“For I see that then I was still all in a state of innocence, but that innocence, once lost, is lost forever.”
Last week, I went to see a play at the theatre. It was nice to be transported back to the pre-digital, Victorian age, which to a great extent the theatre managed to keep as authentic as possible (aside from the audio and visual effects). Mobile phones off, tablets in their bags, texting on hold and no more status updates, yes – we were as Victorian as the theatre surrounding us.
It was like travelling back in time. Listening to actors with their mystical highs and lows and without the barriers of screens was unquestionably personal, meaningful and full of life. Curtains unfold and you see a storage trunk, a stool and a chair and that’s how the whole story is delivered over the course of two hours. During the play, the stool, chair and storage trunk transform into a train, horse cart, bed and an office desk. All using nothing but the audience’s imagination. In their own unique way, both of the leading actors openly admit to the audience (in a quickly yet wittily delivered dialogue) that they required their imagination in order to deliver a complete performance. In other words, they admitted that without the power of audience imagination, their performance, no matter how skilful and magnificent; would be incomplete. They admitted that they were, after all, not so perfect.
On my journey home, I reflected upon this. Fully-fledged actors making an indirect plea to the audience for help - how humbling of them to admit their imperfection. I guess that admitting your imperfections is one of the first signs of closeness in a relationship, showing that you too need them. However, in doing so you leave yourself open, you don’t have total control, you allow them to see you for who you truly are.
With the web becoming more and more connected and open every day, evidently people will have easier access to all kinds of information pertaining to brands. We are entering an era where no brand will be able to hide anything from anyone (whether they ‘Like’ it or not). Google suggests that there are 3.3 billion mentions of brands in a day and only 5%-6% of those are on the web – the rest still takes place offline. What we see today and classify as the hyperactive social world are just the early signs of the social tsunami, which is imminently due to hit the world of advertising and marketing.
Thinking about the social web, perhaps it’s one of the greatest gifts marketing could have ever received. It allows us the opportunity to listen and talk with the real world instantly. It allows us to understand what we are missing by being with people all the time. It allows us enough visibility and freedom to help any part of the business; be it finance, production, management, process or communication.
Sometimes, I get very frustrated when I see this greatest of gifts being misused. Just like with traditional advertising, we found a new place to ‘reach’ people and then put ‘advertising’ messages across with any excuse we can find. No wonder why the first things advertising and marketing professionals measured from this space was user-base and ad spend followed by desperate attempts to prove the ‘social media’ return on investment. Instead of looking at the social web as something that completes the marketing world, we put it into another box. Instead of looking at the social web as an exercise for brands, that would keep them healthy and fit to perform more effectively during their working hours, we aggressively went for the easy way out – tell and sell. Instead of considering the social web as ‘mytime’ for brands, we translated it as another opportunity to sell more products (as if all the rest of the spaces weren’t enough to drive sales).
But, instead of approaching this wonderful social web with the lens of control and perfectionism, how about entering it with a discovery mindset? How about exploring and interacting within this space to find out our imperfections? How about entering this space to improve us rather than merely inserting more media plans?
So, what action can we take as advertising professionals in making brands and marketing complete using the power of social web?
I don’t intend to propose the final list of things we can do, but just a few points, which I believe could be worth considering.
I think first and foremost we can start by considering the social web as more than just a social network. From the research and analytics stance we should consider its implications outside the social networking world and look out for insights which can inform the decision-making process at various levels e.g. customer services, marketing, advertising, product development and retail. From the communication planning standpoint, we should integrate it into every solution we propose to strengthen the future of brands. From the creative viewpoint we should consider integrating it at the heart of the core advertising idea. From the channel perspective, we should consider it as a common language to connect different marketing channels – be it TV, Mobile, Print, Online, Radio, Outdoor.
And finally, let's remember the words sung by the legendary, Bob Dylan, ‘…Please get out of the new one, If you can't lend a hand, For your times they are a-changin’ …'