59% of Facebook's advertising revenue or $1.34 billion was from mobile as their overall revenue surged to $2.5 billion which was a 72% increase over the prior year. Facebook has had an awesome mobile quarter and have demonstrated another successful pivot. Here's what I believe Facebook is doing really well and what they should change.
What Facebook has done well:
- The shift to mobile has been nothing short of extraordinary. While they may have been a little late in pivoting, once they did, Facebook did so with gusto. Other companies can learn from this. Facebook also recognized that a second pivot was required - a pivot to mobility and niche applications. The development of Paper, Messenger and Camera and forcing users to move to them was the first manifestation of this. The second was of course the acquisition of What's App and like Instagram the proclamation that there's no rush to monetize the platform.
- Establishing credibility among advertisers around the world. No platform has established as much marketing credibility in as short a period as Facebook has. Barring minor public relations challenges as the one with GM when it chose not to advertise on the platform, by and large Facebook has very quickly (and deservedly according to most) won the hearts and minds of advertisers everywhere. Probably Google is the only other online platform that carries more credibility than them today. Facebook has done this successfully in a shorter time period and on a platform that has been changing more dramatically too.
Now what Facebook must change quickly:
- Allowing for fake brand metrics to persist longer than they should. The same discipline that is used to kill product features, should be applied to its brand metrics as well. Facebook should remove page like counts from brand pages immediately. They're useless and are tied to a Facebook philosophy from another era. They continue to cause confusion and angst among marketers. Similarly, Facebook should make a definitive decision on organic reach and consistently apply it everywhere - not allowing any confusion or ambiguity to take place. These aren't small questions as millions and millions of dollars are at stake. Instead, Facebook should double down on helping brands truly measure the advertising impact on offline sales not just in North America but especially in other countries around the world.
- Sharing of Facebook User Data. As I've advocated in the past, Facebook is sitting on a gold mine of data that can and should be shared (anonymously) with other organisations, the way Twitter does. Facebook understands humanity in ways that no one else does. Sharing of the data more quickly and more expansively will help individuals, institutions, academia, governments, human rights groups and corporations learn, understand, innovate, create and more. It'll move humanity forward. Not to mention that it'll help marketers create advertising that consumers care deeply about. Please rethink the approach to Facebook Data It's time to open up the date in new, imaginative and trusted ways. It shouldn't just be a hobby. Innovation doesn't have to be just in products, it can be in what you do next for the world.
The next decade will be a fascinating one for Facebook and for all of us who continue to care deeply about the company. Whether Facebook looks very similar or very different in the next decade, we don't know. In the meantime, I hope Facebook continues to build on its strengths while changing what needs to be changed right away to benefit not just its users but other stakeholders too.
Super Bowl advertising mania is setting in. Somehow the narrative about the advertising seems as important as the game itself. There is no doubt, marketers will pull out all the stops this year and already have. The stakes seem to rise with each Super Bowl. And this year it is no different snow or no snow.
In fact, from putting the ads online weeks before the game and plastering hashtags everywhere, to creating teaser ads to promote the actual ads and rushing to find the most shocking celebrities to sign, the Super Bowl advertising mania is at its most flamboyant. But not everyone can or will win the day. For me advertisers that do the following are much more likely to have success with their gigantic spends.
- Marketing to the Network not the Individual: It's odd to say this in 2014 but most advertisers still haven't cracked the true potential of marketing to the network versus the individual. The Super Bowl is one of the most social events, and Super Bowl parties define the day. However, most Super Bowl advertising experiences are created for the lone user in mind - a person sitting alone at home in front of a television with a mobile phone in his hand. And what's worse is that the digital environment is treated only as an echo chamber and an extension of what happens on television.
Rather I'll be looking for advertising experiences that are designed for the network and not just the individual. If you assume that your viewer is in all likelihood at a Super Bowl party, how would you create the communication that triggers or leads to a deeper, shared experience with him and his friends? How would you design the advertising to drive physical and virtual world conversations? (Hint - putting a hash-tag at the end of a spot is not enough). Or how would you design a Super Bowl brand experience that is fundamentally participatory that gets more interesting the more people that participate in it? Or for that matter, how would you design a Super Bowl experience that's fundamentally different if you support the winning team or the losing team (different experiences for different tribes)? An advertiser that approaches the Super Bowl with thoughts like those in mind, will standout in my opinion.
- Harnessing Viewer Real-Time Feedback loops: There is no question in my mind that real-time marketing took a few steps back at last year's Super Bowl. The concept got trivialized, over-simplified and reduced to a raw tactic. And in all likelihood with war rooms galore and agency hours waiting to be burnt, that'll happen again this year. I suspect though, that as with the Grammys last week, it will be with limited success. However, more important than trying culture-jacking or quick-witted copy writing, is tapping into what your brand loyalists are feeling and creating a uniquely shared experience with them that doesn't compromise your brand.
Brands that have real-time feedback loops corresponding to what their loyalists are doing (versus what's happening on the field alone or with the electricity supply) will win. You've got to make those loops work in your favor, but you need to know them to take advantage of them. Of the approximately 30 million tweets expected during this game, how many of them will be from your brand loyalists? Can you guess? Can you also analyze what just your loyalists are thinking, feeling and saying to create communications in real-time against that? If you're able to do that, I'll be impressed. I don't believe any brand truly and deeply focused on its loyalists last year. We all treated every viewer the same way and engaged with them online as if they all shared the same loyalties to our brands.
- Responding to the Human Condition. If there's one thing that's changed significantly in the last few years is the return to reality for advertising. Today, good advertising reflects, projects, represents, identifies with and responds to the human condition. It doesn't use fancy words, made up jargon, invented settings or cheap tricks to grab your attention and distract you from what you're really trying to do. Instead, it tries to add to that experience, complement it or contextualize it in meaningful and natural ways.
The brands that connect with their consumers tapping into the language of culture, with real symbols, rituals, heroes and icons will do better than those that pay celebrities for gratuitous appearances or dangle babies in front of viewers to grab their attention. It is those brands that also have simple, authentic narratives that they have permission to express will do best over the longer term.
The Samsung ad last year with Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd that played upon the culture of advertising itself in a very meta way fit this bill. Given that Samsung had spent the better part of the previous year mocking Apple and its advertising, for it do the same but with Super Bowl advertising in general seemed very normal.
- Using the Super Bowl air-time for what it is - a perfect trailer for a deeper, more longitudinal and honest narrative preferably one anchored in digital. That is the future of television in my opinion after all. One of my favorite ads from last year's Super bowl was the Dodge Ram "God made a farmer" spot which used radio legend, Paul Harvey's voice from a 1978 speech he gave to Future Farmers of America. It stirred pride and passion in the agriculture community and kicked off the Dodge Ram Year of the Farmer Campaign to raise money for the Future Farmers of America organization. An initiative that did indeed last the entire year. It's not surprising that the ad got 16 million views on YouTube and over 55,000 thumbs ups. You can't buy that kind of attention.
Marketers that spend many months and many millions of dollars creating the perfect television spot to have their :30 or :60 seconds of fame on the Super Bowl and get their next promotion on the back of the buzz created are fundamentally missing the point. We are truly in an era of authenticity where brands should create fewer ads, put more meaning and depth into the ones that they do create and anchor them deeply into a greater sense of purpose and an ongoing narrative for the brand. I hope more brands go this route in 2014 and use the Super Bowl as a staging ground for strategies of that kind.
- Focusing on brand building, customers and the business. It's a tragedy but if you follow the story of Super Bowl advertising as closely as I have, you'll notice that too much about Super Bowl advertising is driven by vanity. It's apparently the pinnacle of marketing for too many of us - to be able to work on a Super Bowl marketing initiative that wins the traditional USA Today ad meter or one of the many online conversation buzz meters (fortunately, each year more buzz meters crop up making me believe that soon there will be one for every ad in the Super Bowl soon!). Bizarrely, the role of the brand, the effect on the brand's customers and the corresponding business results don't seem to matter for such an expensive marketing initiative.
On this particular point, we all have blood on our hands. Whether you're a marketer, an agency, a journalist, a news anchor or a social media pundit, you're complicit in furthering the notion that marketing during the Super Bowl is not about building a brand or a business and instead is about winning some ad meter or the other that may do nothing for you. The brands that fight the temptation to succumb to that pressure and focus on the business rationale for why they're advertising (and with the right corresponding metrics in place), will be the ones that win over the long term. Now, this doesn't mean that they can't or shouldn't try to grab attention but grabbing attention is the means not the end.
It was a little over two years ago that I came across Bluefin Labs and Deb, its charismatic CEO. It was before Bluefin had a product (it was a technology only) and definitely well before they had any sort of sales or marketing team. Deb and I discussed how GRPs needed to evolve as a measurement format for broadcast television and it was at that time that I coined the phrase "GRPE" in a Harvard Business Review piece.
Our conversations led us, at PepsiCo Beverages, to first use Bluefin Labs to power the Pepsi Music Index at SXSW 2011 and then to become one of the first brand clients for their Social TV platform. So it is no surprise that I'm excited to hear that they are being acquired by Twitter. This acquisition is important and it means a few things in my opinion for Twitter and the social media ecosystem:
1. Twitter believes in Social TV's future. They're really placing big bets on Social TV recognizing that the discovery and engagement feedback loop with television has been responsible for considerable growth on the Twitter platform and will probably continue to drive growth in the future. They also know that this phenomena translates into advertiser interest which requires tighter metrics. That's where Bluefin labs enters the picture. Social TV has been a smart play by Twitter and continues to be one.
2. Twitter wants to build its own measurement ecosystem. Everyday of my life I get to talk to a lot of different people in the media and marketing industry. Some of them have strong opinions of Nielsen and don't particularly appreciate its dominance on everything measurement related. While that dominance simplifies my life on the brand side, I can understand why it may make certain media companies, publishers, brands, platforms and technology companies nervous. By acquiring a social analytics firm, Twitter is saying that it wants to control and own its own measurement destiny. It also sees opportunities to monetize its data more directly and doesn't want to leave that to Nielsen or anyone else. Smart again.
3. Twitter recognizes that marketers really want better metrics. If there is any single thing holding advertisers back from spending more in digital and more in emergent social media platforms, it is the rather raw measurements of this space. There are too many measures, not enough standardization, limited co-relation to broadcast and other forms of media and in some cases weak ties to ROI. This issue is exacerbated among the social media platforms. Twitter and Bluefin both recognized this and this acquisition signals that Twitter believes that it can make measurement and broadcast measurement co-relation a differentiator. The other social platforms can learn from this.
4. Twitter is comfortable in its own skin not competing with broadcast. If there's any a time to say that Digital has truly come of age, it is now. The fact that Bluefin labs and by extension of that now Twitter (with its 100 million users) believe that the platform can be used to gauge the effectiveness of television advertising shows how much has changed. Furthermore, Bluefin believes (as do its competitors like Networked Insights and Trendrr), that its tools can be used to make much smarter, cost effective and impactful television media buys. Influencing those spends is something what Twitter wants to do. It elevates Twitter from being just a social media platform to something more insight led.
5. Twitter's competitors should be getting more and more nervous. We all know that Facebook is a massive success and its aggressive move into mobile will play dividends. But what people don't talk about it is that it's never been very successful in the Social TV ecosystem (It's telling that Twitter was mentioned in 26 of the 52 national Super Bowl 2013 commercials while Facebook was in only 4). One can argue that Facebook can surive and continue to grow immensely without playing in the Social TV space or at least at the same scale as Twitter. But what does this mean for Pinterest, Tumblr, Path and the other social platforms? Each are incredible platforms but they need something to juice their next wave of hockey stick growth. It's unlikely that it'll be television and the Social TV ecosystem now with Twitter obviously doubling down in this space.
If there's any sign that the media ecosystem is on the verge of dramatic change, then these four digital trends bubbling to the surface are the latest proof points of that. These aren't random trends but are illustrative of tectonic shifts that will change the media business dramatically. Tectonic shifts of the type that we have witnessed in the music and book publishing businesses with the rise of the internet. Shifts that won't change the media landscape in time for the next upfront, but will reshape the landscape over the next five years. Here they are and what they mean for advertisers, agencies and the traditional media companies alike.
Today's Facebook earnings call was illuminating on several fronts. However, two pieces of information stood out the most. They both in my opinion represent the future of Facebook. Everything else matters less.
1. Mobile monetization will be through sponsored stories. That's smart and insightful. No mobile experience can truly support a variety of ad formats. Mobile banners are certainly not the right approach for Facebook. And their own other ad units will significantly degrade the mobile experience. Sponsored stories is the only ad format that doesn't do that. Sure there are privacy questions that remain with the use of sponsored stories but if there's any type of advertisement that I'd be willing to accept amidst limited real estate that's a cell phone, it would be a sponsored story telling me about actions that a friend or a brand has taken. This will scale up in time especially when you throw in location specific sponsored stories (not just on the targeting end but localizing the sponsored stories based on where you are.)
2. Investors and even many marketers don't understand the potential. The second key takeaway for me was that most investors do not understand the potential of the Facebook social graph. In my mind, it's like the intangible brand value associated with iconic brands. You have to put a dollar value on its very existence as it can be monetized in ways yet to be reflected in the marketplace. Mark Zuckerberg seemed to hint at this issue when he said,
"Imagine a day when you buy a new car and log in to the car's computer with Facebook and it lights up with [music, friends' addresses and retail locations] targeted to you based on your friends and interests," he said. Then he added, "Our vision for the platform is bigger than most people perceive."
Can you put a valuation on this potential today? Do you think many investors are thinking about this? Probably not but that's what's going to be at the heart of Facebook's future because 1) no one else can create social experiences in a similar fashion without access to the Facebook social graph 2) as the generation that's growing up with Facebook starts to have real spending power they are going to expect their social graph to travel everywhere with them...into their cars, refrigerators, televisions and hotel rooms. I'd suggest that marketers don't understand this potential completely either otherwise more companies would be thinking about creating Spotify and Pandora type applications on the platform and leveraging the social graph in more unique ways into their own products. Facebook on its part needs to share of its payments and mobile strategic roadmap.
What does all of this mean as a digital marketer thinking about Facebook?
Well first and foremost, I was hoping for more details on the Facebook advertising products and how the company plans to further evolve them. Lawsuits aside, Facebook continues to bet heavily on social advertisements even though that may limit its revenue growth. That's a relief. The last thing I would want is for Facebook to over-monetize the way MySpace did and degrade the experience for users and advertisers. The downside to this is that these are ad units that the marketing ecosystem isn't too familiar with. A lot more education and measurement will be required as a result. No surprise that the Facebook headcount has gone up dramatically. I suspect a lot of the new employees are sales people who will probably share the details of the evolving Facebook advertising strategy in 1:1 meetings.
Secondly, a lot can be gleaned by what a company chooses not to talk about during an earnings call. The company didn't talk about why the Fortune 100 advertisers aren't spending more on Facebook and what the company is doing to address that challenge. It maybe early days for this but I'd love to see Facebook be more transparent in how their advertising machine is performing and what the major barriers to driving more advertising growth are. I loved hearing about the three brand examples. I think that's really an important step to transparently demonstrate the impact that Facebook advertising can have. I want to see more and more specifics though and a much deeper Nielsen partnership. Maybe even something tied in with Catalina or an SymphonyIRI. Talking about the brand studies is valuable, but it isn't enough. More is needed.
Lastly, but not the least what's obvious is that Facebook is being coy in how it plans to use all the data it has about its users and its advertisers. Along with the social graph, I believe this data trove is one of Facebook's most valuable assets. An asset that can be monetized as a real-time research product for brands (with anonymous data of course). Arguably, the data can even help governments, businesses of all sizes, researchers, students and scientists. How my brand is talked about relative to competitor brands on FB can be a leading indicator of brand health and sales in a way no other measure maybe. How people live their lives as reflected by their online conversations with certain friends is massively powerful insight for companies. Facebook has access to that data and the metrics that they share publicly today are severely limited and arguably not always credible (Like counts, Chatter analysis and PTAT data). There's a lot more that could be shared. The earnings call pointed out that Facebook is no rush to open this data to marketers. That's a pity.
I've read more than a dozen stories about Marissa Mayer's move to Yahoo. Many of them miss the fundamental point. Let me get this straight first though - I think Marissa Mayer is an awesome choice for Yahoo and she has a lot to offer the company. It is also great to see another woman take the reigns of a large technology player. It's about time.
But most of the stories in the press discount what Yahoo needs most and why Marissa Mayer is such a smart choice. There's no use in Yahoo thinking of itself as a media company or a technology company if it doesn't understand user experience deeply. That's why Steve Jobs was special. That's why Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook is too. That's also why two decades ago David Filo, Jerry Yang and Marc Andreessen stood out at Yahoo and Netscape. The Yahoo CEO needs to understand how real people want to engage with digital products. But more than that the person has to have a specific vision for how people will engage with them in the future. No focus group will answer that for the CEO. It is the most critical skill/intuition that any leader who works in technology must have. The Yahoo CEO needs to use that to guide every decision. And it is different from having product chops.
Not enough senior executives have that brain muscle. Many of them (no offense meant), grew up being forced to spend inordinate amounts of time looking at excel spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations in MBA programs or early job assignments that stifled creativity. Not enough spent those years creating wireframes in Visio, pushing pixels in Photoshop or sketching in notepads on their weekends. Not enough were liberal arts major or sociology graduate students. This may not matter for brick and mortar organizations that change slowly and have much deeper barriers to entry and where business processes and efficiences drive the business. But it isn't in the case with digital. A Yahoo CEO cannot be rooted in media, technology or even content. Yahoo desperately needs a user experience visionary. It has all the assets in the world and if there's anything that Facebook, Flickr, Instagram and Pinterest has taught us, its that this is not about the technology either.
Steve Jobs described the need perfectly when talking about Bill Gates in a story on how Microsoft lost its mojo. Here's the quote from the Vanity Fair story that captures his view -
Bill likes to portray himself as a man of the product, but he's really not. He's a businessperson. Winning business was more important than making great products. Microsoft never had the humanities and liberal arts in its DNA."
Yahoo needs to recover. A lot of us still remember the day the directory was launched and want Yahoo to succeed desperately. The board of Yahoo did its job in choosing someone who has a history of making great products and focusing on the user experience. Now its time for Marissa to do hers.
I was rather amused when a Wall Street analyst predicted that Facebook would disappear by 2020. I thought he was dead wrong. Since then a Comscore/Facebook study has been released, Facebook has announced its real-time bidding exchange and has shifted its focus in payments. I think this is just the beginning both for Facebook as a stock and as a powerful platform for marketers. Here's why I'm more bullish than ever about the platform with some thoughts on what Facebook needs to do to really prove that analyst wrong and convince marketers that its integral to their futures -
- Give us real ROI measurement: Most Facebook skeptics (think about a certain auto manufacturer) may not realize that just because the platform measurement isn't as strong as they'd like it to be, it doesn't mean the platform doesn't work as an advertising medium. It is hard to argue against the scale, targeting capabilities and raw engagement that the Facebook platform can provide now. You couple that with a strengthening mobile experience, and you know you have a strong marketing platform on your hands. If I were Mark Zuckerburg though, I'd strike a much deeper partnership with Nielsen, Symphony IRI or ComScore right away so that the measurement ghost can be laid to rest once in for all. For example, I'd love to learn how Facebook engagement can drive brand health and offline sales for CPG brands. I know display advertising and search advertising do that effectively already. I need to be able to do that with Facebook as well. Facebook must invest in this area today.
- Be audacious but stay grounded as well: Wall Street in turn needs to focus a little less on what Facebook is today and instead on what it can become. There's no question that user growth is stalling but that was bound to happen. The world's population growth isn't keeping pace with Facebook adoption. It had to plateau sooner rather than later. When Wall Street thinks about Facebook, they can't just focus on the current ad revenues in the market place today. They need to think about the potential alternative revenue streams through a user base that's so large and so loyal.
I would suggest that Facebook is on the verge of having its iPhone moment. It has all the ingredients to launch something truly transformative the way Apple did with the iPhone (and I don't think it should be a phone). Something so big that it changes the entire company. That's going to happen and it'll lead the next wave of revenue growth for Facebook. Similarly, focused brand initiatives like Shipyard may result in similarly transformative initiatives for brands. However, for Facebook to really tap into this opportunity, it must match its audacious goals with humility. Having just the former or the latter won't be enough. The truth is that cars will still be sold, toothpastes bought and bank accounts opened without Facebook. FB needs to prove everyday to marketers that there are better ways to get consumers to do that stuff by marketing on the platform. In the way that Google has mastered.
- Payments, payments, payments. Did I mention Facebook payments? The revenue potential through payments. All of a sudden, it may put Facebook in the same league as American Express or Visa. Imagine knowing how 800 million people communicate, influence each other and then actually act upon that influence via payments over time. That's the power of the Facebook payments opportunity - in creating a closed loop experience that helps Facebook and its brand partners understand how a consumer goes from a thought to social influence/validation and then on to purchase a hundred times in a year. Once their payment platform takes off (now with real currency), the idea of a Facebook credit card or mobile payment mechanism (think PayPal mobile payment type solution) isn't that far off. Facebook can become an Amex, Mastercard or Visa competitor. I'm excited about this direction. I don't know if it'll fulfill the social commerce promise but that may matter less.
- Fulfill the real-time marketing vision with better insights: Real-Time marketing is about going from insights to action and measurement all in a matter of minutes. Readers of my blog may know my real-time marketing point of view. But there are few platforms that can enable this more powerfully than the Facebook platform. What's missing is access to stronger, deeper and more powerful insights. Facebook needs to open up its insights to brands. It has all the data anonymized. Just make it public or sell it to brands and agencies. Once we have access to those unique insights in real-time, operationalizing against them will be easily and hugely powerful with tools like Buddy Media's platform. This is another area where Facebook needs to invest significantly and quickly. With all the IPO money, it should ramp up its insights function dramatically. Marketers are used to getting a lot more data (anonymous of course)about its consumers. Give it to us. We get a lot of great data from Twitter, we need anonymized data from Facebook.
- Learn more aggressively from others: I'm starting to feel that there's one company that represents the future of Facebook. It is doing a lot of what Facebook can be doing but isn't as yet because of its size and all the distractions that come with an IPO. And that's a relatively small company called Lockerz. They take the user from influencer and social discovery, to content engagement, onto commerce and finally to loyalty all at once. You could argue that they're vertically integrated. Facebook needs to learn from them. I'm waiting for the Facebook rewards system, a smart social commerce framework and mechanisms to connect the digital world more harmoniously and smartly with the physical world (Facebook places has a lot of maturing to do). I'm not totally convinced that I need another verb or "want" button. In a similar fashion, I believe Twitter is an extremely powerful platform. Rather than trying to compete with it, Facebook should think about ways to complement Twitter and dare I say integrate with it too. The same applies to Google Search (Google plus maybe another story)
- More credible public metrics: Last but not the least, Facebook needs to move to more credible public, metrics. I've never been excited about the "like" metric as it is a reach metric that would be confused for an organic, affinity one (the truth is that you can quickly increase likes by purchasing Facebook ad units in a certain way). People Talking About This (PTAT) is also another less credible metric as it is heavily influenced by paid digital media investments. If Facebook has any public metrics, they must be truly credible, authentic and sincere the way the rest of the platform is. Only then will marketers take the platform more and more seriously. The sooner the platform moves in that direction, the better it will be. I would suggest that the metrics need to be so powerful, so compelling and so smartly designed that they travel around the Internet and elsewhere too just as the Like button has. We're still in a world of GRPs (gross rating points) with reach and frequency measures. Facebook has the opportunity to really fix this and maybe bring other major digital players along for the ride, it should take that lead. Is it around virality or more authentic people talk about us? I don't know, maybe.
The next few years are going to be exciting for the marketing ecosystem and Facebook in particular. I for one believe that it'll be around in 2020 but how much of a force in our lives and with our brands depends on the decisions it makes over the next twelve months. Facebook can sell soup and lots more if its as smart over the next twelve months as its been over the last.
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