How Mediabrands’ Society Is Bringing The Message Closer To The Medium

societyIPG Mediabrands has rolled content-creation arm Mediabrands Publishing into social media agency Society. Thursday’s merger will tie content creation closer to distribution and targeting across platforms.

“You can’t just push content organically anymore,” said Rob Bernstein, managing director at Society. “You need two bookends: smart targeting and really good messaging. It’s not about taking a 30- or 60-second video and doing a cut-down.”

Leveraging data from across Mediabrands, Society is designed to send more relevant messages to consumers and measure impact across platforms.

“You may have less spend to push out your messaging, but if your messaging is better you’re going to gain ground,” Bernstein said. “That’s the game you need to play.”

Bernstein, along with Mediabrands’ chief operating officer, Chris Loll, spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: What can Society offer that Mediabrands Publishing couldn’t?

ROB BERNSTEIN: Brands require core disciplines and capabilities to be successful in social today. As a media agency, we have strong expertise in paid [media] and great analytics. But social media is a content feed. If you’re interrupting their content experience, the message better be great.

What are Society’s content production capabilities? How do you compete with publisher content studios? 

BERNSTEIN: Our production newsroom is the fast-switch, content-creation arm that responds to real-time marketing quickly. Then there’s creative that’s richer and more planned.

We work with a lot of publishers. We also understand our limitations. We’re not The Huffington Post or Vice. When you go to a publisher, you’re thinking about publishing to their platform, to their audience, in their voice. But it’s important to have someone close to the brand who understands what it’s trying to achieve and makes sure that’s translated. We’ve got to keep content creators honest and make sure the client gets the results they’re looking for.

With the bar for great content getting higher, agencies have to invest more time and money in content creation. Are clients willing to pay for that? 

BERNSTEIN: From a social perspective, our clients see the value of creative and budgets are apportioned and growing.

It’s about getting clients to understand it’s not a volume game, it’s a quality game. That’s the change in thinking. Let’s not put budget into creating 600 assets for the year. Let’s focus on creating 40 or 100 meaningful, targeted moments. It throws off real earned media, which is where brands can punch above their weight. Just pushing organic content is a bit silly.

What tools and data are you leveraging to execute great social for clients? 

BERNSTEIN: Inside platforms, the data is already there. As a media agency we have access to tons of other data sources. Social is a walled garden, but we can take all that data and plug it in to create really beautiful audience targeting.

We built a proprietary product called HEART on the back of IBM Watson. It adds sentiment analysis to [social listening]. We parse conversations by emotions and target against them. What’s driving love or nostalgia? No one shares anything on social that isn’t incited by emotion. It also helps the creatives from messaging perspective.

CHRIS LOLL: We’re in this emotional era. We can actually transact against those attributes. That enables us to be more intelligent about how and when brands should be communicating, but also when they shouldn’t. That’s the richest territory for marketers looking to respect that marketing is not an always on thing for consumers.

How closely will you work with Cadreon and its data assets?

LOLL: We leverage custom audiences on Audience Management Platform [Cadreon’s data platform]. On an integrated account, every discipline can apply that audience in their channel.

BERNSTEIN: Cadreon is very good at helping us define audiences when planning, buying and optimizing inside social platforms. Social activation is going up into Society.

How do you fill in gaps across walled gardens to follow the consumer journey? 

BERNSTEIN: We can take search intent data and create custom audiences on Facebook, or take insights from Facebook for comms planning. We are greedily taking data into Facebook, which is an advantage, but it’s a walled garden, so it’s tricky.

Have measurement issues affected your investments on walled gardens? 

BERNSTEIN: It’s going to change things for our clients. There has to be a level of trust. We encourage more transparency. We all want to understand what’s going on behind the curtain.

When things come to light, it prods them to open up. I think they’re willing to, but it’s just a matter of how much.

How do you reconcile that view with announcements like Google’s removal of third-party pixels on YouTube?

LOLL: Google understands our needs and requirements on behalf of our clients. They’re navigating a capability that they’re trying to make sure satisfies their business but is also in service of agencies and clients. They’re making decisions that a year ago they said they wouldn’t do. To me, that’s a demonstration of being open-minded and progress that hopefully will make marketing more effective.

If they can manage unique assets within their own environment, that’s the definition of a competitive advantage and that’s on the industry to compete. But it’s never healthy if it becomes dominated by one.

In Facebook’s push toward long-form content, will it able to steal TV dollars?

BERNSTEIN: My understanding is that they’re not really looking to become content creators. They might put good-quality, long-form content out to get people thinking differently about the platform. But they’re looking to continue to help people share and communicate in ways they already are and generate revenue off that. Mid-roll was part of that announcement. I don’t think they’re looking, at least in the short term, to become a Netflix competitor.

What are your thoughts on Snap’s IPO yesterday? Can it become a formidable competitor to Facebook? 

BERNSTEIN: We see a lot of potential. I don’t know if it will be on par with Facebook, but the trajectory is looking very nice.

When we can target against psychographics and behaviors, that’s exciting. Buying through private marketplaces opens up possibilities. But it’s a young platform and we’re just beginning to test and measure its impact. From volume of spend, it’s night and day, but time will tell.

Snap to Stores is an exciting capability. The ability for platforms to show attribution is going to be important. Snapchat is just beginning to get there. Facebook is much further along.

What role can platforms play in measuring attribution? How do you handle increasing accountability to prove return on ad spend? 

BERNSTEIN: In social, awareness and engagement are still important metrics, but being able to show attribution to a sale or lead is possible. Pixel a site and you’ll know whether someone purchased something. It all depends on the client’s goal, but that’s the path we’re heading down: showing true ROI against social activation.

How are your clients thinking about Twitter? Is it still a relevant platform? 

BERNSTEIN: Many of our clients still see it as relevant. You’re not seeing the same growth as Facebook and Snapchat in media spend, but they’re making interesting changes to the way you can buy, particularly around live events. Twitter has to continue to build targeting capabilities that are unique to its platform.

How will Society play with other agencies at Mediabrands? How are you breaking down silos across Mediabrands in general?

LOLL: We want flexibility to service the client in an integrated way. But we don’t want to overintegrate to the point where you lose expertise. We’re not [allowing the] structure of our organization to impede our people’s ability to work together. It’s not a unique challenge.

BERNSTEIN: It’s also having digital business leads that understand how things connect as opposed to living in silos. Search intent can power social, insights in social can help power SEM, SEO can power content creation. These things don’t live in bubbles.

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