Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sponsored Stories No More!

I love the fact that new media such as Facebook is pushing profit-maximizing businesses to take a more creative and proactive approach towards engaging consumers on their channels. Many of us have been complaining about how Facebook has begun emulating popular culture as seen on TV - especially in terms of promoted content. The internet is a place for niches, so after this new update, we’re cheering.

Ever since the dot com era in the 1990s, brands have repeatedly misunderstood this new environment. Their focus on ROIs and other numbers always means that there is a sales message attached to every piece of content they put up. But consumers have never liked advertisements. They may respond to them because they keep them informed about new products, but they have always been an interruption. So advertisements managed to drive awareness and later, conversion. But in the digital space, consumers couldn't care less. Once someone hides a brand from their feed, the brand doesn't exist for them any more.

Subservient Chicken is eager to listen to the commands you type in. Oh, BK Tendercrisp!

Of course, there are some brands (as is always the case) that lead the way for others. One of my favorite digital activations is Subservient Chicken by Burger King. There are many others, but the point I wish to make here is that brands don't have the choice to treat digital like they do any other medium. Not anymore, at least. I laugh at the brands that ignore this advice. But only because I have been trying my level best to articulate this simple truth about digital – just to get them to do something amazing (only to hear how their PR department had a near heart attack at the suggestions). Some have been more receptive to these ‘crazy ideas’ though.

Public relations, although conceptually still applicable, has dissolved into HR and digital. PR is a dead hen that doesn't lay golden eggs any more. And most brands are having trouble making that jump from PR to digital. Especially since it is still a very experimental medium. 

The message from Facebook, in this light, is clear. Get creative or get lost.

There is still hope for brand managers though (yes, they can keep their jobs). They need to learn to deal with digital data themselves. They need to start relying on psychographics rather than demographics. They need to recruit creative people who understand digital and make them a part of their team. Sure, they have digital managers (usually just one for all the company brands), but every brand team needs to have at least 50% people who can lead digital using their creative abilities, while paying absolute attention to digital data such as ad analytics and performance metrics, themselves.

Crafting engaging stories doesn't come from the copywriter sitting in a corner at a digital agency full of geeks. It comes from the top, with the geeky copywriter sitting next to the brand manager. This is the only way brands can truly understand their audience and engage them in real time.

Until they learn to do that, they will keep hiring digital agencies as the middle men, missing out on the bigger picture, until other brands go ahead and incorporate digital into their everyday workflows.

Content marketing strategists must be really happy right now. I know I am.

Thanks, Facebook!

No comments: