Grad Conn, vice president and managing director of Grey Worldwide Canada, sees the Web's next marketing evolution happening in online communities, like blogs. They push interactive advertising toward an interpersonal communication model with a heavy emphasis on relationships -- especially in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) vertical. Conn, who spoke at February's iMedia Brand Summit, says marketers, even the ones who are at the forefront of this movement, are still wrestling with this sea change because it combines age-old word-of-mouth with a new set of tools that accelerate communication and cost efficiency.
iMediaConnection: Is there a term for this relationship phenomenon?
Conn: There are a number of different terms floating around. I’d say the most common ones are “targeted media” and “targeted measurable media.” But the reason why no one has really come out with a word for it yet is because it’s essentially old-fashioned direct marketing. Now, for the first time, good marketers have a cost-efficient way of doing this.
I worked at Procter &Gamble in the ’80s and ’90s, and we were always talking about direct marketing -- that it’d be so great if we could talk directly to consumers, but the cost of simply putting a stamp on an envelope is prohibitive. Now with the Web, suddenly it costs marginal fractions of a cent to send out something that cost many cents before. Now we can communicate with consumers. So in a way, I am not a huge fan for coming up with a new label because I think ultimately any medium that’s measurable will evolve into a direct medium, and they’re built the same way.
What you’re also seeing is an influx of direct marketers into the packaged goods space. Bob DeSena is a great example. He is a highly pedigreed direct marketer. His background is Wunderman, which is the direct marketing agency anyone would want to work at, and Time Life Books, where he ran a significant division there. This is a guy who has direct marketing tattooed on his heart. Now he’s at Masterfoods working on relationship marketing -- which is the other expression you hear a lot for this -- but it is essentially direct marketing. The reason why they brought in someone like Bob DeSena is that relationship marketing, targeted marketing -- whatever you want to call it -- is all about directly talking to consumers and getting a reaction from them.
iMediaConnection: Can you tell me what you mean when you say the global communication model is changing from “broadcast” to “re-broadcast”?
Conn: There is no question we’re living in a time of overwhelming media saturation. There’s a creative marketing company in England called Cunning Stunts, and it has a group of students who will sell their foreheads so you can put your brand on their foreheads. Right now, virtually every surface of every thing is covered with a branding message. TV, the Web, everything is plastered with it.
So the way people deal with that information overload -- this explosion of messages directed at them -- is they can’t track the advertisers the same way they used to. Not that they shouldn’t, but because they can’t. Your brain won’t allow you to. There’s too much information coming at you. So you have to rely on people whom you trust.
iMediaConnection: Who are these “re-broadcasters”?
Conn: The people you trust are your friends, your family, experts who are viewed as being not captured by the media, potentially some news people. So you’re narrowing the field of people you trust to a smaller, select group -- for whatever reason you trust what they say. What’s happening is the really smart marketers are creating messages that people will rebroadcast. People will say, “Hey, this is interesting, look what I just saw.” The rebroadcasting adds credibility.
Blogs are a classic rebroadcasting model. You have 7 million people now who are essentially rebroadcasting links they think are interesting. A link enters the blogsphere, and it whips through really quickly -- you’ll see it everywhere. It’s because there’s credibility attached to that link as it whips through, and people add credibility, too. This is a terrific network that didn’t really exist five years ago, and didn’t exist at all 10 years ago.
The old network is the backyard fence: talking to your neighbors and friends. Those messages spread very slowly. Word-of-mouth just wasn’t something that marketers looked at as a credible medium because it’s too slow. Now you have a global network where messages are passed quickly in the same way. It’s still word-of-mouth between peers, but it’s moving faster. Suddenly we’ve got a real medium we can use for marketing, and a lot of people are doing it.
Monday: How marketers can take advantage of these new networks.
Tumblr is growing fast
Last summer, comScore reported that Tumblr scored 13.4 million unique visitors in the U.S. in July. That's a 218 percent jump over the same time last year.
The Tumblr community is big and active
Tumblr has a blog tracker that highlights the platform's appeal. Here's a recent screen grab that demonstrates just how popular Tumblr is.
Young people love Tumblr
I first heard this from my 18-year-old brother-in-law. If his friends blog -- and many do -- they tend to choose Tumblr because you can be up and posting within minutes. Or, as Christine Taffe, an intern at Haberman put it: "Bottom-line, Tumblr is the most straightforward blogging platform out there. The frills are there, but you don't need to bother with them if you don't want them."
Blogger, by comparison, just seems a little old school. WordPress, arguably the web's workhouse blogging platform, is great, but it tends to require a little more planning and building before blogging.
Last year's comScore's numbers tend to support this point.
"To date, Tumblr's popularity has been strongest among the teen and college-aged user segments," Andrew Lipsman wrote on the comScore blog. "In fact, 50 percent of Tumblr's visitor base is under the age of 25. Teenagers age 12-17 are about twice as likely as the average Internet user to visit Tumblr, while 18-24 year olds are nearly 2.5 [times] as likely."
But while the millennial generation is certainly a fan of Tumblr, Taffe is quick to point out that the platform's popularity is mostly about preferences. Understanding those preferences, whether you're an individual user or a brand, is the key to success on Tumblr, she says.
"If your brand can be conveyed visually, Tumblr is the best platform because it's fast and high-resolution image based," Taffe said. "Many brands specifically in the fashion space are very into Tumblr because it allows them to produce a constantly updated 'mood board' of sorts. It allows consumers to understand a brand more holistically -- as a lifestyle -- rather than just a retailer."
Big things percolate up from Tumblr
It's hard to say exactly where the Occupy Wall Street began, but it certainly got a big boost from Tumblr. This snippet is from The Atlantic's coverage of last year's biggest social movement:
"The OWS movement's slogan has been popularized by a 'wearethe99percent' Tumblr, consisting of about 700 pictures of people holding up signs about why they're angry with the system."
Tumblr is meme-friendly
Memes have their own unique place in the marketing world, but Tumblr is especially friendly to memes. The reason? Tumblr has a reblog button. Much like Twitter's retweet, the reblog button lets the Tumblr community share a good idea quickly and -- hopefully -- virally. But unlike Twitter, where users most click on a link to view a picture, Tumblr puts the meme right in front of the target audience right away.
Tumblr is multimedia
Some Tumblr accounts are just pictures; others are videos and text. But from a multimedia standpoint, Tumblr is an agnostic platform. No matter what form the media takes, Tumblr makes it pretty easy to post, share, and repurpose media. Here are some rather eye-popping stats from Tumblr on how -- and what -- its community shares: "The average Tumblr user creates 14 original posts each month, and reblogs 3. Half of those posts are photos. The rest are split between text, links, quotes, music, and video."
Peter Reid, creative director at Huge operates Thunderball, his personal Tumblr account dedicated to "What I find, what I see, what I cook, what I'm working on, what I want to drive, what I listen to, where I want to go."
In short, Thunderball "displays an accurate representation of my true self to others, and the things that make me tick," said Reid.
But Tumblr isn't just a platform for self-expression for Reid: Using Tumblr has taught him that there are digital tools out there that "everyone can use, and use easily."
Tumblr is also incredibly aspirational, even if brands aren't using it to speak directly to consumers.
"I've learned that someone with good taste, a hot opinion, a collection of similar ideas or images or a great sense of humor, can attract a fierce following without a lot of hard work," said Reid. "It has created a venue for tastemakers to easily display their will to impress others, mostly through the people they want to be and the things they want to have."
But so far, Reid says he hasn't seen many clients jump on the Tumblr bandwagon.
"We once proposed a 'fake' Tumblr for a lead character in a movie, as a way to display his unique and twisted mind, but it never made it live," said Reid.
Ms Lipmann/How To Be Ridiculous
Anna Lipmann, a junior brand planner at 22squared, maintains two Tumblr accounts. Ms Lipmann focuses on Lipmann's professional endeavors, serving as a platform for her to share work-related insights with her team and the industry at large. By contrast, How To Be Ridiculous is a little more personal, giving Lipmann an outlet for "food, fashion, and little bit of everything." But Lipmann's overall engagement with Tumblr has been invaluable in helping her to understand the changes that sweep across digital on a regular basis.
"Tumblr keeps me current to a degree that I haven't been able to find through any other platform," said Lipmann. "It's the perfect way to get a personally curated, well-rounded view of what's going on in the industry, usually with more interesting insider information than I'd get from an RSS reader."
Tumblr has also taught Lipmann valuable lessons about a social media buzzword -- community.
"Tumblr's community emulates what community is in the physical world better than almost any other social platform I've come across," said Lipmann. "In the real world, when you first enter a community, it's a bit awkward: You might not know anyone, or have a feel for the community dynamics. But as time passes and you interact and engage, it becomes more and more comfortable; you begin to understand the nuances, the rules, how things work. It's the same with Tumblr; the more comfortable you get, the more useful it becomes."
But although Lipmann says she's pitched some brand clients on Tumblr, the platform probably isn't a great fit -- at least not right now -- for most brands. One reason she cites is that Tumblr doesn't have a robust reporting function. So beyond using Google analytics, it's tough to measure ROI for a Tumblr campaign. Still, Lipmann points out that some brands like Kate Spade New York and publications like GQ do especially well because they "know their audience and give them relevant content."
But even big brands like Coca-Cola can flop with the Tumblr crowd, says Lipmann.
"The example I come back to most of a brand not fully understanding what their users are looking for in this space is Coca-Cola," said Lipmann. "The product it's promoting isn't conducive to what Tumblr's community is looking for, and as a result, its posts have extremely low engagement. Tumblr is about curating the right content, and if a brand's going to succeed in it or any other digital medium, there has to be a clear strategy when it comes to what it's posting."
I Sell Moss
Sarah Mosseller is a copywriter at Mullen North Carolina. Her Tumblr account, I Sell Moss, is an ongoing archive for snippets of digital creative that move her, and she confesses, "it's kind of addicting."
"A great deal of the creative process is making connections -- finding inspiration, infusing personal style and experience, and at the end of it all, making it relevant and memorable to a complete stranger," said Mosseller. "As a creative, I am always on the hunt for something that stops me in my tracks and makes me pay attention. And in this crazy industry, where being 'on' every day is vital, it helps to have a very visceral source of constant inspiration. Tumblr's microblogging platform combines the best of the social media out there today -- it's highly visual. Users aren't restricted to a character count but typically post in short and easy-to-digest bits. A great deal of the content revolves around art, film, emerging technology, and pop culture -- the things we pull from most in advertising."
But while Mosseller uses Tumblr primarily as a clearinghouse for inspirational creative, she also says she's learned a lot from Tumblr about how digital is reshaping our understanding of community.
"Using Tumblr has reinforced my belief that as time goes on, the communities we form online will be as valuable to us as those we have offline," said Mosseller. "Social media allows us to overcome our financial and physical limitations to create contact and form lasting relationships with people we otherwise probably would never meet. These communities make it especially important as marketers and advertisers to speak to individuals, rather than crafting a message to the masses. People expect conversations. They expect for brands to sound like human beings, and if you aren't doing that, then you are really missing out on making lasting relationships with the people who matter most to your brand."
Seth Weisfeld / Girls Trying On My Glasses
As a creative director at Huge, Seth Weisfeld uses his eponymous Tumblr account as a repository for stunning photography.
"Maintaining a Tumblr photo blog is a great creative outlet for me," Weisfeld explains. "It helps me develop and hone my art direction style and eye for photography without the constraints of clients or briefs. It's also a nice space to collect feedback from my peers on the content I publish and learn what engages and resonates with people."
But Weisfeld also has another Tumblr account that's a great example of how memes can play especially well online. Below is just one of the many photos you'll find on Weisfeld's aptly named Girls Trying On My Glasses.
"This blog happened because girls are always asking if they can try on my glasses," Weisfeld explained. "I realized I had about a dozen photos of girls wearing them on my phone and it just felt like a Tumblr waiting to happen. Now I have a strict policy that if a girl tries them on, I have to take a photo of her and of course it ends up on the blog. I think the blog resonates with online audiences because it's voyeuristic and a bit of fun, flirty shenanigans -- and who doesn't love a bit of playful shenanigans?"
Of course, it's not all fun and games for Weisfeld, who sees Tumblr as a great way to get insights into online audiences.
"Tumblr is a great blogging platform to learn about digital culture, what content is most interesting for online audiences and how content spreads over the Internet," he said. "The main actions of the site (following, liking, and reblogging) are at the core of digital sharing behavior. Watching which content gets reblogged and liked the most -- and in turn earns you more followers -- is great for developing a sense of what content people want to see more of and how they are finding it."
Andrew Harper / Pets With Casts
On the one hand, Harper says he uses Tumblr to instantly stay on top of what's going on. "If you follow the right people, you can be fed everything you need to keep on top of what's happening," Harper said. "I can spend five minutes jamming through my feed and be up-to-date, inspired and entertained. It is very efficient."
But Harper says Tumblr also pushes him to be a better creative: "Seeing what others like and create, stretches me. It forces me out of my box. It keeps my mind churning and working to find better, smarter, more fun and more moving ideas."
While Harper says he's learned a lot by being on Tumblr, one of the most interesting lessons he has to share is about how digital is shrinking our world.
"The world isn't shrinking," said Harper. "It's shrunk. Thailand is a thumb tap away. I follow one person from every continent. I have a glimpse of daily life on the Gold Coast of Australia, the life of a guy and his bicycle in Thailand, the design career of a guy in Spain and the mind of a journalist in Venezuela."
Those who follow Harper also get some interesting insights.
Pets With Casts is another great example of a meme that can crowd-source dynamite creative and keep users entertained for hours.
By contrast, like many other agency creatives, Harper uses his personal Tumblr account to archive the creative that most inspires and excites him.
But while Harper is truly passionate about Tumblr, he says that convincing brand clients to jump on board hasn't been easy.
"I have pitched a few Tumblr pages. There can be a couple problems with brands using Tumblr. First, it's hard for them to see value in it. There are so many other places they want to put their resources and it is hard to measure ROI. Secondly, a company can run into usage issues when they try to post pictures and videos. I work on a brand that has beautiful imagery that people would love to see daily, but we would have to pay usage fees that would cancel out the benefit of using a free site like Tumblr. Third, most brands don't see the Tumblr audience as their target. They are nervous about what they don't know. I've seen this with the early days of Facebook and now with Pinterest, too. Most people don't see value in these experiences until everyone is there. Only then do they realize the upside. Despite this, I think Tumblr could be a valuable resource for a brand. I think any social media can be valuable for a brand. People want to have a conversation or be entertained. Those are two of the pillars of social media. You just have to shift your thinking away from one-sided communication to a two-way conversation."
Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.
It's no secret that Facebook is sitting on one of the biggest troves of marketing data ever. And while the possibilities when it comes to ad targeting are many, the fact that Facebook continues to hold the keys to the kingdom is troublesome for many.
"I don't have a problem with a major media player such as Wal-Mart holding onto their customer data, but when I have brands interested in buying space and creating space and engagement on Facebook, I want to have data at our fingertips," says Michael Miller, CMO of Hyper Marketing Inc. "Ideally, I want a 360-degree viewer of my brand's users. Isn't that what I am paying for?"
OK -- so Facebook will never be the place where you can just stick your banner ad. This is not the problem. The problem lies in the fact that Facebook's ad formats have created quite a roadblock for many creative types. While some claim the ads have always been good for targeting and driving up numbers of "likes" and followers, the limitations of the ads themselves remain troubling.
In a recent interview, Facebook executives said that, organically, a brand can reach anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of their fans. However, in order to reach the remaining 80 to 85 percent, sponsored posts are needed. Indeed, brands are now limited to the experience they can build within a tab and page.
"Facebook continues to have its own rules, and as far as they are concerned, everyone needs to accommodate if they want to be there," says JT Hroncich, president of Capitol Media Solutions. "I've been waiting for some sort of backlash until they adjust their model, but so far, it seems to be business as usual."
Understanding the performance of your Facebook presence continues to be a point of contention for some. While Facebook continues to give brand marketers the basics when it comes to metrics, it seems to be running a bit behind in the overall digital space.
"The metrics are fairly limited in this day and time," Hroncich says. "Marketers are looking for more metrics and more data in real time. Every single move on the web needs to be tracked. The only way anyone in the digital space will get more money is if the results are there."
And while there are a lot of social networks that can be measured using third-party tools, Facebook offers its share of limitations. According to Jeremy Rouse, digital marketing manager at Acquity Group, "It's difficult to figure out the best way to optimize something if you can't implement your tools into it. Facebook presents the asterisk we are forced to put at the end of every presentation -- 'All of this data is great, excluding Facebook.'"
Life in the world of Facebook moves fast, and many brand marketers agree that its interface changes can be a challenge to keep up with. "I remember hearing from Facebook when the Timeline format was rolling out, and basically we were told to adapt brand pages or they would adapt them for you," Rouse says. "Facebook has become a social channel that really does its share of draining our resources, and I think many of us have failed when it has come to managing our expectations and the amount of labor that is required to keep up."
So how can marketers best deal with the ever-changing look of Facebook? Don't plan too far out. Last-minute changes can ultimately affect a campaign. Luckily, most companies are used to playing within the four- to six-week range these days. Yet, the swiftness in which the Facebook game changes has pushed many to focus on shorter duration projects.
The act of "liking"
Brands remain troubled by the ease with which a user can "like" their pages, and doubts remain as to what a "like" really means in the long run. Many agencies have determined that the act of "liking" has resulted in a rather false sense of scale. They cite Pinterest as a much better option when it comes to determining the true interest and behavior of a user. "I saw something worthy, and I decided it was worth the time to take a picture of it and share it," Miller says. "As far as we are concerned, this is a far better inherent behavior of who a person is compared to the thumbs-up sign."
Most marketers have stopped wasting too much time wallowing in the shortcomings of Facebook's mobile application. In the past, the platform has made it clear that it will not introduce content within mobile that would not be there otherwise, such as a banner ad.
With a tiny screen and no way to break into the user's experience, the mobile advertising option simply doesn't offer much these days. "Facebook will also consider the user's experience first, and consider the marketer's concerns second," O'Connell says. "So spending too much time on things I can't do via mobile is really not worth thinking too much about."
Yet, most agree that mobile is critical and will remain critical into the future. Therefore, the consensus is that Facebook will catch up and get its mobile strategy right -- one of these days.
Lack of video advertising
While most people within the digital space have welcomed digital video ads with open arms, Facebook has not paid much attention to the opportunity. Again, its attention remains focused on the user, who would rather avoid obtrusive video content.
But then again, video content isn't always an annoyance. As such, the possibility intrigues many brand marketers. They cite video as one of the most engaging ways to connect with people, and if Facebook would realize this and tap into that engagement, it would represent a slew of new dollars coming in.
Despite its limitations, Facebook remains a vital piece in a brand's overall social strategy. The platform is not perfect. Few are. Yet, the challenges that remain to be tackled leave a fair share of interesting possibilities for Facebook's continued growth. "There are bound to be limitations when playing in someone else's sandbox," O'Connell concludes.
Tricia Despres is a freelance writer.
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"Angry man over dark background" image via Shutterstock.