Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Rock in the Pond

Given the power and potential of social media as a marketing tool, there is considerable interest in understanding how it interacts with traditional media as part of a broader mix.

There is a considerable amount of work going on in this area across a broad spectrum of social miners and digital pathway attribution seekers. But sometimes you can be too close to something to see it clearly. If you’re looking for the social media interaction from within the realm of the digital world, you may see “patterns” in the data that seem to establish relationships, but are in reality collinear with other larger forces taking place both within the beyond the total marketing mix (not to mention exhibiting dangerously “drunk thinking”).

To really understand how social and traditional media work together, I’ve been examining many econometric models from across multiple industries where there was a substantial investment in traditional media (e.g. TV, print, direct mail, etc.). Some of these models studied brands or companies where there was no material social media activity. Others had added a substantial social media element to the mix of variables. In all cases, a broad spectrum of “uncontrollable” variables (e.g. macro and micro economic factors, competitive marketing activities, category consumption trends, distribution changes, etc.) were added to the models to further refine the understanding of the impact of the marketing tactics alone and in concert. A few observations seem to be arising:

  1. Traditional media can often be the “rock in the pond of social media”. When the message delivered by traditional media is either very good or unfortunately very bad, the media message reverberates throughout the social spectrum like shock waves through a still pond hit by a rock.
  2. This “ripple effect” can add substantially to the overall impact of the traditional media and boost the financial payback significantly.
  3. Modelers regularly miss this insight if their methods are set to read the impact of the social media alone, or are looking only at the online tactical elements.
  4. Missing this causes many marketers to UNDER-ESTIMATE THE REAL VALUE OF THE TRADITIONAL MEDIA and over-estimate the digital elements. In some cases by as much as 20% to 40%.

The simple fact is that if there was NO stimulus from the traditional media (or if the impact was beneath some observable threshold), there would be no material reverberation in the social media space. Not that you couldn’t cause some social buzz without traditional media, but doing so usually requires some combination of A) catching creative lightning in a bottle and going viral; B) discounting to abnormally heavy levels; C) “borrowing interest” in forms like celebrity endorsement, customer loyalty programs, etc.; or D) experiencing something unfortunately negative which everyone seems to take notice of. In any case, those social-only strategies tend to be either unexpectedly expensive or very rare (one in a million perhaps?).

Using traditional media is still the most RELIABLE way to get a message out quickly and uniformly. And by investing in effective copy engineering processes (at the proven intersection of customer insights and relevant creative disruption), you can toss your rock confidently into the pond of social media and expect to see waves of profitable opportunity arrive on your shore.

Pat LaPointe is Executive Vice President at MarketShare, and Managing Editor of MarketingNPV Journal, the most widely read journal of marketing measurement, available online FREE at www.MarketingNPV.com.