Social Media Analytics vs. Breakthrough Marketing

by Morgan Siem on June 8, 2010

in Uncategorized

I just read an article in Adweek called Marketing Is Losing Its Mojo: Social media and analytics are important tools for marketers, but they’re no substitute for big ideas. This topic has surfaced in several conversation recently, so I thought I’d address it in response to the article mentioned above.

Article: “The platforms are changing so rapidly that reading about how other companies have used them can be irrelevant. As recently as a year ago, all a brand had to do was show up on Twitter and the company was heralded as being a leader in the field. Now consumers’ expectations are dramatically higher and they’re continually evolving.”

Me: I agree that expectations are much higher now and that simply making an appearance on Twitter is no longer praise worthy. Now that Twitter has become a common playing ground for brands, they’re challenged to differentiate themselves within that space. Yes! Here’s where the exciting, creative, ground-breaking ideas come in to play! I disagree with her other point here, though, that platforms change so rapidly that reading about how other companies have succeeded is irrelevant. Yes, platforms change rapidly. Heck, I create social media strategies / manuals / guides for clients only to find that sections of them are already outdated by the time the client can open the attachment. But that’s not a problem, and it doesn’t make the strategies irrelevant. The strategies stand apart from the tactics. When the platform changes, we update the tactics. No big deal. As long as your goals remain the same, then so does the strategy. Social media tools are merely an avenue, they are not your “big idea.” Just because a platform changes, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from another company’s success with it. The ideas behind the success often translate across mediums.

Article: “If we want truly breakthrough marketing, we need to stop reading the same social media articles everyone else is reading, stop going to the same conferences everyone is attending, stop following and friending the same gurus as everyone else is fixated on, and stop using the best practices of the same companies everyone else is trying to imitate.”

Me: Find a happy medium. Research, gather ideas, learn from others (their successes AND their mistakes), but leave breathing room for your own creative ideas. Don’t always listen to what others say. Best practices are a safety mechanism. They are important in many corporate environments, but they can really put a damper on creativity. Someone else’s breakthrough idea that became a marketing success story is great – but studying it and copying it doesn’t add anything to your portfolio of breakthrough ideas. It’s only a breakthrough once.

Article: “Instead we should open ourselves up and expose ourselves to new and different inputs — engaging in novel cultural experiences, studying various fields of academic and scientific exploration, or simply surrounding ourselves with unusual people and things. A richer, more diverse mental canvas serves as fertile ground for marketing creativity.”

Me: True. We’re all tired of seeing a lot of the same. What do you know that I haven’t heard from 100 other people? THAT’S your secret ingredient. THAT’S what I want to know about you. Be different!

Article: “We also need to first think “what,” then “how.” Carpenters don’t study their toolboxes to come up with ideas for furniture to make. Composers don’t begin writing symphonies by identifying the instruments that will play them. So marketers shouldn’t start with social media tools and then try to create a brand idea that lends itself to the platform.”

Me: Exactly. The big idea is what matters. Don’t worry about the tools. We’ll work it into the various tools out there, and if we hit a wall, then we’ll build a newer, better tool that can handle your big idea (and make it fly). Don’t limit yourself by thinking in terms of what tools are available right now.

Article: “Marketing operations should be less about data, more about insights — our tools should produce fewer measured steps, more creative leaps.”

Me: This sentence is the reason for my blog post. Why are these mutually exclusive??? Yes, take leaps, but please measure & please collect data. Also, please prepare for your leap. Don’t leap blindly. Taking measured steps is important groundwork before your leap. Those measured steps help you get to know your audience, help you to recognize what resonates vs. what stirs resentment. It’s your research. Which leaps can your brand and your audience handle? Sure you don’t really know until you take that leap, but you are at least responsible for reading the warning signs that you get from taking measured steps first. Take, for example, Evel Knievel. Each leap was a risk with its own surprises. He was certainly considered a daredevil. He was making bold jumps that everyone else was afraid to attempt. BUT, he got there by taking measured steps. He didn’t start with his longest jump – he worked up to it, gathering data incrementally. Measured steps and creative leaps are NOT mutually exclusive.

Article: “In this tough economic era, perhaps the threat of more financial pain has replaced breakthrough ideas with incremental improvements…”

Me: I don’t think that incremental improvements are REPLACING breakthrough ideas, but rather leading up to them. Incremental improvements are valuable in their own right, but often they are just the way of building the trust before the big leap. Breakthroughs get stopped in their tracks if the proper trust hasn’t been established first. Build credibility. I, personally, have the most creative freedom and the best breakthroughs with the clients who’s trust I gained slowly through incremental improvements.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Sheila June 8, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Morgan you have made some excellent points here. The only one I would like to further elaborate on, though, is around marketing operations being less about data and more about insights. You asked why they are mutually exclusive. I believe that the author was not saying they are, but she was pointing out how way too often marketing folks only look at the data and unless they can see in black and white exactly how much their ROI was they don’t want to continue with a campaign. There is more to measuring a campaign than the exact amount of widgets you sold directly from an ad. Often the ROI comes in goodwill created through social media. Or in having “friends” refer your site to other friends. Not easy to measure in exact dollars and cents, but extremely important nonetheless. Social media is invaluable for starting dialogues with your clients, for learning how the feel and what they have to say. It may lead to the next big product a company develops! The insight you gain may be what makes your company the next to make the Fortune 500 list, even though at the time you were not able to measure in exact data how valuable the comments were that were posted to your site.


Brian McDonald June 8, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Wow, Morgan you are hitting on all cylinders! I admire and respect your passion for not just accepting the recent backlash that has been hitting social media lately. True we are starting to ween off the “new car smell” of social networks, but the recent whining that some marketing pros is just that, whining! True social media will not replace all marketing just like radio kept on after TV and TV lived on after computers, etc. Great points you make about hearing what is important by what is being consumed and shared by the social web allows us to determine what works and what does not! And yes why does data and insight exclusive????? Insight comes from data along with input and feedback from peers, revenue numbers, and other ways to gauge a campaign. Great job with your counterpoints and I could see your passion on the subject while reading this!!


Phil Buckley June 8, 2010 at 7:57 pm

One part of the original article that struck me was the idea that incremental change can’t be a big idea – I call BS on that. Most really transformational changes are incremental.

Great post Morgan, you nailed this one… again.


Cord Silverstein June 9, 2010 at 10:07 am

Right on Morgan. So many great points. I could not agree more that social media along with all other forms or marketing and communications are simply tactics. Without that big idea, without an effective story, these tactics will never be successful.


Melissa Adams Melissa June 9, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Just my two cents on this subject – Evel Knievel wasn’t so much worried about building up distance incrementally to take on the bigger jumps/leaps….. it was the RAMPS he cared most about and spent the most time engineering. So my take on marketing incremental vs. leaps, insights vs. data is to know where you’re going, precisely how you’re getting there and what’s waiting for you to land on. Any marketing tactic be it social, advertising, what have you, is only as good as the strategic planning and execution. I advise my clients to measure, monitor, test and take those leaps, but know what your goal is first.


Lisa Sullivan June 10, 2010 at 10:14 am

I think everyone can agree the bottom line here is have your goal in mind, execute it based on all the parameters set forth, and measure it – measure it constantly; not just after the goal has been reached. Without a combination of efforts, then what’s the point, right?

Great post again, Morgan. Can’t wait to read your next one!


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