Misleading headlines in research
Eric Schmidt, senior manager-marketing strategy and insights at Coca-Cola, presented research at ARF’s Re:think 2013 conference that seemed to indicate that what the AdAge article is calling “buzz” doesn’t drive short terms sales of Coca-Cola product.
Meanwhile Coca-Cola's Wendy Clark, senior VP-integrated marketing communications and capabilities, countered via another AdAge article that integrated social media – social media programs that are integrated in overall marcom efforts – can be highly effective. The research may, in isolation, be true – that “buzz” cannot be connected to short term sales lift for Coca-Cola products, but that is not what any of us are doing in social media. Wendy does go on to challenge the study pretty directly, “In beta testing with Facebook, we've been able to track closed-loop sales from site exposure to in-store purchase with very promising initial results that are above norms for what we see with other media.”
Even Eric framed up the limits of what his analysis covers, “…he cautioned against reading too much into the research, noting that it covers only buzz, not sharing, video views or other aspects of social media.”
The value of social media to marketers
I hate the term “buzz.” As the former President of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and a guy who runs a global business applying social media to business with measurable results, I find the term one-dimensional and misleading.
What we are all doing online is expressing some form of word of mouth – and it's not all created equal. When someone authentically recommends or relates something positive about a brand to their friends, family and social connections online and off, that is a powerful and trusted source that affects people’s opinion and their purchase behavior. Still, a customer “gushing” about great service or a great product experience online is not the same as an innocuous statement “blah, blah, blah, Coke.” The blanket term “buzz” does nothing to help our understanding of what is actually happening in social media – a range of consumer advocacy from subtle and implicit to bold and explicit recommendations.
If we simply treat online word of mouth – the very nature of social media – as just “impressions” to be counted and weighed against other impressions, we will never realize the true promise of word of mouth via social media. Word of mouth via social media delivers a scaled approach to building measurably valuable relationships with customers, activating an advocacy base that drives opinion and behavior beyond what traditional marketing alone can do and dramatically improving the efficiency of the complete marcom mix (equal or better result from equal or less investment).
“Buzz” is almost as bad as “chatter” – two words used in the AdAge article to dumb down what is a more complex and powerful phenomena. Both words conjure up an image of clouds of white noise surrounding us like flies. That’s my friends, family and social connections you are talking about.
Integrated social media marketing does drive sales
With respect to Eric Schmidt, there are limits to the research on “buzz” as to its usefulness in guiding our use of integrated social media. It made a splash and good headlines. It heated up debate even within Coke.
Our own research via our Integrated Social Media Sales Impact Study demonstrated the correlation of social media in the mix for quick service restaurants (many of which, by the way, serve Coca-Cola products). Clearly, the value of positive word of mouth is highly affected by the product category and context. Our study showed impressive benefits of social media as part of the overall marcom mix to driving higher levels of consumption (the things you buy at QSR’s like Coke) and greater brand-relevant KPIs. It’s all here.
Much like Wendy Clark at Coca-Cola, I don’t want marketers to mis-read the headlines around this one study. The power of social media is within an integrated approach. That’s what we do here at Social@Ogilvy and what we have spent 8 years strengthening. And we have done it for many multinational marketers across categories – including our wonderful client Coca-Cola.
As we all know, ‘attribution is a bitch.’ In our lives as consumers, I think it a fool’s errand to try and zero-in on the one communication that trumped all others and inordinately drove a sale. What we will continue to do is go deeper and deeper to understand how effective social media marketing and communications integrated in a multi-channel, multi-screen consumer experience drives business results – including sales.