Are marketers spending too much time on social media? Marketing is about creating products that meet consumer needs and generate revenue for the organization. Understanding what is involved in all of that is made easier by applying the Marketing Mix or four Ps of Marketing—Product, Price, Place and Promotion. Just about everything marketers do, including branding, concerns one or more of these marketing mix elements.
Promotion, Word-of-Mouth, and Social Media
The fourth P is Promotion, which involves any marketing communication that comes from the organization itself or its representatives. Advertising, personal selling, sales promotion, public relations (including websites, media relations, cause related marketing and social media), sponsorship (most often through sport), packaging and direct marketing are all elements of promotion which marketers combine into an integrated marketing communications (IMC) mix for brand messaging.
Promotion is controlled communication, and so word-of-mouth is not considered promotion because it is not marketing communication from the organization. Rather, word-of-mouth is what others are saying about you. And so much of what makes a marketing program effective is about the fine art of controlled messaging (which can often influence word-of-mouth), and marketers must excel at delivering brand messages across multiple media. For consumers, knowing what is coming from the organization and what is merely word-of-mouth is challenging, as influencers and brand ambassadors muddy the marketing waters. Are they compensated promoters or non-affiliated people spreading word-of-mouth? It is usually the former.
Recognizing that social media is probably taking up too much of the oxygen in the marketing strategy room these days might be a gross understatement. What do we say? When should we say it? Why didn’t we say something? Why in heck did we say that? How should we respond? It seems like social media, which is considered PR, is where all the action is. What happened to advertising? Dollar-for-dollar, advertising (defined here as paid, non-personal communication by an identified sponsor) is still very much the foundation of brand-to-consumer marketing, despite the inordinate amount of time and energy put into managing an increasingly polarizing social media landscape.
Advertising provides the ability of a marketer to deliver controlled, measured messages in countless ways across seemingly countless media, including Facebook, Instagram, et al. Ads can be hyper-targeted based on internet behavior or they can be delivered more traditionally through media like TV, radio, print and billboards. The message never gets lost in the “conversation” or altered in ways that are undesirable to marketers. Of course, we must cut through the clutter caused by other advertisers, some of whom represent competitive or substitute products, but the paid, controlled nature of advertising does keep much of the noise out. Social media simply cannot offer that. After consumers see the ad to get to the social media content, things can get messy. In addition, for most advertising vehicles, there is a limited amount of advertising “inventory,” that is the available space in which to place your ads. Even most digital ads have inventory limitations of some sort. Because of this, the ad world is a cleaner place.
Advertising has always been an implicit agreement between the content provider, the content user, and the marketer. The ads are what you view in exchange for the content, and unless you are paying a subscription to avoid ads entirely (Sirius and Spotify come immediately to mind), you should expect to watch at least some of that 15- or 30-second ad before you are allowed to access that YouTube video. That’s the deal. Indeed Digital, TV, radio, print and media all have similar advertising-driven revenue models. Of course, ads can be annoying and invasive, but let’s not forget how important advertising is to all stakeholders in the world of content.
A Communication Model Revisited
In an age where the lines between marketing and word-of-mouth have become blurry, marketers must endeavor to control their messaging. Whether you are delivering a paid advertising message or an unpaid social media message, the communication process is the same. It all begins with the Sender of the message. On a tactical level, the sender is the spokesperson, celebrity, employee, happy customer, etc., whom the marketer chooses to deliver a particular brand communication. On a broad level, sender also refers to the voice of the brand itself which comes from marketers. Paid advertisements, social media messaging, packaging and sales staff are all examples of brand messaging sources.
Marketers need big ideas. A “big idea” is based on concepts such as using a gecko to deliver Geico’s “15 minutes will save you 15 percent” message often comes from an advertising agency and marketers must decide on the “what” (the one thing to remember) and the “how” (the way in which the “what” of the message is delivered). This is all Encoded from an abstract idea into an actual message that can be delivered through multiple media or Channels. The encoding process is basically the creation of the advertising Message.
The message is then delivered to one or more audiences consisting of your brand’s potential customers who have both the ability and the desire to buy your type of product. The presence of Noise, in the form of other ad messages is always a consideration. If the message is properly Decoded as the marketer intended, then positive Feedback in the form of reaching communication objectives such as brand awareness and brand attitudes; an increase in revenue; a response from competitors; or perhaps even some authentically positive buzz on social media should be the result. Feedback can also be a rather noisy process.
A Social Dilemma
Social media, while also advertising-driven through digital ads, is an entirely different animal once you get past the obligatory paid advertisements. Marketers quickly realize that it isn’t so easy to deal with so many disparate voices at once. And it’s even more challenging when those voices are organized into some sort of online movement. When marketers use social media platforms to deliver brand messages, they must realize quickly that almost anything on social media can be twisted, misconstrued, and downright misrepresented at any time. The entire ecosystem, like a controlled burn, can get out of hand at any time when the proper conditions are present. And it seems like the proper conditions are always present.
Despite our best intentions, much of what marketers do on social media doesn’t really go the way we planned. Oftentimes, we get information that doesn’t truly represent our customer base (statistical outliers), and these platforms seldom include ethe voices of the all-important “silent majority” among our potential customer base. Many are nothing more than very loud outliers. And yet, marketers can’t seem to ignore the low cost of reaching so many people, and we fear that not being a part of the latest online conversation surrounding our brand will somehow result in missed opportunities or perhaps even damage to our brand if we don’t contribute quickly enough and in exactly the right manner. Perhaps we should rethink our approach to social media. It’s a great place to advertise because that’s where the eyeballs are. We have to be present beyond the advertising, but at what level of engagement?
While the benefits and the importance of delivering controlled advertising messages across multiple channels over time can neither be ignored nor overstated, for just about every marketer, the lure of doing things for free on social media is simply too enticing. And while it started as a relatively nice place for people to exchange ideas in a censorship-free, open forum, social media has become much more (and less) than that. All too often, it is an unorganized mass of tribes that cannot be at all managed, a herd that is occasionally wise but more often thoughtless, panicky and mob-like.
Increasingly, this looks like no place for any savvy brand manager to be, but there is a societal imperative to at least maintain a presence. Indeed, marketers can be smarter about how they use these platforms. Here are some tips:
1. Advertising is your communication foundation if you are a consumer brand, not social media, which should support your advertising.
2. Social media should support all your other marketing efforts, namely advertising, but posts must be measured and strategic in nature.
3. Social media posts and ad messages should not be dissimilar.
4. Don’t get off message. Don’t take positions on controversial issues that have little or nothing to do with the brand, detract from the brand message, and often result in alienating a large portion of your market potential.
5. Supervise your social media staff. Don’t turn everything over to an inexperienced, young marketing graduate who “understands social media.” People are emotional and impulsive creatures. Social media has the potential to bring out the worst in even an experienced brand steward.
6. Remember damage control 101. React to negative events by apologizing, saying that it’s an isolated event (if indeed it is), and clearly outlining the myriad steps you will take to ensure it won’t happen again. You need not respond to trolls.
7. Be careful when using brand ambassadors and influencers. They must disclose any relationship with marketers and are losing credibility as a result since they are not actually spreading word of mouth.
8. Don’t overuse social media. You don’t have to watch the movie “The Social Dilemma” to know that regulation is coming. But you should watch the movie anyway.
While advertising has taken many much-deserved licks over the years, at least we know what to expect from it. We know when we are being advertised to. There is simply no substitute for ensuring that we all get good entertainment content, and there is no better way to reach large numbers of your market potential with the message you want to deliver. Of course, social media provides controlled messaging too, but it is what happens beyond the ads, in the actual content, that is becoming a problem for too many marketers. So, on behalf of content providers everywhere—Thank you for advertising! NIE
Darrin C. Duber-Smith is senior lecturer at Metropolitan State University of Denver and has almost 30 years of natural products industry experience.