It was a little over two years ago that I came across Bluefin Labs and Deb, its charismatic CEO. It was before Bluefin had a product (it was a technology only) and definitely well before they had any sort of sales or marketing team. Deb and I discussed how GRPs needed to evolve as a measurement format for broadcast television and it was at that time that I coined the phrase "GRPE" in a Harvard Business Review piece.
Our conversations led us, at PepsiCo Beverages, to first use Bluefin Labs to power the Pepsi Music Index at SXSW 2011 and then to become one of the first brand clients for their Social TV platform. So it is no surprise that I'm excited to hear that they are being acquired by Twitter. This acquisition is important and it means a few things in my opinion for Twitter and the social media ecosystem:
1. Twitter believes in Social TV's future. They're really placing big bets on Social TV recognizing that the discovery and engagement feedback loop with television has been responsible for considerable growth on the Twitter platform and will probably continue to drive growth in the future. They also know that this phenomena translates into advertiser interest which requires tighter metrics. That's where Bluefin labs enters the picture. Social TV has been a smart play by Twitter and continues to be one.
2. Twitter wants to build its own measurement ecosystem. Everyday of my life I get to talk to a lot of different people in the media and marketing industry. Some of them have strong opinions of Nielsen and don't particularly appreciate its dominance on everything measurement related. While that dominance simplifies my life on the brand side, I can understand why it may make certain media companies, publishers, brands, platforms and technology companies nervous. By acquiring a social analytics firm, Twitter is saying that it wants to control and own its own measurement destiny. It also sees opportunities to monetize its data more directly and doesn't want to leave that to Nielsen or anyone else. Smart again.
3. Twitter recognizes that marketers really want better metrics. If there is any single thing holding advertisers back from spending more in digital and more in emergent social media platforms, it is the rather raw measurements of this space. There are too many measures, not enough standardization, limited co-relation to broadcast and other forms of media and in some cases weak ties to ROI. This issue is exacerbated among the social media platforms. Twitter and Bluefin both recognized this and this acquisition signals that Twitter believes that it can make measurement and broadcast measurement co-relation a differentiator. The other social platforms can learn from this.
4. Twitter is comfortable in its own skin not competing with broadcast. If there's any a time to say that Digital has truly come of age, it is now. The fact that Bluefin labs and by extension of that now Twitter (with its 100 million users) believe that the platform can be used to gauge the effectiveness of television advertising shows how much has changed. Furthermore, Bluefin believes (as do its competitors like Networked Insights and Trendrr), that its tools can be used to make much smarter, cost effective and impactful television media buys. Influencing those spends is something what Twitter wants to do. It elevates Twitter from being just a social media platform to something more insight led.
5. Twitter's competitors should be getting more and more nervous. We all know that Facebook is a massive success and its aggressive move into mobile will play dividends. But what people don't talk about it is that it's never been very successful in the Social TV ecosystem (It's telling that Twitter was mentioned in 26 of the 52 national Super Bowl 2013 commercials while Facebook was in only 4). One can argue that Facebook can surive and continue to grow immensely without playing in the Social TV space or at least at the same scale as Twitter. But what does this mean for Pinterest, Tumblr, Path and the other social platforms? Each are incredible platforms but they need something to juice their next wave of hockey stick growth. It's unlikely that it'll be television and the Social TV ecosystem now with Twitter obviously doubling down in this space.
If there's any sign that the media ecosystem is on the verge of dramatic change, then these four digital trends bubbling to the surface are the latest proof points of that. These aren't random trends but are illustrative of tectonic shifts that will change the media business dramatically. Tectonic shifts of the type that we have witnessed in the music and book publishing businesses with the rise of the internet. Shifts that won't change the media landscape in time for the next upfront, but will reshape the landscape over the next five years. Here they are and what they mean for advertisers, agencies and the traditional media companies alike.
Today's Facebook earnings call was illuminating on several fronts. However, two pieces of information stood out the most. They both in my opinion represent the future of Facebook. Everything else matters less.
1. Mobile monetization will be through sponsored stories. That's smart and insightful. No mobile experience can truly support a variety of ad formats. Mobile banners are certainly not the right approach for Facebook. And their own other ad units will significantly degrade the mobile experience. Sponsored stories is the only ad format that doesn't do that. Sure there are privacy questions that remain with the use of sponsored stories but if there's any type of advertisement that I'd be willing to accept amidst limited real estate that's a cell phone, it would be a sponsored story telling me about actions that a friend or a brand has taken. This will scale up in time especially when you throw in location specific sponsored stories (not just on the targeting end but localizing the sponsored stories based on where you are.)
2. Investors and even many marketers don't understand the potential. The second key takeaway for me was that most investors do not understand the potential of the Facebook social graph. In my mind, it's like the intangible brand value associated with iconic brands. You have to put a dollar value on its very existence as it can be monetized in ways yet to be reflected in the marketplace. Mark Zuckerberg seemed to hint at this issue when he said,
"Imagine a day when you buy a new car and log in to the car's computer with Facebook and it lights up with [music, friends' addresses and retail locations] targeted to you based on your friends and interests," he said. Then he added, "Our vision for the platform is bigger than most people perceive."
Can you put a valuation on this potential today? Do you think many investors are thinking about this? Probably not but that's what's going to be at the heart of Facebook's future because 1) no one else can create social experiences in a similar fashion without access to the Facebook social graph 2) as the generation that's growing up with Facebook starts to have real spending power they are going to expect their social graph to travel everywhere with them...into their cars, refrigerators, televisions and hotel rooms. I'd suggest that marketers don't understand this potential completely either otherwise more companies would be thinking about creating Spotify and Pandora type applications on the platform and leveraging the social graph in more unique ways into their own products. Facebook on its part needs to share of its payments and mobile strategic roadmap.
What does all of this mean as a digital marketer thinking about Facebook?
Well first and foremost, I was hoping for more details on the Facebook advertising products and how the company plans to further evolve them. Lawsuits aside, Facebook continues to bet heavily on social advertisements even though that may limit its revenue growth. That's a relief. The last thing I would want is for Facebook to over-monetize the way MySpace did and degrade the experience for users and advertisers. The downside to this is that these are ad units that the marketing ecosystem isn't too familiar with. A lot more education and measurement will be required as a result. No surprise that the Facebook headcount has gone up dramatically. I suspect a lot of the new employees are sales people who will probably share the details of the evolving Facebook advertising strategy in 1:1 meetings.
Secondly, a lot can be gleaned by what a company chooses not to talk about during an earnings call. The company didn't talk about why the Fortune 100 advertisers aren't spending more on Facebook and what the company is doing to address that challenge. It maybe early days for this but I'd love to see Facebook be more transparent in how their advertising machine is performing and what the major barriers to driving more advertising growth are. I loved hearing about the three brand examples. I think that's really an important step to transparently demonstrate the impact that Facebook advertising can have. I want to see more and more specifics though and a much deeper Nielsen partnership. Maybe even something tied in with Catalina or an SymphonyIRI. Talking about the brand studies is valuable, but it isn't enough. More is needed.
Lastly, but not the least what's obvious is that Facebook is being coy in how it plans to use all the data it has about its users and its advertisers. Along with the social graph, I believe this data trove is one of Facebook's most valuable assets. An asset that can be monetized as a real-time research product for brands (with anonymous data of course). Arguably, the data can even help governments, businesses of all sizes, researchers, students and scientists. How my brand is talked about relative to competitor brands on FB can be a leading indicator of brand health and sales in a way no other measure maybe. How people live their lives as reflected by their online conversations with certain friends is massively powerful insight for companies. Facebook has access to that data and the metrics that they share publicly today are severely limited and arguably not always credible (Like counts, Chatter analysis and PTAT data). There's a lot more that could be shared. The earnings call pointed out that Facebook is no rush to open this data to marketers. That's a pity.
I've read more than a dozen stories about Marissa Mayer's move to Yahoo. Many of them miss the fundamental point. Let me get this straight first though - I think Marissa Mayer is an awesome choice for Yahoo and she has a lot to offer the company. It is also great to see another woman take the reigns of a large technology player. It's about time.
But most of the stories in the press discount what Yahoo needs most and why Marissa Mayer is such a smart choice. There's no use in Yahoo thinking of itself as a media company or a technology company if it doesn't understand user experience deeply. That's why Steve Jobs was special. That's why Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook is too. That's also why two decades ago David Filo, Jerry Yang and Marc Andreessen stood out at Yahoo and Netscape. The Yahoo CEO needs to understand how real people want to engage with digital products. But more than that the person has to have a specific vision for how people will engage with them in the future. No focus group will answer that for the CEO. It is the most critical skill/intuition that any leader who works in technology must have. The Yahoo CEO needs to use that to guide every decision. And it is different from having product chops.
Not enough senior executives have that brain muscle. Many of them (no offense meant), grew up being forced to spend inordinate amounts of time looking at excel spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations in MBA programs or early job assignments that stifled creativity. Not enough spent those years creating wireframes in Visio, pushing pixels in Photoshop or sketching in notepads on their weekends. Not enough were liberal arts major or sociology graduate students. This may not matter for brick and mortar organizations that change slowly and have much deeper barriers to entry and where business processes and efficiences drive the business. But it isn't in the case with digital. A Yahoo CEO cannot be rooted in media, technology or even content. Yahoo desperately needs a user experience visionary. It has all the assets in the world and if there's anything that Facebook, Flickr, Instagram and Pinterest has taught us, its that this is not about the technology either.
Steve Jobs described the need perfectly when talking about Bill Gates in a story on how Microsoft lost its mojo. Here's the quote from the Vanity Fair story that captures his view -
Bill likes to portray himself as a man of the product, but he's really not. He's a businessperson. Winning business was more important than making great products. Microsoft never had the humanities and liberal arts in its DNA."
Yahoo needs to recover. A lot of us still remember the day the directory was launched and want Yahoo to succeed desperately. The board of Yahoo did its job in choosing someone who has a history of making great products and focusing on the user experience. Now its time for Marissa to do hers.
I was rather amused when a Wall Street analyst predicted that Facebook would disappear by 2020. I thought he was dead wrong. Since then a Comscore/Facebook study has been released, Facebook has announced its real-time bidding exchange and has shifted its focus in payments. I think this is just the beginning both for Facebook as a stock and as a powerful platform for marketers. Here's why I'm more bullish than ever about the platform with some thoughts on what Facebook needs to do to really prove that analyst wrong and convince marketers that its integral to their futures -
- Give us real ROI measurement: Most Facebook skeptics (think about a certain auto manufacturer) may not realize that just because the platform measurement isn't as strong as they'd like it to be, it doesn't mean the platform doesn't work as an advertising medium. It is hard to argue against the scale, targeting capabilities and raw engagement that the Facebook platform can provide now. You couple that with a strengthening mobile experience, and you know you have a strong marketing platform on your hands. If I were Mark Zuckerburg though, I'd strike a much deeper partnership with Nielsen, Symphony IRI or ComScore right away so that the measurement ghost can be laid to rest once in for all. For example, I'd love to learn how Facebook engagement can drive brand health and offline sales for CPG brands. I know display advertising and search advertising do that effectively already. I need to be able to do that with Facebook as well. Facebook must invest in this area today.
- Be audacious but stay grounded as well: Wall Street in turn needs to focus a little less on what Facebook is today and instead on what it can become. There's no question that user growth is stalling but that was bound to happen. The world's population growth isn't keeping pace with Facebook adoption. It had to plateau sooner rather than later. When Wall Street thinks about Facebook, they can't just focus on the current ad revenues in the market place today. They need to think about the potential alternative revenue streams through a user base that's so large and so loyal.
I would suggest that Facebook is on the verge of having its iPhone moment. It has all the ingredients to launch something truly transformative the way Apple did with the iPhone (and I don't think it should be a phone). Something so big that it changes the entire company. That's going to happen and it'll lead the next wave of revenue growth for Facebook. Similarly, focused brand initiatives like Shipyard may result in similarly transformative initiatives for brands. However, for Facebook to really tap into this opportunity, it must match its audacious goals with humility. Having just the former or the latter won't be enough. The truth is that cars will still be sold, toothpastes bought and bank accounts opened without Facebook. FB needs to prove everyday to marketers that there are better ways to get consumers to do that stuff by marketing on the platform. In the way that Google has mastered.
- Payments, payments, payments. Did I mention Facebook payments? The revenue potential through payments. All of a sudden, it may put Facebook in the same league as American Express or Visa. Imagine knowing how 800 million people communicate, influence each other and then actually act upon that influence via payments over time. That's the power of the Facebook payments opportunity - in creating a closed loop experience that helps Facebook and its brand partners understand how a consumer goes from a thought to social influence/validation and then on to purchase a hundred times in a year. Once their payment platform takes off (now with real currency), the idea of a Facebook credit card or mobile payment mechanism (think PayPal mobile payment type solution) isn't that far off. Facebook can become an Amex, Mastercard or Visa competitor. I'm excited about this direction. I don't know if it'll fulfill the social commerce promise but that may matter less.
- Fulfill the real-time marketing vision with better insights: Real-Time marketing is about going from insights to action and measurement all in a matter of minutes. Readers of my blog may know my real-time marketing point of view. But there are few platforms that can enable this more powerfully than the Facebook platform. What's missing is access to stronger, deeper and more powerful insights. Facebook needs to open up its insights to brands. It has all the data anonymized. Just make it public or sell it to brands and agencies. Once we have access to those unique insights in real-time, operationalizing against them will be easily and hugely powerful with tools like Buddy Media's platform. This is another area where Facebook needs to invest significantly and quickly. With all the IPO money, it should ramp up its insights function dramatically. Marketers are used to getting a lot more data (anonymous of course)about its consumers. Give it to us. We get a lot of great data from Twitter, we need anonymized data from Facebook.
- Learn more aggressively from others: I'm starting to feel that there's one company that represents the future of Facebook. It is doing a lot of what Facebook can be doing but isn't as yet because of its size and all the distractions that come with an IPO. And that's a relatively small company called Lockerz. They take the user from influencer and social discovery, to content engagement, onto commerce and finally to loyalty all at once. You could argue that they're vertically integrated. Facebook needs to learn from them. I'm waiting for the Facebook rewards system, a smart social commerce framework and mechanisms to connect the digital world more harmoniously and smartly with the physical world (Facebook places has a lot of maturing to do). I'm not totally convinced that I need another verb or "want" button. In a similar fashion, I believe Twitter is an extremely powerful platform. Rather than trying to compete with it, Facebook should think about ways to complement Twitter and dare I say integrate with it too. The same applies to Google Search (Google plus maybe another story)
- More credible public metrics: Last but not the least, Facebook needs to move to more credible public, metrics. I've never been excited about the "like" metric as it is a reach metric that would be confused for an organic, affinity one (the truth is that you can quickly increase likes by purchasing Facebook ad units in a certain way). People Talking About This (PTAT) is also another less credible metric as it is heavily influenced by paid digital media investments. If Facebook has any public metrics, they must be truly credible, authentic and sincere the way the rest of the platform is. Only then will marketers take the platform more and more seriously. The sooner the platform moves in that direction, the better it will be. I would suggest that the metrics need to be so powerful, so compelling and so smartly designed that they travel around the Internet and elsewhere too just as the Like button has. We're still in a world of GRPs (gross rating points) with reach and frequency measures. Facebook has the opportunity to really fix this and maybe bring other major digital players along for the ride, it should take that lead. Is it around virality or more authentic people talk about us? I don't know, maybe.
The next few years are going to be exciting for the marketing ecosystem and Facebook in particular. I for one believe that it'll be around in 2020 but how much of a force in our lives and with our brands depends on the decisions it makes over the next twelve months. Facebook can sell soup and lots more if its as smart over the next twelve months as its been over the last.
Barely six days ago, Oracle announced that it was buying Vitrue for $300 million. Tonight rumors are spreading (thanks to Peter Kafka of AllthingsD) that Buddy Media is going to be picked up by Salesforce for $800 million. How time flies and a category of software that didn't exist a few years ago (yes, I remember being pitched by them all when they had fewer than five employees each) is now a billion dollar plus one. But where do we go from here and why are these companies so valuable? Here are a few thoughts.
- If you're able to put aside the noise around the Facebook IPO and what certain auto manufacturers may say, you'll realize that social media marketing is here to stay on a mass scale. Every day it only gets bigger and bigger and CEOs of Fortune 100 companies are recognizing this. Both the Unilever and the P&G CEOs talked about social media during their recent earnings calls. Just look at time spent online versus dollar spends or how companies like Ford, American Express and Nike (not to mention us at PepsiCo) are marketing through social media to see its importance. Social Suites which make it really easy to publish engaging experiences on the social platforms are valuable and for companies manage the global/local tension of social media, these suites are going matter more.
- Unfortunately, the links between a company's CRM database and its social media fan base has always been broken. In fact, they've been treated as two separate, distinct and disjointed CRM marketing efforts. As a result, without realizing it, many brands have developed competing CRM efforts. You harness your CRM database for effective email marketing in a certain way and then with a separate department you reach your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube consumers not knowing if there's any overlap or which is more effective for specific types of communication. Any company that can help solve this problem is going to win. That's why Oracle+Vitrue makes sense and similarly Salesforce+Buddy Media (if the rumors are true) do as well. CRM Databases have always been extremely valuable and when you tie them in with social media engagement, they become so much more so. All of sudden you can understand your customers not just by what they purchase and what marketing you throw at them but also by their loyalty and advocacy towards the brand.
- Just as important is the ability to execute real-time marketing effectively. Last summer, when I introduced a Real-Time Marketing framework at John Battle's Conversation Marketing Summit, I fully knew that not all the pieces were in place. It was indeed hard to go from strategy to execution in a matter of minutes or seconds as I proposed was the future of marketing. Companies that can help brands do that are going to win. Social Suites play a critical role in that, not necessarily because they do something that no one else can do (you can custom build a lot of the functionality) but because they make it fool proof and quicker to deploy. Building for engagement and not just on Facebook but elsewhere across the web and on a global scale gets really easy with these social suites. And don't forget the power of this form of marketing when it becomes hyper local and mobile specific. If I want to roll out a Facebook marketing campaign that's unique for each of Nielsen's 210 DMAs, the only way I can do that quickly is with a social suite.
- But wait, there's more to this than meets the eye. Let's take Salesforce as an example for a moment. They already own Radian6 which means they have a powerful tool through which brands can gather real-time insights and engage in Real-Time Response. With a social suite platform like Buddy Media, they would now be able to participate in Real-Time Engagement as well. By harnessing the Brighter Option Facebook ad marketplace solution (recently bought by Buddy Media), those brands can juice up their social media engagement with paid digital media in real-time. By tying this all into their Salesforce CRM databases, the brands can get a real-time end to end view of their customers -understanding their brand preference, intent to purchase, actual purchases, loyalty and lifetime value. Not to mention, they can also better understand which marketing tactics worked best. Powerful stuff (as long as they figure out the potential privacy minefields).
- Last but not the least, Social Suites have evolved into a lot more than Facebook tab canvases which is why they're so valuable. Many of these players have cross platform solutions that allow you to create once and deploy in multiple places in ways that are appropriate for each social network. Furthermore, they let you measure the effectiveness of a particular campaign, piece of content or engagement activity more holistically and in a more benchmarked fashion. They also institute workflow that reduce business liability with legal checks. And with globalization capability they smoothen the roll out of social in countries where the brand may not have a large digital team. That's all really valuable for brands.
In my opinion, the potential acquisitions of these social suite players by the major CRM companies represent the final nail in the coffin of social media. No more is it something separate, disconnected, cute and experimental. It has just moved to the heart of all marketing efforts and the stock price movements of Facebook will not change that. Social Media Marketing is on scale and needs to be at the heart of your marketing efforts right now.
I should have drawn attention to this book many moons ago when it was published last year (especially since I was interviewed for it). It's Clark Kokich's Do or Die. It's sharp, insightful and thoroughly engaging. Most important of all and unlike many books, it has a differentiated point of view on marketing and the evolution of brands. It's case study driven and makes a compelling argument for why traditional advertising and the historically safe forms of marketing aren't enough to succeed in today's world. You literally have to do versus just say. Not surprisingly, I'm a big believer in that philosophy and talked about it at the time of the Pepsi Pulse launch.
Once you're done reading Do or Die, a very different book to pick up is Rex Briggs's SIRFs-Up which explains how measurement and marketing effectiveness should really work. I've always been impressed by Rex's thinking and his contributions to our industry. He won't let you down with this book. Covering spending levels, medix mix, forecasted sales and performance metrics it'll help you answer the tough questions that you may get from your CEO or CFO. I was also interviewed by Rex for SIRFs-Up.
May 1, 2012 Add Organ Donor Status to FB Profile. Brilliant.
April 7, 2012 Sosolimited via The Creators Project
March 26, 2012 Breaking down the Paid, Owned & Social Media Chinese Walls
February 1, 2012 Super Bowl Digital Advertising Madness
January 11, 2012 Two steps forward, One step back
November 12, 2011 TV Ads' New Digital Role, HBR Piece
October 28, 2011 Physio-Digital + Cause + Shopper Marketing
October 8, 2011 Marketing in Steve Jobs own words. From 1997
August 1, 2011 Google+ The Real-Time Marketing Promise
July 24, 2011 When a trillion impressions aren't enough
June 26, 2011 Do $185,000 Domain Names make sense?
June 21, 2011 Conversational Marketing Summit Presentation
June 10, 2011 Your 30 Billion CompetitorsArchives