2014: The Year of Social Performance Marketing

shutterstock-160417190Wow, 2013 has been another amazing, fast-moving year in digital marketing, ending with the Twitter IPO and what’s looking like a record holiday season.

As we gaze out on 2014 and beyond, the trends with the biggest momentum continue to be in social and mobile and as I’ve shared before, they are actually the same thing.

What we’ve learned and continue to evolve — especially in the growing social mobile context — is that every new digital marketing opportunity must deliver trackable performance if it is to survive. Fundamentally, this means marketers must be able to reach key audiences, attract and engage them, move them along a key business path and get the data they need to prove and improve performance. Without any of these, publishers and networks just won’t scale, which is why brand marketers have long embraced digital.

And while the coming tidal wave (snark) of “TV advertising” promised by Facebook and Twitter will undoubtedly impact the marketplace, digital marketing at its core is about driving trackable and tangible outcomes.

Let me say that again – because digital is so deeply trackable (and traditional advertising isn’t) everything we do — driving impressions, video views or even “brand health” metrics — is done in a more “performance” context. Every digital campaign captures data and even the most brand-focused marketers analyze a set of key metrics.

Mature digital channels like search, email and display all follow this model. Social, the next big digital channel (sorry, Forrester), is both adjusting to and feeling the pain of this. Facebook very deliberately focused on reach and scale as it developed tools for targeting, continuously innovated around post and ad types that both capture attention and engage, and slowly developed insights reporting emphasizing a focus on the API over marketer reporting tools. Where Facebook has struggled is in both proving and delivering value further down the business funnel.

Twitter, on the other hand, is in a major sprint to get baseline tools and data in place, accelerated by the IPO and their first few quarterly earnings reports. Twitter has brought to market some interesting targeting tools and promises even more. However, we’ve seen very little around engagement, driving business value and analytics. These missing elements will greatly slow their ability to grow ad spend.

Again, for any new digital marketing channel to succeed long term, it must be able to deliver and prove its business value to brands. While we get excited about Vine, Instagram, Snapchat and whatever may come next, we aren’t moving significant budget to these channels. They are low cost, low effort and ultimately low value compared to where the big dollars are currently spent because they haven’t yet developed trackable and tangible outcomes.

What Real Business Value Really Means

With the remarkable speed at which social is growing as an advertising channel, 2014 is destined to be a big, big year, not just in revenue growth or media hype but in the channel’s ability to deliver real and sustained business value. Here’s why:

  1. Digital advertisers run campaigns and derive value from the web (including ecommerce), on mobile, on TV (as it converges with digital) and at offline retail. The social networks’ challenge is to prove that what people do on-network is valuable, that they are referred to the right places off-network and that they ultimately convert. The on-network stuff is manageable, but as soon as someone clicks a post or tweet, the networks (and often marketers) lose control of the process. This is changing. Facebook and Twitter are actively working to move more of the engagement, consideration and possibly even conversion on-network. Marketers have also already begun to take more control over the post-click experience. Driven mostly by the challenge of the social mobile context, current websites, microsites, CMSs and analytics tools don’t enable the agility and flexibility required to do social mobile advertising at scale. 2014 will be a pivotal year in bridging this gap as the networks, embedded marketing vendors, and savvy start-ups all rush to solve these problems.
  2. Programmatic/data-driven advertising at scale, which paves the way for the next generation of “TV advertising” and our ability to more precisely target key audiences in real time will officially come to social. With data-driven ad buying comes the need for conversion signals. In 2014, we will see the rewiring of how we track conversion events online, on TV and at retail. Facebook already offers an “oCPM” ad buying option that allows marketers to let Facebook optimize their ad dollars against key conversion events. The key is that you must drop Facebook tracking code on all the events you want to optimize against. This is just the beginning.
  3. We are now living in the “age of excellence,” to quote Jason Calacanis. It used to be that you could be successful creating ‘good enough’ products and doing ‘good enough’ marketing. That’s changing. Not only is there so much competition for our attention in every corner of the marketplace, but consumers are more and more savvy. 

“…consumers instantly decide if something is
a) an insta-buy
b) an insta-pass (i.e.: non-purchase)
c) an insta-wait (i.e.: wait for more info)”

With all the promise of programmatic and the hope that data and scale will stuff as many people through your conversion machines to make it worth the effort, nothing matters more than quality and your ability to “iterate to excellence.” Your brand voice, your posts, tweets/ads, photography, copy, social mobile experiences, your products and management of the entire experience must all be excellent. It’s always hard to be an excellent digital marketer but with the right tools and signals, at least you’ll have a fighting chance.

I’m not trying to create a new marketing buzzword, but I do think the idea and discipline of “social performance marketing” (it’s not about affiliates – sorry ecommerce marketers – it’s more about results) is where marketers need to go. It assumes clear brand and business objectives, the social mobile context and the approach of iterative optimization of key performance metrics.

In other channels, media buyers can work independently from the creative plus content creators and analysts. In social, the stack collapses and everything becomes intertwined. We must work together to work at all.

Media buyers must be well-versed in targeting, conversion-driven buying, retargeting, and more. Creative and content creators must align to key target audiences and consider the entire funnel and key conversion events from top to bottom. The data must be available to buyers, planners and creative teams so they can quickly iterate, together.

To truly drive the social performance we require we must break down the walls. Our consumers have spoken and they’ve chosen social. The social networks are now desperately trying to deliver on their marketing promise, and we, as marketers, now need to shift our focus and teams onto key outcomes. 2014 is going to be awesome.

Title image courtesy of Shutterstock

Related reading