Every major industry innovation arrives in fits and starts. It took more than 10 years of testing for Pampers to figure out the product design, pricing, and advertising message to convince parents that they could not live without disposable diapers. There were more than 100 carmakers in the U.S. before Henry Ford mass-produced the Model T. Today, social media marketing is still struggling through its own growing pains. Or perhaps we should call them "lack-of-growing pains" because the total business impact of social is still far below what it should be based on consumer habits. The good news is that a handful of companies are driving a new "paid-organic" hybrid approach that blends historic media buying habits with earned engagement to finally scale up sales.
By now brands should have figured out marketing through social media. Today, we know social is one of the first places more than 1 billion customers turn for information, advice, and discovery. So it's no wonder that most businesses have finally been convinced to create the budgets, processes, roles, and responsibilities that allow them to post, pin, tweet, and tag every day. But ask yourself: Is all of this work truly building the business?
Sure, you might have run an ROI study or tracked social traffic to see an increase in actual sales. But what about scale? Chances are that if you stopped those tweets or pins today there would be zero impact on the sales report you pull up tomorrow. And whether you're a startup sewing shop or a billion-dollar brand, if you cannot feel the impact of your marketing, then it really doesn't matter. So far, social is missing scale, and we will not move marketing into future without cracking this code.
Now that brands have participated in social for some time, the problems with current approaches are becoming obvious. First, marketers have grown tired of social tools that end up creating more work for them. Initially, tools that churn out social analytics reports, or allow you to create a quick contest, sound like great ways for marketers to get a handle on the complexity of social media. But over time, they end up becoming too much work with too little reward. Further, the monthly subscription business model does not fit with marketers' needs. That $10,000 per month comes from brands' precious "non-working" budgets (aka "cost center"), and the tools come with no guarantee of results.
Social media still asks marketers to do too much. Who has the time to A/B test an infinite number of possible tweets, or to keep up with this week's Facebook feature update? Who has time to work on product innovation or a package redesign when you haven't gotten to update the brand Instagram account yet? Earlier in my career as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble, all we had to worry about was email and message boards. Today, this job has never been tougher -- and thanks to profit pressures there are fewer resources to help you out.
It is no surprise that marketers are increasingly loath to renew their annual contacts with subscription social tools. I hear the phrase "social fatigue" in a growing number of corporate halls as marketers struggle to keep up. The reality is that mass marketers have never been do-it-yourselfers. If television advertising started like social media has, you would have seen brand managers personally writing ad copy and deciding daily whether they should buy commercial time on "I Love Lucy" in Idaho or "The Honeymooners" in Hackensack.
The mass media and marketing engine has run efficiently for decades because of very scalable roles and relationships. Companies create products and services, advertising agencies craft meaningful messages, and media planners and buyers get those messages in front of as many people as possible for the lowest cost-per-impression. We need to go back to this type of model to move forward in the social media future.