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Facebook Needs A CMO

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Facebook brandYesterday’s most highly-anticipated presentation of the day came and went like a dusty, desert breeze as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg offered what amounted to a sales pitch at the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) annual meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona.

It appeared Facebook and Sandberg didn’t understand the audience: leading brand marketers from around the globe came to learn, share (!!!) and understand the latest and greatest about brand marketing at the ANA conference.

Yes, yes, we all know, or have heard about the new Facebook “timeline” and other enhancements etc. etc. – but what’s the brand about? What’s going to make it endure? What challenges has Facebook had and how has it overcome them? Answering those questions would have been a much more compelling pitch.

Sandberg’s message was more around Facebook becoming the plumbing for all media plans. Bummer.

It’s not the end of the world, but it was an opportunity lost during a critical moment of development: the early days – yes, it’s still early. And it’s essential Facebook begins building deep relationships with the brand folks who control billions in ad spend. No doubt, relationship building is a tough task for a company in high-growth mode like Facebook. That’s why it needs to get a CMO sooner rather than later and give the brand a soul. Brands “like” other brands with a red-blooded core.

Within the sales pitch on Saturday, Sandberg tried to weave in a red-blooded discussion about “Mark” (Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg) and “Mark’s dog’s fan page.” I don’t remember the dog’s name because, well, I didn’t care. Sandberg could have made me care but she didn’t pull it off. The positioning was that we’re all part of the family and it was a step too far. It’s a good bet that nearly everyone there at the ANA conference was not tight with “the Mark.” And that little detail should be OK with Facebook. Marketers needs to be tight with the brand not “the Mark.”

In a way, the “Mark’s dog” story echoes the Facebook “friend.” What is it? Cheap friendship? A Facebook friend should not be a joke about trivializing true friendship. This would be an exciting challenge for a Facebook CMO to address with marketers and consumers. Right now of course, it’s pretty easy to be a Facebook “friend.” All you have to do is click “Accept.” Real world friends are harder. Facebook should try to bridge this perception with its brand marketer friends unless it’s fine with the plumbing analogy of a municipal water system.

Hey the water system business is good – but, it’s a utility and commoditized.

Later, during an on-stage Q&A with the ANA’s unflappable master of ceremonies Bob Liodice, Sandberg was joined by global sales chief Carolyn Everson. Everson deferred to her boss here as Sandberg continued her pitch. As a seller, Everson certainly knows how tough relationship building can be. “Never assume” – especially when you’re looking to change the way marketers reach their target markets.

Moreover, Facebook is invading the brand marketer’s office and proposing culture change for the CMO and any mega-corporation’s org chart: get social. Finally, another potential threat to brands and their budgets is that Facebook controls the entire ecosystem. There is no CBS and NBC of Facebook.

Still, the Facebook ecosystem won’t thrive without brands. Marketers do have the ultimate power (the ad spend), which is also something Facebook needs to understand and respect.

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Broadcast and cable TV is still the beast. It’s anyone’s guess what happens in five or 10 years from now with IP delivery of media. Facebook needs to build relationships, hire a CMO, build the Facebook brand and establish its future.

A great brand is more powerful than any technology out there.

By John Ebbert

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