Stop talking about what's happening and why! I've been engrossed in columns literally everywhere -- from trade journals to this venerable publication -- where articulate marketers have come to the foregone conclusion that blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and all other major online social networking applications should have a place within their overall brand strategy.
Today, my hope is to take the discussion one step further by bringing theory to application. Here are six suggestions on how brand teams and agencies can work together to rebuild their efforts for today's media climate and inevitably evolve the last 100-plus years of marketing.
1. Instill in agencies a "dashboard" mentality.
For years, agency executives have fought to be strategic partners with their clients' businesses, emphasizing the work or product as much as the collaborative process that gets to it. The result is a strong relationship on both sides, and this is a good thing. But in today's results-driven climate, agencies must revisit their suite of services to that it's comprised of tangible and timely deliverables that move beyond consulting to directly build sales.
These days, success is rooted in a regular flow of quantifiable outcomes, and there are new resources and tools available to make advertising and public relations initiatives measurable. Be accountable and make your partners accountable.
2. Reexamine how you define your target.
Traditional research is expensive and limited to samples instead of your actual audience. Advanced targeting goes beyond transaction counts and eyeballs to a more sophisticated analysis of how people are engaging with your brand. It took Nielsen and Arbitron too long to segment media consumption through meter applications in order to understand demographic, and this method is still falling short.
Psychographic information needs to also be put against a more accurate barometer of actual behavior versus reported behavior. Looking at unsolicited opinions and endorsements online is the better way of doing it in both cases. Today you can determine who your target really is -- and isn't -- by listening outside of focus groups and surveys.
3. Look to the silent majority for your creative insight.
Four groups in two cities or a 200-person diary only scratch the surface. Marketers use research to find trends in the brand perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of their consumer. Ultimately, advertising ideas and creative programs are built from insights around those trends. If a bulk of your target is engaging with your brand outside of controlled response surveys and forums, chances are that great insight can be gleaned elsewhere, too.
4. Be stingier with your working budget dollars.
There was a time when a percentage of single-digit redemption rates and a certain number of GRPs were sufficient. Media buys should no longer be "spray and pray." Given the advancements in planning resources, the conversion rate from message to sale needs to increase. When you navigate conversations instead of only placing messages, then reach, frequency, and impressions become secondary to understanding and influencing a high level of engagement with your brand. Done right, it is ultimately a more effective investment of resources.
5. Make brand planning at least a quarterly exercise.
Most planning is done annually and includes analysis of prior performance, upcoming initiatives, and a set of business objectives. The new brand plan needs to include another ingredient: consumer sentiment. Sentiment is always evolving, and the marketplace attitudes about your brand and your competition ebb and flow over time. Online listening platforms now allow you to examine that sentiment in real-time. Media plans are augmented to accommodate fluctuating sales over the course of the year. Shouldn't brand strategies adjust to fluctuating sentiment, too?
6. Respond to what you find.
When you uncover consumer learning based on engagement, sometimes you find activity you didn't know about or think to look for. Discovery-based insights can be valuable for tapping new revenue streams, unmet customer needs, and competitive advantage. Insights based on patterns of data that your organization didn't think to look for can inform short- and long-term actions in not only marketing, but innovation.
At last, the next generation of tools for measuring brand ROI through social media is entering the mainstream. Tools that allow us to measure engagement rather than just click-stream analysis, measure word of net to determine your share of the online voice, and improve targeting for advertising are crucial elements as we participate in social media. We've all spent the past 12 to 18 months talking about it, and now it is time to take action. For marketing to evolve with the technology, agencies and brand stewards alike must reinvent a very old way of doing things in both theory and in our daily practice.
Dan Neely is founder and CEO of Networked Insights.
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