It’s Thursday. Here’s a throwback to a blog post about impressions that I wrote back on September 30, 2010…It’s interesting to see what has and has not changed…

The highlight of my week was Joseph Thornley’s excellent Third Tuesday Measurement Matters. The discussion that ensured may some of the most provocative exchanges I’ve heard at ANY conference in the last year.

The one I want to focus on, however, could easily have been missed by most of the crowd. It was at the very end of the very last panel which I was chairing at the time. On the panel was an impressive line up of social media measurement thought leaders: David Alston from Radian 6, Carol Leaman, PostRank, Pierre-Loic Assayag, Traackr. The question I put to them was: What will “state of the art” look like two years from now and what will have changed?buggywhip

The initial conversations centered around the themes we’d been pursuing all day. The issue of complexity vs. usability – i.e., it’s great that we can gather in all this data and crunch it every which way from Sunday, but if I can’t use it, what good is it? The consensus is that the data has to get easier to use and understand. The question then turned to: Is it up to the providers of data to present the “so what” behind the data, or is that the role of the social media manager or agency? Either way, the prediction is that there will be more and better “so what” answers in the future.

The prognosticators also predicted, not surprisingly, that there would be more predictive analytics and in depth analysis as a result of the increasing presence of serious analytics companies in the space like SAS and IBM.

One other conclusion may be obvious to readers of this blog, but seemed to come as a surprise to some in that room: ROI will never be, just one number across the board, While for some companies it may be sales, for another it may be market share, and still another will calculate ROI from revenue saved. Either way, the assumption was that we would soon have clarity, if not agreement on what constitutes ROI.

Then someone in the audience asked about whether there would be better demographics around social media and that evoked the most interesting responses of all. Essentially the conclusion was: who cares? Worrying about demographics was as old school Earned Media Value (lipstick on the AVE pig) touted by Chris Berry. Berry’s argument is that impressions have mattered to advertisers for 80 years because there was an inherent belief that more impressions yields more awareness yields more sales. And that because they’ve been around for 80 years, we need to keep using them.

I would argue (and did) that there is lots of evidence today that impressions do NOT necessarily lead to awareness. 

And perhaps we shouldn’t care so much about awareness? BP has lots of it, but it isn’t helping them sell more gas.

What matters in today’s environment is action, not awareness. What I want to know is: Did my efforts move people along the purchase cycle? Did they get people to buy more or more often? or be more loyal? Can I command a price premium because I have established better relationships with my audience? Whether you call it AVE or EMV, it will never tell you what people are really doing after you’ve screamed at them a little louder.

But I digress.

What was really the most riveting discussion was Pierre-Loic’s succinct observations about how we need to rethink the marketing model. And pretty much the whole panel agreed. But in order to explain, we need to have a bit of a history lesson:

In the olden days, Mimeomarketers needed to narrow the scope of their promotional shot guns by focusing on a target demographic that were most likely to purchase the product. That “demographic” was defined in general terms by age, gender, geography and interest in various broad areas like gardening, sports, etc. Much of this data was based on what magazines you subscribed to, or data provided by Nielsen’s diaries. How quaint that now sounds.

The hope was that if you correctly aimed your promotional shot gun, you’d hit a bunch of eyeballs with your messages, and some percentage of those messages, and some smaller percentage of those eyeballs might actually decide to buy something.

But today, the smart marketers know that it is far more effective and efficient to put out a message/offer/product that is interesting and compelling.

Then presumably, that content will  get the people interested in that offer or message to respond, and probably  pass along the information to people like themselves. Because what we do know is that far more than advertising, recommendations from “people like us” move products. And, we also know that someone like us is going to be far more compelling than some big gray faceless corporation. This is basic Cluetrain 101. Procter & Gamble, most movie promoters, Dell, Google, Facebook and others figured this out years ago, which is why they are so far ahead of their peers.

Forget whether demographics will get better. The REAL questions are: why do you care and do they really need to? Does it matter where I live, how old I am or what I like to eat? Or isn’t what really matters whether I express interest in your product or service, get engaged enough to pass along your message to my friends, and whether they will pass it on to their friends and how many of them will now want to buy your product.

Network mapping

In essence, the social network map and influencer models plus context-based ad services like Facebook and Google Adwords have replaced traditional demographics. And for the smart marketers using them and other social media tools to build relationships, it’s a far more effective and efficient way to promote your product.

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