Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Soumyadip Chatterjee (Head, Brand Strategy and Digital Films at Buzzinga Digital). Views expressed in the article are the writer’s personal views and in no way represent the views of his current employer, clients or Lighthouse Insights.
Digital changes. It’s a fact of life for all digital professionals. The base reality one needs to accept before calling themselves an expert of any repute in this domain. But the question is what is the critical limit, the top-most peak before it all slides down? The answer is not so simple.
In the past, many seemingly great digital marketing or social media breakthroughs like MySpace, AOL, Yahoo have fallen prey to the inherent fragility of the ecosystem. It takes years to build the perfect back-end code, millions to set up servicing and both time and money to make a social media service friendly to brand money, but all it takes to crash is one upswing on a trend that the platform couldn’t adapt quickly to.
Facebook understood this early. Hence they started building a product or rather an ecosystem of products & services that is pretty much anti-fragile. The illusion of choice (from its own stable of competing products) is what makes Facebook equally strong and dangerous, strong from its shareholders and dangerous for the advertisers. Facebook’s apparent monopoly is its insurance against any knee-jerk reaction to any of its individual products.
You are a millennial, you are most likely on Facebook. Younger and hip? May be on Instagram. Older & conservative? Of course on WhatsApp. Too busy with work? Try out Workspace. Ahead of the curve creator from the future? You know about Oculus. Don’t like any of it? You must have downloaded Messenger. You can’t escape it.
Marketers talk about 360 degree communication, Facebook is the 360 degree. That is why ad delivery will have to change vis-à-vis the last generation. Touchpoints have increased exponentially. Earlier, people who read The Hindu, didn’t watch Zee TV. Two platforms, not necessarily with mutually inclusive audience. The brand message in each of them had to be complete.
But not anymore. Take a product, divide its positioning/USPs into 5 different aspects, pick up 5 different platforms/activities that are going to amplify those aspects and communicate 1 aspect each per platform. Another reason why this or any version of this process is imperative is because of ever shrinking attention spans. Nobody has the time to consume the entire communication, in all its 5 aspects glory. Social advertising today is like fast food, quick and one thing at a time.
Brands cried hoarse initially but they have cracked this game now. Hence the concept of multiple touchpoints, dayparting and the TG mapping of understanding which brand aspects hit the TG most at which time of the day/week/year and on which platform. Now because of this lower attention and fragmented consumption of marketing communication, sales effort can’t be direct. Because then the TG rejects it instantly.
Think about a brand personality, he’s meeting the customer 5 times in a day. During breakfast, in the train, office water cooler, train again and in the bed. He/she can’t come across as salesy. Nobody likes to meet a person who talks sales 5 time in a day! Marketers adapted to this brilliantly as well. Subtle messaging, 5 times across different touchpoints and platforms, the end result is not a direct push, rather a place in the consideration set of the TG when she/he decides to buy the brand’s product tomorrow.
This is also why third party content, influencers, publishers are so over the moon today. The key is integration. The end objective is sub-conscious warming up to the brand. In that context, what the brand owns in terms of media is absolutely irrelevant. The brand is in the business of selling products, not owning its communication! So owning or not owning, if it sells, that’s perhaps a good strategy.
Social reach will go down. Across all platforms, but that’s okay and natural. When a customer is exposed to the brand 5 times across 5 different touchpoints, somewhere a fatigue will kick in. Basic law of marginal utility. The only way to balance it and have some attention left of the TG to stick around the platform and notice a brand’s message, is to have less of it. Sounds counter-intuitive but that’s true everywhere.
That’s why farmers burn crops if the yield is unexpectedly high. To keep the market rates high and margins stable. For the digital first brands, it’ll not affect much because they have been prepared for this and have already moved towards content creation as a key activity throughout the marketing cycle. But for traditional giants and mom-&-pop shops, it will become difficult because of two reasons, firstly, the senior management is neither aware of how digital as a whole works and nor trustful of the rapidly changing dynamics/rules/algorithms of social media (read Facebook, primarily).
Secondly, they don’t have a dedicated budget at scale to continuously create engaging content. The business of publishers is expected to rise, if they ride this chaos smartly and change their business models from niche & expensive to scale & cheap. In terms of agencies, social performance metrics should ideally move from followers, reach etc. to engagement rate or engagement per mille.
Overall good, it’ll take out the bad blood out of the agency business, people who are running social media agencies by using obsolete practices like fake profiles, promoting substandard content to show numbers to clients, will be gradually phased out.
Coming to Facebook, as a company it has more command on digital marketing than any other single company in the history of marketing and advertising. The way it is moving with its algorithms, brands will become secondary to their customers (read ‘users’ of Facebook). But in a way, that has always been the central canon of great marketing and advertising.
Even the classical 4Ps are mere 4 corners of a rectangle to make sure the customer at the centre is the focus. The concept of a brand ‘owning’ anything is also a thing of the past in my opinion. Attention times are short, the customer doesn’t care about individual pieces of communication as they used to in traditional advertising days. All that is subconsciously retained is a sense that a brand is keeping her/his (the consumer’s) needs, feelings, aspirations at the centre of it or not.
So it matters less whether a brand owns anything or not. Primarily why publisher content is on the rise. Uber doesn’t own any car, neither does the passenger riding it, yet the transaction is profitable and business happens! This is a trend across industries, social media is just growing up now.
Digital will keep evolving. And brands & brand custodians who are not afraid of evolution have nothing to fear. Exciting times ahead!