Why All Advertising Will Be Social – Navigating the Social Brand Map

Data-Driven Thinking - Rob Leathern“Data Driven Thinking” is a column written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Rob Leathern, CEO of XA.net. XA.net’s optim.al is a Social Media Ad Platform.

Names and signs were very much what early advertising was about: in the Middle Ages, these signs were the way to find the cobbler, miller, tailor or blacksmith. Many tradesmen even came to be named for their occupation – advertising has always had at its root a local, direct and often very personal communication between seller and potential buyer.

Not until quite recently has a company or brand again been able to point to actual people by name as customers or fans of their brand, instead of faceless 10-year-sized demographic groups like “women, 25-34”.  The distance between the brand and an individual has appeared to greatly decrease, from both the individual’s and the company’s perspective. By wiring together customers, loyalists, fans and those that aspire to the brand, for the first time marketers can start to draw a kind of Social Brand Map for their brand.

The Social Brand Map is like a contour map that shows the topography of a product or service across the media and information landscape and indicates not just the breadth of its reach, but the importance (the elevation if you would) and attention that it commands in those various areas. What makes it more challenging for most brands is that while some of these territories are well-marked and familiar, others like the overlapping zones of Facebook-Twitter-YouTube, are brand new and incredibly data- and noise-ridden.

Take Facebook for example: marketers are rightly debating what is the value of a “like” for an advertiser – how much value does an expressed endorsement have on average when shared by a single person among a group of friends? Are they “influential” in their social graph? What if that person is your customer but their connections are unlikely to be? Is it better to create a direct message to encourage an immediate action or create a viral message to get more people interested now you can monetize later? There are tradeoffs that practitioners like us test daily– buying media from Facebook to drive the user back into Facebook, versus to a landing page where a user can be retargeted versus the user being locked into whatever mechanisms Facebook decides are appropriate for the brand to communicate with these users (this has changed greatly since pages came into being on Facebook for example). I personally believe these mechanisms (as provided by Facebook, Twitter and others) are only going to improve and become more interesting. In the meantime, repeated deep experimentation is a sine qua non.

Neal Mohan, VP of Product Management and Barry Salzman, Google’s Managing Director, Media and Platforms, recently discussed some of Google’s predictions for the future of display advertising and among a variety of interesting comments said that Google believes that 75% of display ads will be social in nature by 2015.

I think it sort of depends what you think of as “social” to determine whether your new 2015 ad with a “like” button fits that bill – but without a doubt, everything we do is becoming more tied into the social networks that we access via the web and on mobile devices. It’s clear that being able to tap into a larger audience of users will be important and with that will come the need for competency in creating “shareable”, “likeable” and viral marketing messages.

It is inevitable that with a much shorter distance between us all, and a way to start seeing those distances on our Social Brand Map, that those in the business of influencing others (e.g. advertisers and marketers) will seek to use the newly available social tools at their disposal to ever greater effect. In one of my favorite business books, Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini provides a framework of six principles for influence. This is a good set of guidelines for how advertising will continue to evolve in the era of the ubiquitous social network:

  1. The Rule of Reciprocity – when someone provides something to us we are compelled to repay them
  2. Commitment and Consistency – after taking an initial position, we are more willing to agree to requests that are consistent with our prior commitment.
  3. Social Proof – as a shortcut for figuring something out, we look to what others are doing or have done as a guide vs. analyzing the situation ourselves
  4. Liking – we prefer to say yes to individuals we know and like
  5. Authority – we tend to obey authority figures, or those that possess the symbols of authority
  6. Scarcity – we assign more value to things that appear scarce, especially if there appears to be competition for these resources

Social media today appears to be a lot about (3), (4) and (5) above.  To illustrate, “fan pages” and the number of people who say they like something, are all about a shortcut to figuring out what’s worthwhile by looking through the lens of the popular. Follower numbers on Twitter rapidly become the authority symbols of our age, while we retweet and share the same core thoughts that then bounce around in the social media echo chamber. (For the direct-response advertisers among us, by the way, commitment and consistency have been improving landing page conversions rates for years now… more on that some other time!)

These are all very powerful forces, but think also about the power of scarcity. A lot of what we have seen in social media is the need to share (and often overshare) every aspect of our daily lives, and the purveyors of coupons, trinkets and skin cream continue to seek as much exposure for their message or deal as they can get. But what about exclusivity? What about the premium brands that rely on being hard to get and can command very high prices? Could I design an online ad campaign that would allow just 10,000 people the chance to buy a product, or perhaps even just 100? Or to show everyone in the world the 10,000 people behind the velvet rope the 100 that actually get in? This is not the stuff of “spray and pray” marketing. This is the future world of hypertargeted, mass-customized, unique-code driven, secret “don’t tell anyone” promotion that is also enabled by same overwhelming forces of social connection that are driving the mass market. This is certainly not on the Map for every Brand.

It’s now the time for brands to think about assessing where they are, building their own version of their Social Brand Map, and devise their “plan” for improving their coverage and figuring out what parts of the map lead to profit (I guarantee more than a few surprises when that analysis is done); but more than anything it’s time to realize that the Map is dynamic and that flexibility, movement and learning are essential.

Social media is still very personal and narcissistic today on an individual person-to-person level (all about getting more attention than you give), but the stakes are even higher for consumer brands. To be competitive in a world of hyper-connection, companies are going to (have to) get a lot more personal.

Follow Rob Leathern (@robleathern), XA.net (@xa_net) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. Nice piece Rob, Cialdini’s book is somewhat timeless, a good read, though originally published in 84 (I believe). With data data everywhere I strongly believe marketers are more empowered today than ever to hyper-target, whether on a contextual, behavioral or demographically targeted basis. Keep writing and we’ll keep reading, thanks.

  2. Great article Rob, I particularly like your thinking on the power of scarcity. This is something we use to great effect for brands wishing to engage with young consumers via Habbo Hotel.

    It can take many forms but recently we’ve happened across a way in which brands can provide content either through virtual goods or an avatar effect that allows people to become an integral part of a campaign.

    For instance, we recently ran a global campaign or the movie Megamind where teenagers could swap their Habbo head to that of Megamind himself. We seeded this in our catalogue with no other promotion and watched as the community picked up and ran with it.

    What makes this approach so appealing to teenagers is the scarcity of the content, as they know the effect or virtual item will only be available for a limited time. This leads to a high level of discussion around a campaign with people actively seeking out the branded content.

    The Megamind promotion only ran for a single weekend in all of Habbo’s 30 country sites, during which it was used 9 million times by teens worldwide. Quite a good case study of how social advertising can deliver great results don’t you think.