Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Are social media really marketing?

       An interesting piece in Adweek had the headline "Marketing is Losing its Mojo". The subhead was equally frank: "All this focus on social media and analytics seems to be sucking the creativity out of marketing."

        The author, Denise Lee Yohn, is playing my tune. She's a brand consultant in San Diego who has worked for such companies as Sony, Frito-Lay, and Jack in the Box. She asserts we shouldn't confuse tools with content.

        We're living in difficult financial times; maybe that's why there's so much emphasis on numbers and metrics. But numbers and metrics can't change minds. Only big ideas can. Only big ideas can change attitudes and beliefs, and help solve problems for people. Only big ideas and concepts can help little companies beat the pants off big companies, and help big companies get better at their own game.

        When did a number or metric get you to try a new shampoo? Or a new mascara? Or get you to investigate a brand that never stood out in your mind before?

         The evidence of what happens when there's no big idea is everywhere. The newspaper industry is dying, in all but a couple of cases. There's been no big idea in that field for years, except attempts to give away their product on the Internet. (In one of my marketing classes, the students came up with 20 ideas to save the San Francisco Chronicle --- so it can be done!)

         The DMV in almost every state can use some big ideas to make things better for both their employees  and their customers. And department stores, too. They need ideas bigger than a sale every day or private labels nobody feels great about.

        Big ideas such as "Just do it!" took Nike out of the shoe business into the sports business, and into our minds and hearts. We all know Coke is the real thing, and Apple is the product of people who "think different".

        Some companies keep coming back to old big ideas, because they work. Burger King constantly finds new ways to remind us to have it our way, with burgers that are broiled, not fried. And they just hired a new ad agency and fired one that let people forget that.

       Denise Lee Yohn knows that social media and other platforms are changing so rapidly that other companies' successes can be dated and irrelevant. The only way to be relevant is to focus on your customers with big ideas that are relevant to them.

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