A few weeks ago, I presented at the International Advertising Association's What's Coming Next conference, joining a stellar line-up of speakers that included Bollywood superstar, Shah Rukh Khan, cricketing legend, Sachin Tendulkar, and the renowned yogi, Sadhguru.

The topic of my session was 'The Disruption of Interruption'*, and as you'll see in the SlideShare embed of my presentation above, I explored a variety of ways in which social media is changing our understanding of – and approaches to – advertising.

As I stressed in my presentation though, it's critical to acknowledge that social media will not 'kill' advertising.

In fact, social media may well be one of advertising's greatest saviours, because the insights that marketers and agencies can gain from activities such as social listening enable us to redefine our approach to creating and distributing brand communications.

You can read through the full presentation on SlideShare (and download the full deck here), but read on for a quick summary of the key points.

Disrupting the Brief
As fans of Philip Kotler will know, marketing is all about the profitable satisfaction of people's wants, needs and desires:

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However, this poses two distinct challenges:

  1. As per the famous Steve Jobs quote, and a similar statement from Sony's co-founder Akio Morita before him, people often struggle to express what they want until they see it.
  2. Marketers aren't very good at knowing what people want either, mainly because mass marketing doesn't offer a cost-efficient way to research a large number of those people's wants, needs and desires.

But social media has changed this.

Through proactive social media listening, marketers can now tap into large volumes of real-time, organic insights, wherever and whenever they need them, at a fraction of the price of traditional market research.

The insights available in social media don't replace traditional research, of course, but they do offer some hugely valuable additions to the marketer's toolbox, notably:

  • The ability to build meaningful audience profiles using audience's public social media profiles;
  • The ability to understand which problems or concerns marketing communications should address using analysis of complaints in social media;
  • The benefits or 'reasons to believe' that people value most, based on an analysis of favourable mentions in social media conversations;
  • The optimum occasions and contexts in which the brand can engage its audiences.

By tracking these valuable resources and activities on a regular basis, marketers and advertising agencies can build a richer and more accurate understanding of the audiences they hope to engage, and use these new insights to craft better briefs that result in more targeted and relevant brand communications that add real value to both brands and audiences.

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[To learn more about social media listening and how you can start using it, take a look at our fantastic free guide here]

Disrupting Strategy
Insights have little meaning without a strategy to bring them to life, however, so it's important that we understand how to use insights in the context of the brand's needs and objectives.

The role of a communications strategy is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing activities – a careful balancing act that ensures the brand does the right things, as well as doing those things right:

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However, the mass-media broadcast model that has dominated advertising for the past 50 years means that our approach to this balancing act is no longer balanced; the rising cost of media has meant that brand marketers are often more concerned with mitigating distribution costs (i.e. media) than they are with creating the optimum content to distribute in the first place.

This approach is clearly doomed though; there's very little point in reaching people if the things we're reaching them with have no relevance, meaning or impact.

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If we're to reverse this broken paradigm, we need to remind ourselves that brand communications' role is to influence and persuade people; not simply to shout at them more loudly and more often.

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Social media can help here too, but not because social media are 'free' [they're not], nor because they're relatively efficient media thanks to the targeting they offer.

Rather, it's once again because social media listening can help us to identify and understand that effectiveness aspect – i.e. what the 'right thing to do' should be.

By identifying and analysing organic conversations about our brands, we can understand the difference between what people currently think and feel about our brands, and what we would like them to think and feel about our brands – and how big the gap between the two really is:

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Disrupting Ideation
We need to bring the strategy to life before it can add value, of course, and social media can play a valuable role here as well.

As with all marketing activities, the critical starting point should be an understanding of the difference between the advertising you will make, and what that advertising should make happen:

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Once we've identified the optimum approach to bringing the strategy to life – what we might call the 'big idea' – social media can help us craft the best experiences to share that idea with the right people in the right places and at the right times:

Right People: social media allow us to target right down to the individual level, but also to amplify those niche stories to millions of people. The trick is to engage the people who matter most, not just to try to engage the most people.

Right Places & Right Times: by thinking in terms of the most relevant occasions and situations that we identified through social media listening, we can craft communications that engage people on their terms and in the contexts where we can add the greatest value, instead of continuously trying to interrupt the greatest number of people at one go, regardless of where they are or what they're doing.

Best Experiences: instead of merely advertising at people, social media environments allow us to add real value to people's lives. Part of this is because social media enable us to understand what that audience value looks like in the first place, again thanks to listening (see the chart below for some ideas on what that value might be). Another benefit of social media listening is to deliver continuous improvement; by analysing the on-going conversations about the brand and its activities, we can optimise communications in real-time, tweaking creative and messaging based on what's working best. The 'communal' nature of social media also makes it easier for brands to create experiences that people can share with each other, improving both reach and resonance on a personal level.

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The nature of the media aspect of social media also allows us to completely rethink our concept of frequency. Instead of relying on the same, repetitive creative over and over again for months at a time, brands and agencies can create and distribute a wide variety of content based on an evolving conversation:

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If we approach these opportunities with an open mind and challenge the 'accepted wisdom' of broadcast communications, we can ensure a more effective approach to marketing communications.

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Looking for some personalised ideas on what this might look like for your brand? Get in touch with us via Twitter, or send us an email.

* Yes, I'm already tired of the word 'disruption' too, but the title was a nice play on words, and it was ideal for the context of this presentation. But we should really stop using it. Ahem.