To Understand Social Advertising, Eat a Bologna Sandwich
In the late 60′s, some leading biologists received anecdotal proof that life simply couldn’t exist in extreme environments (read the story by Bryan Appleyard here). They retrieved a sandwich and apple that had accidentally been dropped ten months earlier in 1500 feet of water (along with an exploration submarine named Alvin, clumsy scientists) and found the food to be perfectly preserved. They concluded, since no microbes had helped themselves to the lunch, life didn’t exist there (as everyone knew already).
It didn’t occur to them that the local life forms might not eat bologna sandwiches because they had never actually seen one before. They’ve since discovered multitudes of life in all kinds of environments, including one that can withstand 1000 times the radiation that would kill a human that happily makes its home inside nuclear reactors instantly. Conventional wisdom in the scientific community has been altered by changing the definition of what life actually is versus where it could live.
This story reminds me of today’s advertising environment. None of the leaders responsible for brand marketing and advertising have ever seen the bologna sandwich of social media consumption and have no idea how it tastes. This is not a criticism, it’s simply the reality of a media landscape experiencing a rate of change faster than anyone has ever seen before and to be successful marketers must learn to appreciate some new flavors. We have to change the form of advertising as an interruption to media consumption to perhaps actual media itself, something to be happily consumed.
Part of the challenge is that many of today’s marketing leaders cut their teeth in the dot com boom. Advertising has simply migrated from traditional media to become banner ads attached to a channel, and poof a new model was born. It worked ok while there were few producers but as everyone piled in, open rates and click-throughs went to crap and consumers built mechanisms to avoid constant messaging (who doesn’t maintain an old Yahoo or AOL email for commercial sign-ups?).
Here’s the thing, Social is not digital. It may ride on digital rails, but social media is the people who make, modify and move the content. Ad driven models simply won’t be successful long term because strangely, people don’t really like ads. We all put up with them because there was an exchange of value (or because we had little choice), but now we don’t have to. Search across not only search engines but also Twitter and Pinterest can easily help us find any content we like and the most valuable content tends to rise to the top.
To understand how consumers are using these tools, marketers must use and absorb them also. You might not find Twitter or Path or Instagram personally useful but literally tens of millions of people do. They are using them in engaging ways that have huge potential for brands, just not as a deal delivery vehicle or ad tool. Consumers have a desire to build relationships with brands they love (and even those they don’t).
For a great example follow Rod Brooks, @NW_Mktg_Guy, the CMO of Pemco Insurance. Rod actively blogs, tweets and attends social media conferences, but more importantly he is building a first-person understanding of the new opportunities presented by the ability to develop real relationships with Pemco customers and non-customer’s alike (probably a great source of growth). More importantly, he’s learning about what social means for an insurance company and how to use it to deliver value to Pemco customers.
Rod is taking a bite of the bologna sandwich; we need to all join him. Pass the Grey Poupon please.