Brands grapple with social media conundrum: Does it pay?

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What does a ’Like’ actually mean for a brand’s bottom line? Marketers at this year’s Cannes Lions divulged both their challenges and new solutions.

The rising credence of digital and social media activity in the world of brands was highlighted at the annual Cannes Lions festival last week as more non-traditional campaigns than ever were considered for awards.

From Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice viral phenomenon, to the new “Pay with a Tweet” online content trading platform, to Google Chrome’s collaboration with the band Arcade Fire; Cannes Lions award winners this year demonstrated unprecedented cult status borne out of an innovative idea.

But amidst the standard sun, sea, sand and champagne, marketers were asking some serious questions. Social elements such as views on YouTube and ’Likes’ on Facebook can all make for impressive numbers when brands distribute the right content, but does it actually make a difference to a marketer’s ultimate goals?

In his presentation last week, Diageo chief marketing officer Andy Fennell outlined the challenge in measuring the effectiveness of ’social’ brand activity: “How do you put a price on engagement? We need to find more accurate and contemporary ways to see if an activity works rather than wait to see if a product sells more.”

He added that old client and agency ways of working were becoming outdated and should become more aligned with a “payment by results” system.

“The client/agency relationship has changed and remuneration needs to move with these differing requirements… They have to invest in the core product that is creativity, be able to measure it and show the financial results,” he said.

Coca Cola, meanwhile, claimed to have come some way in analysing the real life value of social media engagement. The company’s head of integrated marketing and communications, Wendy Clark, told Marketing Week where the brand is at in terms of understanding the financial value of something like a Facebook ’fan’.

“We actually did some research at the end of last year where we studied the difference between purchase intent and consumption between a fan and a non-fan. Fans are twice as likely to consume and 10 times as likely to purchase as a non-fan. That’s a powerful measurement because that’s driving volume,” Clark revealed.

She added: “Likes are important, but share is more important – ’likers’ passing content through their social network is where the real value is. If you can put great content out to your fan base they will pass it on. We have 30 million fans who are networked to 585 million people. If we do our job well, that wider network becomes our remit.”

Digital media platforms who are consequently now vying for commercial spend must use their measurability offering as a selling point for brands. Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, Carolyn Everson, told an audience at Cannes how it is building its audience insight team to help brands measure the results of their social media activity.

The social media site is working with insight firm Neilsen to investigate the combined effect on audiences of Facebook with TV. Everson said brands need to move away from obsessing over numbers of ’fans’ and ’likes’ to explore actual consumer behaviour.

“Measuring clicks is an old display model. We need to measure awareness, affinity and purchase intent,” she said.

Google, AOL and gaming platform Angry Birds also set out their stalls as providers of insight and value to brands. AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong spoke of moving away from populating the site with a large quantity of display ads to offering smaller amounts of high impact, content-based ads. Alongside Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, he urged brands to use the platform to take a more local community approach to increase engagement.

Peter Vesterbacka, of Angry Birds parent company Rovio, declared that brands would get more “bang for their buck” by partnering with the game than they would with traditional media such as TV.

“We want to deliver amazing results for brands and not just stick a logo somewhere in a game,” he said.

Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, who also picked up the Cannes Lions award for media person of the year, said the new Google Wallet platform that is in development would offer clear transactional results for brands that advertised via location-based Google Offers. “How valuable is an ad that makes somebody walk into a store?” he said.

Rival Yahoo!’s measurement tools for brands can help them guide their activity in emerging markets, added EMEA marketing director James Tipple.

“We grew 18% in display last year and are forecasting high growth this year,” he said. “Display can offer a strong ROI for your media spend, which is why you are seeing the big shift in the UK from traditional to digital. If you think of the learnings that involves, and you apply those to the Middle East and North Africa, where 2% of spend is online in that space, we enable marketing directors to manage their budgets more efficiently and that is a massive growth opportunity.”

As more brands are asking questions around digital and social media effectiveness, it looks like the platforms that offer clear measurement and audience insight will be the ones brands look to align with.

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