ImageWe've all read that social-media ROI is weaker than other traditional marketing channels. Recently, social media came under fire again in an articles in which Unilever aired their concerns in Marketing Magazine.

Unilever marketing teams are questioning the logic of shifting big budgets to social media, when the equivalent spent on in-store promotions can deliver an ROI up to 50% higher.

This statement suggests a lot about the mindset of some marketers who work for big companies. Social media has been developing for about a decade, but these marketers still miss the point. Consumers are no longer passive targets that you can simply  feed with coupons and vouchers. People want their purchases to be inspired by stories that matter. And they're even ready to trust brands to tell their stories, if brands are sincere. They want to know how a brand is trying to change the world. Naive? Maybe. But, maybe not.

Brands are talking about their social consciousness and aspirations a lot lately. Case in point: David Jones (Havas) and Unilever CEO Paul Polman statements yesterday at #SWSWI:

Brand success requires marketers and business people in general to imagine new indicators for performance. My bet is that if you throw $50 notes in the street, or offer free gifts in stores, people could rush to get them. These would be direct but empty signals, that generate simple and often one-time reactions. Will they generate true ROI? Not really. You're just making a commodity less expensive.

Live culture is the new normal

As explained on SMT in the article about Huffington Post's new strategy by Candida McCollan, brands become living organism. That means that you no longer need to set up a linear funnel, but that you need to set up rules, rights  and responsibilities, and a shared future created by both the brand and its customers. Think about politics: do you measure the health of a system just through the participation in an election? No. Dictatorships often have the highest rates. In politics, in-store promotions would be called corruption or menace, not democratic process in the long-term.

You need Brands

As obvious as it may sound, brands sometimes forget that they need to create living brands. And yes, even now, you still have companies establishing binarian paths:

Products -> Promotion of the product -> Media-buy to make sure targets buy them -> ROI measurement

Major brands websites are split between "product websites" and "experience websites." In the case of brands who have product websites, social media is a moot point. These brands create products that are not interactive per se.

Keep in mind that people love brands, they want to feel attached to them. A good brand can provide reinsurance. It can even help with education, health management and building a future.

Social Media is about brand building, not advertising

It's an issue that Martin Sorell solves:

"[Social media] is a branding medium. So if I can get you to say something nice about WPP or me or one of our companies on Facebook to your wife, your friends, or whoever, that’s good. But it’s a long-term mechanism. Compare that with Google. Say you’re searching for a car: We know that up to 90% of car purchases in the U.S. are search-influenced. Depending on where you are in the purchase cycle, that number one ranking on Google seems more important than a Facebook “like.” This doesn’t deny the potency of Facebook. But it has to be seen in the context of a long continuum of brand building."

The big problem is that marketing departments within big companies are sometimes still a set of practices: direct marketing, promotions, events, PR. And then a marketing director.

Thirty years ago, in automotive or trucks industry, you did not have marketing directors as we know them today. You had an engineer who was most of the time a CEO or a managing director. So the engineer was not only in charge of what was going on in factories, but he was also engineering brands.

Today, there's a dearth of ideas in marketing and  too many practices. How many brands are not boring? Not that many. Because we've focused too much on the interfaces we have with customers without asking simple questions such as,"Who are we?" or "What's our future?" You cannot shape a gateway to your brand is you don't pervasively design and understand both your own culture and the cultures you're trying to reach.

It's all about the people.

image: S.Borisov /