the wall,' and shamelessly bilk them of their money for something that had no value in terms of what his claims were (outside likely being an excellent enema agent if injected into the actual origin of his bovine excreta...).   Well, not entirely true....the 'medicinal value' he was providing was in bringing hope and entertainment into the lives of remote mountain villagers devoid of much in the way of theatrics.  But upon getting back to Canada a week later, I realized I was mistaken:

Snake Oil Salespeople are very much alive and well in our industry!

My career as a consultant working out how to leverage Marketing Disruption to shift the efforts of national advertisers from 'product marketing' to 'experience marketing' began right then.  (A keynote I created shortly thereafter on 'Shopper Marketing' has been presented to thousands of marketers across North America by Jason Dubroy, turning him into a 'Shopper Marketing Czar'!)

I saw where the media dollars SHOULD be going -- into an effective, but infrequently invested-in medium with astounding ROI  (be forewarned, the 'CPM' will get you thrown out of the CFO's office) -- and I wrote my first keynote on the subject of Conquering Marketing Disruption.   The focus, unsurprisingly, dear reader, was to steer marketers away from the distraction of seductive, but inappropriate media for 'push marketing,' to a much more strategically sound, mixed-media strategy that would see them winning, not losing, the profitable ROI game in this red haze of technological advancement we're living through.   

You've been had, Marketers.  Seriously abused.   Bamboozled.

If you control the marketing budget for a major brand, well, now you have to decide on either the humiliation of the facts coming out at trial, or just keeping quiet about it.  ;-)

Use it or lose it.

The marketing industry was facing a major problem in the mid-2000's that 'got taken care of,' at least temporarily.  Their huge media ATL (that's 'above the line' for the Millennials, meaning:  TV, Radio, Print and Outdoor, versus promotional, PR/CRM, or sales-related efforts) budgets were hemorrhaging into digital (where there was little effectively targeted inventory to buy) and brand managers around the world were dealing with 'use it or lose it' -- spend  up to your previous 'Super Bowl levels,' or see the budgets cut drastically.  Agencies, on both sides of the now divorced (due to the advent of the "Procurement Department" and hence only marginally profitable, also exacerbated by the advent of the dreaded RFP -- see: "Procurement Department" immediately above) creative and media divisions, were being further fractured as they had to cut staff who, with nowhere else to go, started up thousands of new boutique agencies and offered "Will Work For Food."

With the realization that ATL advertising had never actually had any demonstrable ROI and believing that all this new digital stuff apparently was soon going to have SIGNIFICANT, PROVABLE ROI (but wasn't quite fully baked at that moment...), the burning question for marketers was:

Where can we spend all this money we used devote to TV ad placements?!?

Well.  There are many clever, creative people in the ad world.  In the mid to late 2000's some of them were mature and hungry, some were young and hungry, but they all had to make a buck and there were suddenly less bucks to be had beating the dying horse of 'push' advertising on ATL media (unless you still had a job working on the 'too-big-to-change-80-years-of-status-quo' clients at the dinosaur agencies).

There was something new, confusing and mysterious out there, however, and unlike trying to master how digital media is placed, tracked and evaluated, these new 'social media' were pretty easy to figure out how to mess around with.  'Social media optimization' (SMO, akin to it's sister, SEO) soon got a much sexier name: "Social Marketing," and the gold rush was ON!  Virtually overnight "Social Marketing Experts" and agencies materialized by the hundreds ready to capitalize on 'pushing' ads into a space normally reserved for friends and relatives.

I don't blame the marketing masses for jumping on the first exciting new band wagon to pull into town.  The Snake Oil Salespeople were offering to make sense of a confusing barrage of emerging new media and take the pressure off brand management (and many of them are my friends and colleagues, so I'm jousting with no ill will, per se...).  One of the adages of Jon Jerde, the architect of the world's most stunning shopping plazas, made perfect sense:

"People go where people are." 

...and now they're all on social media!

So if lots of people were suddenly spending a lot of time on these new 'social media,' then marketers should be there to interact with them!  The fundamental strategic flaw in this inclination was that all social media are essentially the same as the telephone, and the last time we tried marketing on that medium it turned out to be rather poorly received.  ;-)  Don't get me wrong, telemarketing works for
many specific applications, as does 'social media optimization,' the latter is just not the answer to our future-of-marketing prayers that the Snake Oil Salespeople have been bamboozling us into believing. (Just because it has 'media' in its name, doesn't mean its ripe for placing 'push' ads in it, or even 'pull-ish' paid ads/promotions.)

The upside of all of this massive investment in social media optimization over the past decade, as well as that of the ongoing investments in digital ROI tracking and assessment tools, is that we now have a better grip on what is possible, and what is not.  We now know that each additional new social medium in no way helped contribute to a fundamental change in human nature.  Yes, behaviours have changed and we are now certainly carelessly continuing with the largest experiment on children that has ever happened in human history, but we've witnessed no real change in the 'consumer decision making journey' (as McKinsey is now calling it).

Turns out that the 15% of people who loved collecting/redeeming coupons obsessively before now get them via Facebook, no longer in newspapers, magazines or plastic bags hung on their front doorknob, but we've seen ZERO net increase in coupon collection or redemption.  There was an uptick in promotional and contest participation as consumers began experimenting with new ways to participate -- and participation numbers have ended up higher than they were -- but nowhere near what the Snake Oil hyperbole guaranteed us we'd see (the same percentage of people are contest junkies today as before).  People spend less time watching TV delivered via cable channels, but they still watch lots of shows and movies.  Radio is almost as viable as it ever was and people still read journalistic content and books (today's kids not so much).  Outdoor still works like it always did.  

What has changed is that consumers have told us, in no uncertain terms, that they never wanted, nor ever appreciated, 'push advertising.'

Consumers LOVE 'pull' -- they hate 'push.'

Consumers LOVE relevant, targeted, timely ads -- they hate being interrupted when they're having fun watching valued content or being social.  They love engaging, memorable experiences, they HATE the experience of being forced to watch/listen to ads.  The old folks are paranoid about privacy issues ("One toke on a joint will mean you never become President!"), the young people couldn't care less ("My nude photo session just got posted permanently online, just like all the hot celebrities have!  Here's the link...").  The 'holy grail' of marketing, 'fully addressable advertising' (ads for what any individual is interested in, when they are interested in it via behavioural and location-based tracking online), will have to wait a few more years until the Millennials can say yes to it.

So how have the brightest bulbs in the marketing industry reacted to this dramatic and sincere global protest against the old 'push marketing' model?  You, dear reader, are even more clever than I thought you were!  Yes, they've been working day and night to shove 'push' down the public's throat as hard as they can.  Nice.  Good demonstration of true emotive listening skills there.  :-)

Embracing the change is actually easy, if you have the right strategists working with you, but it's FAR easier to try to go back to the 'good old days' of ATL and replicate those efforts in new media.

The ATL 'push' model worked for 80 years, why not just continue?

The sad thing is it really won't work the way it used to, as the crisis facing digital advertising is now demonstrating with AdBlocker software shutting down any ads (whether they be banners, video boxes, pop-ups or sign-ups) and bots from hackers siphoning off millions of dollars in "exposures" and "clicks."  There is a very real crisis going on in the global  media realm that is devaluing digital advertising exponentially.  Google is in the vortex, shooting themselves (temporarily) in the foot, blindly using the kind of algorithms that revolutionized search on the (soon to be semantic) Worldwide Web to pay any site with AdSense that shows traffic.  (Hang tight and let's see where that challenge leads in 2016...)

2016 will be the year that the best and brightest CMO's 'see the light' and shut down the Snake Oil Salespeople.  The time has finally come, the ROI evaluation tools for digital and social media optimization  have come of age, big data analytical algorithms and matrices are here and the results are on the table.  Yet only one thing has drastically, fundamentally, strategically changed in the world of marketing:

'Push' is dead (almost), 'Pull' is alive and well, and consumers want to know everything they can about your brand (i.e. quality content delivered via thousands of engaging new channels on a multitude of 'always on' devices).  All you need is the right strategy -- the tactics will fall out.

'Social media optimization/marketing' is nothing new, it's just happening through new channels.  As we always knew, it is NOT 'push-appropriate,' is it simply what used to be called 'public relations' and 'customer relationship management.'  'Social Marketing' is merely marketers trying to get high value mentions of their brands placed/injected into news, educational and entertainment programming via a relatively low investment AND get their efforts talked about 'around the water cooler' and in consumers' social circles: not 'pushed,' but 'pulled.'

The fundamental strategic platform for shifting from 'push' to 'pull' at a holistic, core level is to remember that in 1999 Pine and Gilmore explained that our human marketplace has evolved into The Experience Economy.  Consumers don't want to hear/see your brand story -- they want to experience your brand in an authentic, real-time, hands-on way.  Only by shifting the majority of your marketing spend from a 'pennies per exposure' CPM model, to a 'thousand dollars per touch' (CPT) model, while embracing the creation of quality, always-changing content delivered through a thousand new and old media channels, will the rare, visionary, highly adaptable CMO's of today win tomorrow.

The shift, dear reader, is from what we used to do: "'Push' Product Marketing;" to "'Pull' Experience Marketing."  Embracing 'Experiential Marketing,' as I've been advocating since 2006, is key to making this shift.   #BigIdeas2016


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About Me: “Motivational Speakers” make you feel good for a few hours, then you go back to your normal life/work. My seminars and podcasts leave people fundamentally changed by understanding why our brains have evolved to make us do what we do — by understanding, we can effect real, transformative change in our behaviour and our lives.

The evolution of human behaviour has been a fascination of mine since long before I began working in marketing. My unflagging passion helped me become a global thought leader on Disruption and Experience Marketing in an era of unprecedented and overwhelming change. It’s not really all THAT complicated — we just need to get back to our roots and “marketing’s” infancy…

I can help you and your team change where you’re going and, most importantly, how you get there. Contact me for a no-fee Lunch & Learn and take the high ground with a real understanding of human motivation:; or text/call me at: 1 (647) 500–5705.

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