Why does a company with 1.79 billion users need a CMO? “It’s a question I get asked a lot at parties,” says Facebook CMO Gary Briggs. “And I get the joke, but I think it’s one of the things that makes it fascinating.”
Briggs became Facebook’s first CMO in 2013, following a succession of high-profile roles at brands including eBay, PayPal, PepsiCo and, most recently, as vice-president of consumer marketing at Google.
Despite working at the world’s largest social media company, Briggs is a staunch advocate of the fundamentals of marketing. “There’s too much of a focus on what’s new for the sake of it,” he argues. “There are things that are absolutely fundamental to communications, we just have different tools to do that now.”
Talking to Marketing Week at Web Summit last month, he added: “Looking ahead, the way the media map is evolving is somewhat, but not fully understood, while the nature of creativity and the role creativity plays in matching that is even less understood.”
Marketers are yet to tap into the real reasons consumers engage with content, Briggs adds, arguing that both campaigns and organisational structures need to adapt to marketing’s shift from supply to demand.
If you don’t evolve, create and innovate, then you’re not going to grow and reflect how people evolve.
Facebook came under fire recently after errors were discovered in the way it measures audience engagement. The digital giant was forced to announce a raft of updates last month after admitting errors across a range of products. Earlier this year, the social media giant was also called out for overstating how long users watch videos for by up to 80%.
Errors like this are a rising concern given the digital duopoly enjoyed by Facebook and Google. However, referring to the duopoly, Briggs argues that both Facebook and Google are simply benefitting from making an early move into mobile, as well as their general ability to adapt and execute at speed.
“If you don’t evolve, create and innovate, then you’re not going to grow and reflect how people evolve,” he warns. “The way we use our devices and how we evolve using these devices will not be the same 10 years from now.”
Marketers should be up for the challenge
Creating rapidly at scale is the next great challenge identified by Briggs, who argues that marketers should naturally be up for new challenges, because change has always been one of the industry’s great attractions.
Mass scale was the focus of Facebook’s latest integrated TV, digital and out-of-home campaign, unveiled in October to promote live video streaming service Facebook Live. The campaign mixed awareness building with education, showing users the steps to ‘go live’.
“Our marketing is about how you do that in a way that is entertaining and educational. A big part of it is having people see Live as for them and one of the things that was fun was using creative shot on phones for the 15-second ads and across the different outdoor executions,” Briggs explains.
“Although one of the largest advertisers on Facebook is Facebook, integrated marketing actually works, having multiple channels to reach different targets.”
Briggs admits that for a long time users were not accustomed to Facebook communicating with them, but since it started pushing out messages more broadly they have resonated well. In the weeks following the campaign launch, Live usage increased “quite well” he says, meaning Facebook will “selectively” introduce more integrated campaigns going forward.
Speed means relevance
The desire to drive speed-to-market prompted Briggs’ decision to work more closely with Facebook’s in-house agency, The Factory.
“That and because when people are inside our four walls they’re working closely with the product managers, so it’s much more of a conversational relationship and that makes a huge difference in terms of building creative at high speed. You can get more relevance if you work at speed,” Briggs adds.
However, Facebook will still work with agencies such as Wieden+Kennedy, with which it collaborated on its latest German campaign, if it does not have expertise in a particular area.
There are things that are absolutely fundamental to communications, we just have different tools now.
“We don’t pretend that we know everything. [If we don’t know something] we want to learn it fast and adapt fast,” says Briggs, who is keen to stress that Facebook is still a young business developing all the time.
One such change being faced by the social media giant is the importance of ad load to the business model. In July, Facebook CFO David Wehner revealed that the site was close to hitting its maximum number of ads on pages, which is expected to affect revenue growth after mid-2017.
The surface area of the site had become too crowded to offer a “really wonderful messaging experience”, acknowledges Briggs, which is why Facebook Messenger was launched as a separate app in 2011.
Since then Facebook has been developing its messaging technology, rolling out chat bots and introducing adverts that open directly into Facebook Messenger chats from its news feed.
Brands are now also able to send sponsored messages to consumers who have already opened a thread with them and add reference parameters to a link to determine where their chat bot traffic is coming from.
Chat bots, artificial intelligence and machine learning are all developments Facebook is pursuing, although Briggs is most impressed by the prospect of augmented reality (AR).
“One of the pieces of technology I think is coming very quickly is not only virtual reality, but AR. And we’re seeing that with Pokémon Go, which was a fascinating example,” he reflects.
“This for me was the first time I saw another world overlaid with the real world. In the days afterwards I saw how it changed behaviour. My wife and I were going for a hike in our neighbourhood and we could see kids out in the middle of the summer day running around trying to find Pokémon.”
Before the world is fully ready to adopt AR, however, Briggs recognises there are more fundamental challenges to overcome such as smartphone battery life and the fact that half the world is still offline.
“Facebook is real people connecting with one another every day. I’ve been in the business of communication for most of my career and the ability to learn, create, adapt and evolve marketing through the channel of Facebook is quite extraordinary. This is one of the best, if not the best, job I’ve ever had,” he concludes.