Evolving The “War Room” is the Key to Advertising’s Future

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After spending some time at Advertising Week at the end of September, it seems that everyone in the marketing industry is focused on the future. Between forecasts for media spending and strategies for new consumer-facing technology, it’s clear that everyone (once again) wants to be ahead of the curve.

Yet rarely do forward-looking conversations focus on the day-to-day work of the marketer. We talk about emerging platforms and technologies that will be used, but the challenge is often about understanding how everything fits into the 9 to 5 and how the workspace will change to accommodate progress. There’s a growing need for 24-7 marketing awareness to align with the always-on consumer, but how does that manifest itself in the brand marketer’s office? We’ve likely already seen a preview in the form of the “war room,” an all-hands marketing gathering geared around a tent pole event like the Super Bowl or Oscars.

The problem is that war rooms as they exist today are episodic — a few agency folks embedded with the brand for one night, working overtime to ensure they don’t miss an opportunity for the next “dunk in the dark” moment. Why is this only for one night? The future of advertising relies on building permanent marketing command centers that put data, visualization, and control of all of a brand’s campaigns at the marketer’s fingertips.

Permanent setups do exist — I’ve seen several when visiting brands. The issue is that so few marketers actually use these setups on an ongoing basis. You hesitate to call them “war rooms” when they lack any sense of urgency. In fact, some of the material on display isn’t even useful. Some simply have video monitors showing trending hashtags and random sentiments. Others have charts and graphs on display because they look pretty. What is a marketer supposed to do with that information? What does it even mean?

The always-on marketing command center should give marketers the power to look at their actual campaigns, and to adjust their media spend and campaign tactics as needed. The marketing industry is now heavily reliant on technology, but to many, technology simply means that a computer spits out information. That means information is only going one way, and is hardly interactive. Marketers need the ability to interact with the data and images they’re seeing to determine the best course of action, making changes both big and small.

One of the best examples of this I’ve seen belongs to Wendy’s, where the team has access to the digital menus and signage at every Wendy’s location. In other words, Wendy’s HQ can see what consumers are seeing in any store in any state at that moment on their monitors. This allows them to push menu changes, content, and animations through to their locations instantly.

Wendy’s is a great example of a brand constantly tweaking to deliver the best experience to the consumer. The goal of using technology like this is not to have a 50-person gathering every four to six months, but to oversee the media buying and messaging and make light touches periodically.

There’s no reason other brands of all sizes and business types can’t develop something similar internally. Agencies have a clear need for this in both managing and presenting creative work to clients. Implementing systems like this may seem daunting, but the cost of hardware is plummeting — 65-inch monitors are available for as little as $500. Investing in the technology to run a system like this is arguably as important as investing in technology to buy and serve the advertising itself.

The future of marketing isn’t about episodic messaging, but about accessing the actual campaign and seeing it live, in the office, at all times. It’s about knowing what’s going on with every piece of a cross-channel marketing effort, as well as competitors’ campaigns that are hitting consumers’ feeds. The social media war-room of today is a tiny window into the future. Marketers can use that model, exchanging the single-day, all-in mentality for a long-lasting permanent look across their campaigns. Suddenly, they’ll find themselves in the future, complete with a useful tool for day-to-day marketing execution.


This article originally ran on iMedia Connection

It’s Time to Stop Calling It ‘Social’ Marketing

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Social marketing is a hot commodity, serving as an effective tool for marketers and one of the pillars driving digital as it overthrows TV in terms of marketing spend. Yet it suffers from one fatal flaw — one that can be easily fixed.

The issue is that “social” is an outdated term, and the advertising happening on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat and other platforms needs a more appropriate name. “Social” limits what marketers are able to get out of the channels because it limits what they’re capable of designing and planning. Rather than “social,” it’s time to think in terms of “responsive” advertising.

Social media was built on peer-to-peer connections between consumers, with friends, family members and strangers digitally linked to one another via a platform. The brand’s role may have been connecting with these consumers as peers at first, but the honeymoon is over. Brand marketing strategy today should focus on engaging with consumers by responding to real-world trends and audience data via content that appeals to these consumers. In other words, the creative and messaging have to be responsive. This is why some of the biggest brands have already shed the “social” moniker in favor of this more accurate term.

New platforms were called social media early on because there was no precedent for this level of interaction, online or off. But these ad channels got stuck with the term, much the same way someone can get stuck with their childhood nickname for too long. After a while, it becomes sort of degrading, which is the problem that “social” faces now.

These are some of the most powerful tools at a marketer’s disposal, but they are regarded as insubstantial. “Social” sounds twee, like an ice cream social. “Responsive” is immediate and implies real-time. One word denotes some of the most sophisticated marketing processes possible, while the other makes it sound as if it’s marketing for a party in a high-school gym. These platforms can’t be effective if marketers treat them as second-tier, rather than as the powerful tools that they are.

The other major problem with the “social” label is that it lumps disparate platforms together. Any marketer that ran the same exact creative and copy across Twitter and Instagram could be called foolish, so why is it OK to lump both together in a marketing plan?

These two platforms generally compete for a share of the social dollar, when instead they should be viewed together, competing for traditional dollars. The press loves to pit Google, Facebook and Twitter against each other, but in reality, those companies are on the same team. Each has a completely different value proposition, and smart marketers are taking advantage of all of them, rather than trying to carve up a percentage of the digital budget that has been earmarked for “social” advertising.

By changing how we refer to this kind of marketing, we’re ultimately changing how brands and agencies brainstorm and strategize their campaigns. The data signals coming from responsive media allow marketers to develop creative messaging based on how consumers are expected to react. That should open up a world of creative possibilities that drive results. Other channels are racing to catch up to this capability, and in the next few years, we’ll likely see many media labels melt away as marketers become more fluid with where they allocate their dollars to get the best result. Call it what you will, but hopefully, “social” is the first label to go.

This article originally ran on Ad Week’s Social Times.