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Time to move on from military marketing

[ photo courtesy ]

The below post is cross-posted from the newly launched WARC blog, where I’ll be posting the occasional ramble – nothing remotely groundbreaking here for regular readers, but musings I thought worth raising for the WARC audience:


It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the holy grail for marketers is engagement – to build meaningful relationships between people and our brands. And yet the way we think about marketing is frequently diametrically opposed to the desired end result.

The vocabulary of marketing is largely one of warfare – with the consumer as enemy combatant, on the receiving end of our merciless attacks. The etymology of the word ‘strategy’ is military – literally meaning ‘the art of a general‘. And it’s just as applicable to the world of marketing as it is to the battlefield.

Think about it. How many times do we start by referring to the ‘target’ when considering audiences? (The fact that we talk about ‘consumers’ rather than simply ‘people’ is another strange beast, as it automatically frames people purely within the context of consumption rather than as the multifaceted human animals that we are, but that’s a whole other issue). So we launch aggressive campaigns carefully designed for maximum impact and to gain captive audiences, thinking about strikeweights and guerilla tactics to do battle, gain market dominance and kill the competition.

Hardly the language of fostering engagement and relationship building, is it?

We all know by now that people aren’t receptacles waiting eagerly for our advertising messages, and very often could quite happily live without whatever we’re trying to sell – but surely trying to conquer the enemy and beat them into submission isn’t the most effective solution? Isn’t trying to earn the right for our brands to be a part of people’s world, rather than trying to force our way in, ultimately going to be more valuable in the longer term?

We’d probably all agree that this is what we’re trying to do, and that a relationship based on permission and trust is far more desirable than one of force and conquest – and yet the language of marketing doesn’t appear to have caught up.

The vocabulary we use undoubtedly affects the way we approach things – both consciously and subconsciously. So if we want to actually develop marketing that’s based on marketing with people rather than to them, awareness of the language we use, and a concerted effort to move away from thinking about marketing as warfare, has got to be a move in the right direction.

Social Media 09 (and thoughts for 2010)

The lovely folks at Mashup* asked if I would do a brief intro to social, to set up the afternoon of case studies and presentations at Social Media 09. The deck is on slideshare and the full presentation is here, if you’d like to see how to raise a gasp from a room of ‘social media specialists‘.

There were some cracking presentations – I heartily recommend checking out Chris Thorpe’sOn the horizon of a real-time networked society ‘ for some fantastic insight, and also Jonathan Akwe’sSocial Media in Government‘ for a brief overview of how the social web can be used for genuine citizen engagement.

As part of the day, we were also asked to suggest 4.5 trends for 2010 – 4 things we thought would go up, and one which would go down. Nothing radically new here, but here’s my two-penneth:

Going up

  • Social will expand beyond the remit of the marketing department – as it already has within the most successful social brands. Whilst brands will still continue to work with their agencies for social communication within a marketing context, businesses will increase their investment of human capital to deliver social throughout their organisation – with social playing a greater role in customer service, product & service development, research & insight and beyond.

  • We’ll see a greater focus on return on engagement rather than direct return on investment when measuring the value of social communication – moving away from the fruitless struggle to apply the traditional metrics for paid-for marketing, we’ll see greater attention paid to trying to measure how greater engagement and deeper relationships deliver brand and business value (rather than trying to attribute a direct link between social relationships and immediate payback).

  • Adoption of mobile geolocation services will tip into the mainstream, and more traditional brands will begin to dip their toe into the development of services and applications utilising geolocation technology to interact with people on a much more personal level.

  • As the thingfrastructure (Matt Jones’ brilliant description for the internet of things) develops we’ll see more physical objects becoming social – as more and more physical objects become internet enabled and technology such as RFID become more ubiquitous, we’ll see social communication moving away from the screen and into the physical world around us.


Going down

  • As greater integration between different social platforms increases, enabling you to automate the sharing your lifestream across multiple platforms, I predict we’ll feel increasingly overwhelmed by the deluge of updates across an ever-increasing number of platforms – and instead of trying to maintain a presence everywhere, we’ll focus our attention into a smaller number of platforms and communities, become both more discreet and discrete regarding how, what and where we share.

Are we losing focus on what social’s all about?

Following the IPA Social event, the nice folks at the IPA asked if I’d write a short piece for their newsletter about ‘social’ to highlight some of the thinking that the awesome IPA Social crew have started to kick off with the 10 principles -the below post is shamelessly cross-posted from the IPA’s AdNews newsletter:


There’s a lot of buzz about social media. Agencies are proudly boasting about their credentials in social media. Clients are hiring heads of social media, and the trade press is full of the latest social media campaigns.

But I, along with the fine folks with whom I’ve been working on the IPA Social project, reckon it’s time to confront the elephant in the room.

There’s no such thing as social media.

It’s a meaningless term.

It suggests the media – the places – are social. It makes it all about the ‘where’.

It’s not the media that are social (‘where’) – it’s the ideas and the behaviour (‘how’).

Let’s not forget, after all, that social ideas – ideas that get people talking, which get shared and passed on – aren’t exactly new. And social behaviour – engaging in conversation, sharing thoughts, ideas, opinions, rants and raves, is definitely nothing new. It’s at the very heart of what it means to be part of society. The clue’s in the name.

In fact people have been having conversations about brands between themselves for years, unprompted and unheard by brand owners. Every interaction that people have with your brand leaves an impression. If it’s a good one, people might talk about it. If it’s a rubbish one, they’re far more likely to talk about it.

What’s changed is that people are empowered to be social in more diverse ways than ever before, more visibly than ever before. So that talk is much more easily shared, more openly, and can spread more rapidly.

If a brand is ultimately defined by what people say about it, and not what it says about itself, then these conversations play an absolutely fundamental role in brand-building.

We understand that branding isn’t just a marketing function – product, customer service and corporate reputation, amongst others, all have an equally important role in shaping brand perceptions. Conversations will take place about any aspect of a brand experience – so why do we insist on trying to hive off social as a silo and a specific marketing silo at that?

As soon as we think about social media, the tendency is to focus on the ‘media’ – and to start talking about it as another channel or line on a marketing plan, instead of the really important bits – the ideas and the behaviour.

And thinking about social as a marketing silo is problematic – because as soon as we frame it within the marketing context, we start to think about social in marketing terms – pushing out a message. Which is all well and good. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about how we can best harness the power of social to communicate a message. But thinking about this in isolation isn’t very helpful – just as it’s equally unhelpful to think about branding as being about pushing marketing messages out, without thinking about the many facets of brand behaviour.

We’re all in the business of creating and activating ideas that will get people talking and sharing, and to do this we have to consider every brand touchpoint – and how we can use these opportunities to connect people and brands in the most meaningful way. Thinking about social, understanding the conversations that take place, and how we can understand and influence them, is a vital part of this.

Every strategist and brand owner needs to understand social, and what role it should play in building their brand. A social strategy should be an integral part of a brand and comms strategy, and should sit across every discipline within an organisation – it can’t just be the responsibility of the social media manager. That’s not to say there isn’t a role for social specialists. Implementing a social strategy requires a robust understanding of how to behave in the social space, and experience in these craft skills counts for a lot. Specialist practitioners implement media planning and buying, advertising creation, packaging design, PR, POS, call centre operations, and pretty much every aspect of implementing a brand strategy you can think of. Social’s no different – specialist implementation is both valuable and necessary.

But we wouldn’t expect a TV planner or packaging designer to define the role and contribution for TV or packaging within an overall brand strategy. A brand strategy should sit across all silos, and as an integral part of brand behaviour, social strategy should be no exception.

So let’s stop getting hung up on social media (the ‘where’), and start thinking about social ideas and behaviours – and the more interesting and relevant questions about ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’.

The IPA Social project is trying to help to define some of the guiding principles for social communication and behaviour, in an attempt to start a conversation around these questions. As a starting point, we’ve defined ten principles that we think are important in the social world, and we want people across the industry to join the debate. Our aim with this project is to move the debate beyond simply the theoretical, and into the practical: what roles can social play for different brands; how do you define success; examples of approaches that have worked (and those which haven’t).

We don’t have the answers – yet. But we believe passionately in the importance of truly understanding social as an integral part of branding. So please get involved, either via the IPA Social hub or by joining the Facebook group – we’d love to hear your point of view.

IPA Social Principle 05 – Marketing with people not to people

[ photo courtesy ]

You’ll no doubt have seen a few posts referencing the IPA Social initiative – well now it’s all kicking off, and this is where we hope to make this a really social endeavour. I’m thrilled to be a part of this project; I hope you’ll join in too.

On October 6th the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) are running an event (at which I’ll be talking) to have a conversation around what social really means for our industry. In the run up to the event, I’ve been working with a terrific crew of likeminded people from across the industry who all had a point of view on this nebulous thing we call social, and we’ve worked up ten principles to start the conversation. This introduction (written by Amelia) gives the proper context:

Social Media is a conversation. That seems to be one thing that we can all agree on.

But given that Social Media is a rather noisy and opinionated conversation, what value do we think we will have by adding our voices to it?

We are not Social Media gurus. In face we are rather sceptical of people who claim they are. We are simply 10 people from across a wide range of communications disciplines in the UK and the US who would like to share some thoughts. Thoughts that have either been bugging us or inspiring us, thoughts that we believe could form some of the building blocks for succesful Social campaigns. We came together to respond to and add our voices to some work that the IPA had done earlier in the year.

We have each defined a Principle which we feel is important in this Social world. You will find each principle up here but they are also on our individual blogs where we will be curating the conversation which we hope they will generate. Please do get involved, maybe you think these principles don’t apply, are there better ones? Are there changes that you would like to make? Are there examples that you could add to help illustrate them? The only thing that we ask is that as part of the advertising and communications community that you become part of the conversation. After all the more opinions that are being shared and built on, the more intersting and stronger the outcome. At least that’s what we are hoping.

Thank you in advance.

The IPA have created a hub for all ten principles, along with a fantastic summary of the big picture written by Mark Earls, all of which you can find here.

Each of us is writing about a single principle and encouraging as much debate through our own blogs, and around the #IPASocial hashtag on twitter, and the event itself:

1. People not consumers – Mark Earls
2. Social agenda not business agenda – Le’Nise Brothers
3. Continuous conversation not campaigning – John V Willshire
4. Long term impacts not quick fixes – Faris Yakob
5. Marketing with people not to people – Katy Lindemann
6. Being authentic not persuasive – Neil Perkin
7. Perpetual beta – Jamie Coomber
8. Technology changes, people don’t – Amelia Torode
9. Change will never be this slow again – Graeme Wood
10. Measurement – Asi Sharabi

These ten principles are just a starting point; provokers of conversation, thoughts, ideas… an invitation to you (yes, YOU) to join in. Why? Our aim with this project is to move the debate beyond simply the theoretical, and into the practical; examples of approaches that have worked, and which have not. What does success look like? What do you need to do first?

We believe that by sharing information and case studies around ’social communications’ we will all, from the largest agency to the nimblest freelancer, from the most traditional client to the youngest start-up, benefit from this open source of knowledge.

So please join the debate by leaving your thoughts around the principle I’m writing about in the comments below, and see the other conversation starters here


IPA Social principle 05 – Marketing with people not to people

Marketing is something you do with, not to, people. Successful brands realise that being social isn’t about where, it’s about how.

For the last 30 yrs or so, brilliantly controlled brand management was the perfect approach for persuading a mass market of credulous consumers who eagerly put their faith in brands.

[ image courtesy ]


But things have changed. The brands who will thrive most successfully in the new age of communications realise that marketing is no longer something that you do TO people, it’s something that you do WITH people.

People aren’t receptacles waiting eagerly for your advertising message. They’re savvy and value their time. Why should they allow a brand into their world unless they feel the brand values them? From involving people in an entertaining brand experience, to inviting participation in creating what the brand does & the products and services it offers, to simply listening to people when they have something to say – being interested is as important as being interesting.

And this can take numerous forms – there’s no one size fits all. Orange’s Playballoonacy rewarded participation on numerous levels – for some it was the chance to win the grand prize, for others the reward was simply the fun of playing an entertaining game, whilst for others it was getting enough points to beat their mates, or the opportunity to drive additional traffic to their blogs. Walkers ‘Do Us a Flavour’ campaign demonstrated how interactive and involving communication can live and breathe even within the most seemingly traditional campaigns. Whilst Dell Ideastorm and MyStarbucksIdea both put listening to people at the very heart of their communication – they flip the funnel, putting the user at the centre, rather than the brand.

Ultimately, social marketing extends beyond campaigns. It can and should be a core part of how brands behaves. It’s every interaction people have with your brand – and involving people should be something you do all year round.

Because, after all, we need to remember that the most powerful marketing of all is what people say about your brand to others. If you can create opportunities to involve people in your brand communication, and deliver an enriching and rewarding brand interaction, people might just talk about it positively to their friends. It’s not just that marketing is something you do with people – if you do it right, people become your marketing.