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How Social Marketing Is Affecting Sales

By: James Cherkoff

For brands, advertising has always involved finding a third-party shop and letting the young guns rip on a riveting, inspirational concept that can be worked up by the art-crew into a striking visual nugget and blasted out across the mediasphere.  Central to that process has been the relationship a Marketing Director has with his Agency.  The effectiveness of which can easily determine the future wage-packets, postcodes and kids' schools of everyone concerned.  However, like many others aspects of marketing, that's changing.  'The unwritten rule used to be three decent TV campaigns and you're on the Board,' an ambitious brand manager from an FMCG Mega-Corp whispered to me last year, under cover of his cappuccino.  'But not any more,' he said with the glint in his eye of someone who has realised the goal posts have been moved but that not everyone has noticed.  So what's the future for the upwardly mobile brand manager?  And indeed, the ambitious Agency Chieftan?  Will the pivotal relationship between the two survive as the media landscape shifts? 

As ever, it's a question of balance.  Third-party suppliers will always be a vital part of the marketing industry.  If only because the economics make it sensible to use an agency that's beating media owners over the head with a bigger stick.   Or wise to buy into a PR company's network or a creative hotshop's spark. 

However, the growth of networked media may well start a shift away from branding created by third party suppliers to marketing driven by internal teams.   In networked markets customers don't want to talk to the brand, they want to be heard by the business.  And that might be difficult to achieve when the customer hotline goes through to a PR company in Soho.  For marketeers, the way to the top table could then be more about smart investment in new assets that sit on the company's balance sheet (even if they are white-labelled from GoogleBook).  And less about buffing up the agency's awards cupboard.  Indeed, P&G's Tremor network, a product sampling platform, is not only shifting goods but is rented out to other companies as a service, thereby adding to the bottom line. 

Of course, the future will always be about results and who can deliver.   However, even the vast media players will admit they don't have the iron-like grip over the new media barons such as Brin, Page & Schmidt, whose revenues are largely made up of thousands of smaller direct customers, as they did over the old guard.   'We used to show up at ITV and say if we don't sign this cheque, you are going out of business', a Media Grand Fromage once told me. 'You can't do that at Google,' he added pointedly. 
Furthermore, Google's Adwords system has educated the marketplace in the ways of media self-service, a development that Facebook...

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...may now compound.  After all, there aren't any economies of scale in the keyword auction system only brute financial power and SEO nous.  And why hand over a small fortune to a media shop when all it does is boost its revenues and plump up their buyout price?  Furthermore, the auction models and other live data systems are being applied to traditional media, such as TV.   Marketplaces that currently rely on planning teams reporting back on abstract notions such as OTS, TVRs and GRPs.  Media reports over Lunch at the Agency may be fun, but a real-time Feed analysing media investment on your Blackberry will impress the Chairman more. 

Certainly on the social side it's difficult to see how an outsider can provide what the marketplace requires ie direct, two-way communication with a company representative.  Undoubtedly, an agency can get the ball rolling and advise on the approach.  However, a Facebook page run by an agency is always likely to leave the customer feeling that he is being held at arms length.  Dell's social success has been about an internal team jumping into the conversation, not an agency adding doublespeak. 

And when it comes to campaign measurement, how long will brands bother measuring media, when they can just track sales?  As media is gradually all sucked onto one cloudy-IP platform or another, it will become easier than ever to see how loudly marketing activity does or does not make the tills ring.  Who wants to know about the research house's view of Awareness and Recall, when a new daily dashboard reports back on Sales and Shekels? 

More radical still, what if networked media means, as MIT's Professor John Maeda suggests that, 'the product is the message and the message is the product'?'.  That's certainly the Steve Jobs view of the world, where internal systems are building a brand so powerful that new product extensions become world news. 

The exciting aspects of media and marketing at the moment is that it feels like everything is up for grabs.  Including that special Client-Agency partnership.  No one expects the Big Four Ad Networks (aka WOIP) to disappear anytime soon. However, the rebalancing between internal systems and external suppliers may be the greatest change of all as the era of networked media becomes ever more real.


About the Author:
James Cherkoff is a Director of Collaborate Marketing, a consultancy in London which helps companies in Europe and the US operate in networked media environments. He is editor of the blog Modern Marketing and contributes articles to the FT, BBC, Independent, and the Guardian. James speaks at conferences and events around Europe and the US, including MIT MediaLab and Reboot in Denmark. You can here him here. When he isn't knee deep in the blog-world he is likely to be discussing Arsenal FC or playing peek-a-boo.
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