It just might be the worst-kept secret of social media marketing: You can’t make something “go viral,” nor can you force a campaign to generate “buzz.” Rather, these online marketing standards are met only upon an initiative’s execution and its subsequent warm reception from target audiences. They are the ones who control and define viral/buzz-worthiness, not the communications executives who painstakingly shape messaging, test concepts and executive strategies.
It’s a cruel joke, especially considering most communications execs have had the same experience: Their boss or client says “do viral marketing” for fill-in-the-blank campaign, and he/she is not interested in hearing that such a thing isn’t up them. But remove the pressure that comes with these labels and approach the marketing initiative from an integrated vantage point, and you just might find that the buzz will follow.
INTEGRATED MARKETING VERSION 2.0
The definition of integrated marketing has morphed alongside the evolution of media.
“Every organization defines [integrated marketing] a little differently,” says John Hartinger, vice president of interactive marketing for A&E Network. “Our definition is marketing, promotions and campaigns that reach across a number of different media disciplines, and that combine external partners and alliances, to produce nontraditional PR experiences.” (For an example of A&E’s approach to integrated marketing, see the case study on pages 4 and 5.)
Hartinger’s use of the term “nontraditional” brings the role of social media in integrated marketing to light, as this is the component that will directly result in buzz if properly executed and, in turn, embraced by target audiences.
“Social media plays a big role in integrated marketing because campaigns [should be] about fostering a dialogue and extending the conversation beyond paid advertising,” Hartinger says.
Indeed, a recently released industry survey revealed that 88% of executives were using social media to market their businesses (see page 3 for more on the survey results).
The same study revealed that these social media marketing efforts produced a number of benefits, including generating exposure, increasing traffic and producing new business partnerships. To reap these rewards, though, communications execs first need to make the digital piece of their integrated campaign stand out. The following are best practices for doing so:
â–¶ Discover where your target audiences socialize online. “You have to start with a statistically relevant study of where people are talking about your product or service niche,” says Shabbir Safdar, founder of Virilion Inc. “Online conversational monitoring services can give you this and, when combined with reach, can instantly tell you where you should concentrate your efforts.”
These services can range from free alerts to custom monitoring systems provided by vendors.
â–¶ Develop a campaign component that suits the online space and the brand. While digital platforms are increasingly integral to marketing, they aren’t always ideal for every campaign. Social media marketing is most effective when the content is interactive and entertaining; if neither characteristic suits the brand, product or service you want to promote, don’t force the issue. If, on the other hand, you can use entertainment or interactivity to your advantage, then tweak the marketing messages to spread in online spaces.
Take the integrated marketing initiative Kodak executives launched in 2007 to promote the company’s new line of all-in-one inkjet printers, for which the main differentiating factor was their use of low-cost, premium ink cartridges. According to Barbara Pierce, public relations director, worldwide marketing and communications, for Kodak, the team planned an integrated marketing campaign with digital and traditional components.
The digital pieces were developed specifically with viral marketing in mind: Online tactics included Web videos, interactive games, a print-cost calculator widget and a dedicated Web site (www.inkisit.com), all of which employed humor. Each of these tactics supplemented the traditional marketing components (see below).www.inkisit.com
â–¶ Evaluate the conversations that follow the campaign’s launch. This is where you will see how “viral” or “buzz-worthy” your marketing effort really is.
According to Safdar, you can use Web analytics to see how much traffic the initiative drove to the desired location. He offers two specific ways to track this:
1. Examine the impact of traffic from a single domain, such as YouTube, Facebook or MySpace; or,
2. Use tagged links that maintain their campaign identification even if they are passed around virally online. ( Google Analytics, for example, offers specific instructions for tagging links with its service.)
Then, Safdar says, “Look at your campaign-based traffic in comparison to the performance of the entire site audience. If the specific campaign work you’re doing is not outperforming the general site traffic as a whole, then you need to change your tactics or stop putting resources into these channels.”
THE OUT-OF-INTERNET EXPERIENCE
Clearly, social media plays an integral role in integrated marketing and the evaluation of campaigns’ success, but it is by no means the only part of the equation. After all, non-digital efforts—traditional media outreach, events, etc.—all contribute to the viral quality of any given initiative. With that, consider these communications techniques for building out the offline elements of an integrated marketing effort:
â–¶ Identify the audiences that are key to meeting your objectives. For almost every marketing campaign, target audiences will be media and consumers, but these categories are too broad to be the heart of an effective strategy; hone these audiences to identify more distinct groups within each.
Executives at Osram Sylvania (OSI) did just that when preparing to launch the Micro-Mini Twist brand of energy-efficient lightbulbs. Instead of going after all media and consumers, says OSI head of public relations Stephanie Anderson, they homed in on trade media, eco-friendly consumers and trade buyers. The green theme in the context of these audiences would become the linchpin of the campaign’s “All Green Hands on Deck” message.
â–¶ Use the digital components to build up to a live event. Social media is a great way to build anticipation of a product launch that culminates in a live event, be it a press conference, a demonstration or a consumer showcase. Kodak execs debuted the new inkjet printers during a live event at NBC Studios, at which comedian Molly Shannon and Kodak CEO Antonio Perez acted out a Saturday Night Live -inspired mock TV segment. The dedicated Web site and video clips teased the big launch event, and the humorous tone was the common denominator.
Likewise, the OSI team held a series of events for its target audiences: executive media days in four cities, CEO-led tours of its corporate R&D facility for key technology reporters, media briefings at more than 25 major trade shows, an Earth Day consumer event and a sponsored green products co-op media tour. For this particular campaign, digital platforms were used more for sustaining the conversation in terms of blog coverage.
â–¶ Link to the bottom line. According to Anderson, a key lesson for any integrated marketing effort is the need to connect communications to bottom-line results.
“It was true a year ago, and it’s true even more today,” she says. “[The All Green Hands on Deck program] demonstrated a 43% increase in sales in the Micro-Mini CFL products in one of our national retail outlets. This got the attention of our decision makers and really gave us momentum to [do similar] programs in this bad economy.”
Stephanie Anderson, firstname.lastname@example.org, Shabbir Safdar, email@example.com; John Hartinger, firstname.lastname@example.org; Barbara Pierce, email@example.com