Can Facebook, the marketer’s online best friend ever become its ace salesman?

30 May,2012

By Delshad Irani & Ravi Balakrishnan

 

In 2009, Facebook terminated the ‘Whopper Sacrifice’, Burger King’s social experiment cum marketing activation. Created by Crispin Porter Bogusky, the campaign’s premise was the more ties you sever the closer you get to your BK Whopper. The application as it turned out was a whopping success.

 

Within a week 200,000 ‘friends’ were virtually burned out of existence from various lists. Facebook couldn’t handle the loss of those hard-earned friendships. Burger King, on the other hand, proved the point it set out to make – Americans sure do love their burgers. That same year, Swedish furniture giant Ikea spent practically nothing to create a campaign to promote its newest store.

 

The agency Forsman & Bodenfors created a new Facebook account for the manager at the store in the city of Malmo and posted catalogue pictures of furnished rooms.

 

Users could win furniture and other items in the photos if they beat their friends to the punch. All they needed to do was tag the pieces with their names first. Needless to say the prospect of first-to-tag-wins drove Facebookians crazy. The campaign was hassle-free, cheap and effective, just like the Scandinavian furniture it was advertising.

 

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago. General Motors, the world’s fourth-largest advertiser and spender of $3.9 billion globally on advertising in 2010, haunted by questions related to effectiveness and ROI, pulled out its pretty penny, all $10 million of it, from Facebook’s paid-ad kitty just days before the social network’s stock went public.

 

In addition to that sum, the automaker spends a reported $30 million on content creation for social media. These examples make Baccarat-crystal clear what we know already – you don’t have to pay big to make an impact via social media.

 

In India, most marketers love talking about the worth of a campaign by the number of fans, or likes received on the most recent post. But even they are starting to ask a tricky question: what’s the real worth of their campaigns on Facebook? Worth more than a burger, eh?

 

The site itself has been trying to tell advertisers that no longer will mere presence and innovative social media campaigns cut it. If they want scale, they’ll have to shell out the hard cash for offerings like “sponsored stories”, not to be confused with “sponsored ads”.

 

For instance, products like Reach Generator guarantee that posts by a brand stand to be seen by 75 per cent of its fans every month or an estimated 50 per cent every week. Non users of the tool will have to settle for an average of only 16 per cent of fans viewing posts on a weekly basis. Not everyone’s buying though, believing that compelling content will win any day of the week.

 

Anuradha Aggarwal, senior VP, brand communication and insights, Vodafone India said: “Since having high engagement scores is our goal, we focus on creating content on our Facebook page rather than on advertising. We focus on creating posts and apps to enable our 3.2 million fans to create conversations and experiences around the brand.”

 

PepsiCo’s approach is to use a combination of both, posts/promotions on brand pages and display advertising. One of the cola maker’s prominent campaigns on the site was ‘Meet Messi in Miami’ where fans had to complete a series of tasks to win a chance to meet The Atomic Flea.

 

During the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup, Pepsi launched an online progamme as part of the ‘Change the Game’ campaign where fans could win a dream trip across the country for all India matches. The latter initiative was listed as one of the 19 best campaigns in the world by Facebook on their success stories blog, the only Indian effort to feature on the page.

 

According to Homi Battiwalla, category director – colas, hydration and mango based beverages, PepsiCo India, it is too early to give a conclusive opinion on new advertising properties like sponsored stories and other offers. So the bottom line when it comes to the marketing on the social network is the game hasn’t quite changed. “The primary focus remains on organic content as we believe it results in better consumer connect,” said Mr Battiwalla.

 

For automakers like Mahindra & Mahindra, Facebook is good for what it was born to do in the first place. Well, that and to spy on “old acquaintances”. According to Vivek Nayer, senior VP, marketing, automotive division, Mahindra & Mahindra: “Rather than looking at Facebook for advertising reach, we’ve leveraged it for what the platform is inherently good at; building communities. Today at 5 million, we are the largest automotive community on Facebook in India”

 

In the case of Unilever, the company moved from almost accidentally stumbling on the power of the site – after noting a lot of action on its first Cornetto Luv Reels page long after the promotion was over – to it being a key pillar to the launch of Fruttare, its new range for the summer. Sapan Sharma, general manager – ice creams, Hindustan Unilever, said: “There’s an advertiser login where you get all the details. In the first 10 days of launch, 1.2 lakh fans signed up and there were 1.2 to 1.5 lakh conversations.”

 

Arch-rival P&G is not lagging either. According to a company spokesperson: “In just less than two months, we have over 690,000 fans for our Thank You, Mom campaign. This makes it the largest, most engaged-with Thank You, Mom community globally.” For the launch of Olay’s premium skin care range, Olay Regenerist, a Facebook waiting list was created, with both fashion journalists and consumers signing up for an exclusive trial on the site; in less than three weeks, over 11,400 people had registered.

 

But as the eight-year-old Facebook enters a new league as a listed company, it needs to, and rather urgently, scale its revenues to sync with its audience. Minute, often ineffective, right-rail ads aren’t exactly a juicy bone to dangle in front of existing and potential advertisers; thus the introduction of premium ads and better placement.

 

According to Siddhart Rao, CEO of digital agency Webchutney, the sweet spot between organic and paid promotion is the one that will yield maximum benefit to brands looking to extract value from social media marketing platforms like Facebook. “One cannot work without the other,” he said.

 

S Yesudas, managing director – Indian subcontinent, Vizeum, said: “I do not think all marketers know what to expect from the medium. The hurry to be on to the bandwagon gets them there. The fact that Facebook offers free advertising inventory for brands to test the medium gets overlooked. In my opinion, the medium can be successfully used to build relationships with the consumers.

 

Targeting can be done based on profile information, relationship status, interest or based on certain words in profiles or status messages. But the truth is the brand communication will always compete with the updates, videos, etc from friends.”

 

Indeed, it’s complicated; the relationship between advertisers and Facebook. Especially when one moves from the fluffy world of engagement to hard sales. Many retailers in the West like JC Penney, Gamestop and Gap pulled the shutters on their stores on Facebook this February.

 

Chhaya Balachandran Aiyer – founder – MD, BC Web Wise said: “Ironically Wade

Gerten, the founder of 8thBridge – the flower store that was responsible for the coinage of the term F-commerce as it was the first to open shop on Facebook for 1,800 Flowers – has admitted that sales never really materialised for their first or other F-outlets, adding that F-commerce deserved an F. Given the fact that F-commerce (Facebook commerce) has failed in the west for retailers, it appears that Facebook would be an engagement vehicle. Peer recommendation and product ratings are not integrated. Should it launch a brand intelligence tool which can be used by consumers – which exposes peer comments and recommendations that can be accessed by the FB community – then the ball game will change.”

 

Venkat Mallik – president, Tribal DDB & Rapp India says Facebook’s ability to deliver sales impact has been a bit of a mixed bag: “There need to be more strong case studies demonstrating the sales or brand impact from the use of Facebook led engagement.”

 

However while Facebook may not itself be a platform to sell it can impact sales according to some of its satisfied customers. Unilever’s Mr Sharma for instance believes there’s a definite co-relation between high levels of engagement and products sold.

 

According to Carlton D’Silva, chief creative officer, Hungama Digital Media, “Opinions of family and friends matter when making purchase decisions decisions and Facebook activity will provide a lot of data to consumers, which can be leveraged in places where they make these decisions, causing a significant, if not direct impact on purchase behaviour.”

 

“GM is slashing its advertising budgets by $ 2 billion, of this only $10 million or 0.5 per cent was on Facebook. They have also announced they won’t advertise on Super Bowl, either. Further, what should be noted is that GM has 8 million fans already. I am sure that they are going to continue with the engagement plans for acquired fans. It would be foolish to assume anything beyond, or assume Facebook has failed for GM, it would be just that advertising further is currently not the best bet in its media plan,” said Ms Aiyer

 

The users of Facebook both on the agency and the marketer side each have their wishlist ready.

 

“The analytics are available at a lag of 7 to 15 days; I’m sure it can come earlier. I’m sure there will be a time when we can talk to people from a specific city or market,” said Mr Sharma

 

“They are hugely data rich. If in some way they get to using some of the data millions of people put in their hands on a minute to minute basis, sky will be the limit for them.This will surely come in with resistance from the users, unless they persuade them. They have to walk this path very carefully,” added Mr Yesudas.

 

Most brands have a clear agenda from marketing spends on social media platforms like Facebook – greater outreach among target audiences through personalised interaction and engagement, leading to higher impact on conversions and sales.

 

“It’s a perfectly reasonable expectation from a social communication platform with 900 million members,” said Mr Rao of Webchutney, “but whether brands invest enough thought, time, resources and action to engage audiences meaningfully is another question.” And one helluva question it is. Because for every whopper of a Scandinavian success story, there are at least a dozen marketing campaigns that have fallen flat on their face. So, ask not what you can do on Facebook but what Facebook can do for you.

 

Source: The Economic Times
Copyright © 2012, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

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