Have brands over invested in digital?

Thu 15 Sep 2016 @ 9:43

Is it enough to be liked?

The dramatic growth in spend in social media marketing over the past decade, in both B2B and consumer, has been something to behold. We have all been busy learning and trying to use social media as effectively as possible, blogging here, tweeting there, Facebook likes are real currency one day and then apparently worthless the next depending on which expert you speak to. The UK digital media marketplace has been referred to as the ‘Wild West’ of marketing, where hip young gunslingers shoot it out with metrics designed to send the more traditional diving for their Kotler, and their thesaurus.

But for many of us, for many years, the argument has been around the elephant in the room.

More than 5 years ago I was judging marketing awards in the UK, the Irish Republic and across Europe and for about three years we were awash with campaigns claiming successful commercial results based solely upon the number of Facebook likes and retweets they had, almost regardless of user context or commercial uplift. I don’t know about you but my clients couldn’t afford to reinvest in the business if all they had to spend was ‘likes’ and ‘followers’.

Now it’s clearly just as churlish for me to suggest that these metrics are without value as it is for the entrants to claim they were all the demonstrable value that was needed.

Just what is minimal engagement with a brand through social media actually worth commercially?

The hugely respected CEO of WPP, Sir Martin Sorrell, raised the question last month in an interview with Marketing Week. ‘Brands are starting to question if they have over-invested in digital’ he said, echoing many industry voices including ours that have been saying much the same for years. We have been urging brands not to let social media spend take over their marketing strategy for quite some time, so we welcome Sir Martin’s words, but can’t help thinking that for many the appetite was always there.

If anything, many offline campaigns, such as on-pack promotions and competitions, direct mail and face to face marketing, now have more of an impact than they ever did, such is the saturated state of the digital sphere. The time has finally come for social media to have to fight on its own commercial merits, which is all we’ve been after. When building a strategy for any brand in any market we all need to know the likely commercial impact of any media or communication initiative. One perfect, clear example of the shift towards accountability is Omnicom’s recently announced deal on the McDonald’s account, with ROI built in as part of the arrangement.

Sir Martin’s voice is a strong one to add to the many looking at Google and Facebook’s means of measurability, “we can’t have the players being the referees”. This protest against the lack of independent measurability for Google and Facebook’s marketing platforms is one which could become louder as time goes on.

The reality is we’re in a digital world. But we’re also in a physical world. Social media just as with traditional media has a part to play, let’s just be sure that we’re getting enough bang for our buck from being liked.