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Direct Response Marketing

Response Advisors Forum: Does Social Sell?

1 Jun, 2012 By: Thomas Haire Response

What does the Response Advisory Board think about social media outlets creating truly measurable sales results?


Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest.

Blogs. Message boards. Consumer-review websites.

What do all of these things have in common? Well, aside from being a part of the larger online world now known as “social media,” they are all impacting the marketing messages and efforts of both branded and direct response marketers.

But how effective are these outlets in driving actual product sales? More importantly to DR marketers, just how measurable are they?

For answers to those questions and more, we turned to our Response Advisory Board of industry experts for our second quarterly edition of the 2012 Advisors’ Forum. Here’s what they had to say.

While social media seems to be effective (if used properly) for traditional branders, it seems DRTV marketers are running into more roadblocks finding measurable success. How can DRTV marketers overcome these issues and best use social media as part of their campaigns?

Doug Garnett, Atomic Direct: My sense is that brands aren’t finding social nearly as effective as they claim. After all, traditional marketers have far more lax standards for determining impact. That’s why we find, for example, the Old Spice social media team claiming massive success with social media alone — this despite their investment of millions of dollars in TV ads to drive that social media activity. DRTV marketers, on the other hand, demand a strong correlation between the money and effort they spend and the results. So far, there hasn’t been a strong enough correlation for social media to move beyond a small part of a campaign. One thing traditional brands seem to downplay is the manpower cost for social media. To succeed, there’s a need for constant conversation. In social, anything you say scrolls off your readers’ screens quite quickly — within seconds on Twitter, within hours on Facebook. There’s constant need to say something new — and say it now — and that takes considerable time and effort.

Steve Heroux, Hampton Direct: One primary reason to use social media is for monitoring online sentiment and managing online reputations. There is no question regarding the ROI of protecting and promoting a brand online. It pays off. In addition, contests and other promotions help us connect with consumers and build opt-in customer E-mail lists. Social media can pay dividends.

Peter Koeppel, Koeppel Direct: The first step in overcoming issues related to measuring success with social campaigns is to understand your Web analytics capabilities and properly set up your social media campaigns within the scope of your analytics platform. With proper analytics, you can then measure a social campaign as you would most other online campaigns. Along with monitoring “Likes,” re-tweets, “Pins,” etc., utilizing QR codes are an ideal way to measure success, since they can be tracked very efficiently.

Fern Lee, Thor Associates: Unfortunately, to see measurable success from a social media campaign, DRTV marketers need to understand that the campaign can take months to generate significant traction. Developing and running a successful program takes planning and a commitment from the advertiser to make regular content updates for their audience. This is a complete 180 from the norm, where a single message is perfected and delivered once to the potential consumer. With patience, DRTV marketers will see how effective and profitable a social media platform can be in the long run.

Mike Medico, E+M Advertising: We’ve always been mindful of how consumers take action. This understanding allows us to innovate new ways to motivate and empower response as well as optimize performance. We follow standard DR methodologies as we engage new media channels such as social media: empower customers; track, analyze and optimize; and, finally, iterate. Follow responsive design principles to maximize the customer experience across all platforms and drive results, e.g., enable customers to purchase direct from your Facebook page; allow easy sharing with friends and family to enable easy word-of-mouth, etc. We hold media accountable and ensure that all response channels are monitored in order to evaluate how channels perform independently versus holistically. Lastly, do not get discouraged if you do not see early positive results. Social media provides the ability to efficiently test and learn, so take advantage of it.

Steve Netzley, Euro RSCG Edge: As social media continues its evolution, social commerce will emerge as an effective tool for DRTV marketers. The buzz created by social media can be a positive asset and booster for DRTV products but being able to actually sell within social media applications is where we are heading. Early experiments in this area are proving to be successful, but we still have a ways to go.

Aaron Raymond (director of digital and interactive), Hawthorne Direct: Social media can be an important echo chamber that increases consumer interaction with the brand. While social media doesn’t increase reach per se, it does help lift consumer involvement and recall when integrated into the overarching creative concept. For example, when a compelling social media concept is baked into a show or spot, consumers can engage and interact with the product via the campaign and then move on to purchase.

Is social media a measurable “DR-style” media outlet? If so, give some examples of how it works best? If not, why not?

Rob Medved, Cannella Response Television: Twitter has prospered as a DR media channel. Consumers can interact directly with a brand representative and vice versa. Several brands use Twitter as a communication vehicle to announce promotional offers to drive purchases at brick-and-mortar retail or online. Direct-to-consumer marketers such as Dell are generating transactions through their Facebook pages. 

Garnett: Establishing clear connection between social and any purchase channel is quite challenging — as is all work trying to correlate online activity with offline purchase activity. However, one specific use of social media is more measurable: driving sales by offering deals. This is the primary way Twitter and Facebook connections turn into sales — by promoting coupons or special offers. There are specific exceptions to this, but they are isolated opportunities, not broadly useful marketing directions. In this sense, one could consider social media’s immediate sales opportunity to be like Sunday inserts, except reaching a smaller audience.

Heroux: Building our database is surely one measure, as are website traffic and contest participation. When it comes to dominating search results, the following facts make it clear why social media pays off. Search engines like Google rank social media sites at the top of the food chain. Therefore, social can be used to manage online perception. This is particularly important since more than 90 percent of Americans have joined a social network. Similarly, in the past 24 hours, 65 million people logged onto Facebook using a mobile device, while two-thirds of Americans go online to view product reviews before making a buying decision. Most importantly, 90 percent of consumers trust online recommendations from people they know and 70 percent trust opinions of unknown users.

Koeppel: Social media is absolutely measurable in the “DR style.” One example is to have dedicated landing pages and conversion points for each of your social campaigns. Driving Twitter to one page, Facebook to another, and so on, allows you to measure each one individually, similar to a paid search (PPC) campaign. Another example is to benchmark and monitor all traffic to your main website. This will help you identify incremental lift to your site once the social campaign goes live. It will also show a continued growth curve over time that should line up with your social campaigns’ growth in exposure.

Lee: Once a company has developed an online community around its brand, they are able to distribute coupons to their fans. These coupons include a unique identifying code that tags the coupon as originating from their social media campaign. This is a great way to remain engaged with the core consumer base while gaining insightful marketing data.

Medico: Marketers can apply the same methodologies via social media. For example, within Facebook, marketers can extend offers to their Facebook fan bases — typically 25 percent of Facebook fans print and redeem Facebook coupons. They can also leverage the Tabs to enable customers to make a purchase seamlessly, right in Facebook. At the same time, they can also enable users to “like, share, or ask for recommendations from friends,” extending the brand/product message to a more highly qualified audience. Pinterest is another social media outlet that is garnering a lot of buzz. Recognizing how the tools work and enabling browsers and buyers to share product photos on their Pinterest boards are important. These “pins” act essentially as quick links back to the product page and allow others to make a purchase. According to PriceGrabber, 21 percent of Pinterest users report purchasing a product after seeing a picture of the product. Pinterest has room to grow, but understanding the consumer behavior trends and expectations of social media — functional, self-expressive or social value — helps marketers design and implement a social media strategy that aligns business goals, brand persona and consumer need with a somewhat platform agnostic approach.

Netzley: Yes, social media will evolve into a measurable media outlet, but we will likely need new and different metrics to rate its efficiency and effectiveness. Traditional CPA and CPO metrics may need to augmented with indexed measures of positive/negative momentum and/or aligned with TV and other online media spends to be truly understood.

Raymond: Social media is digital at its core and therefore highly measurable from an engagement perspective. “Likes,” “Shares,” “Mentions,” coupons downloaded, conversations, etc., are all engagement metrics that can be measured as part of a campaign. The revenue side, however, is much more elusive. Getting an accurate measurement of buy-through or influence on revenue has been, and will continue to be, challenging.

How can DR marketers best capitalize on the conversations social media naturally creates with their consumers?

Linda Goldstein, Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP: DR marketers must begin to realize that the social media conversations are occurring with or without the participation of the brands/marketers. So, DR marketers should be a part of this conversation in an effort to not only control and direct the conversation but to capitalize on it as well. Social media is a natural platform for DRTV because it is, at its core, all about harnessing consumer experiences with your brand or product and creating a community among those users. It is like consumer testimonials on steroids and fits perfectly with the DRTV experience. Marketers can therefore best capitalize on these conversations by reaching out to the consumers, engaging them in the conversation and properly incorporating those experiences into their advertising just as they have been doing for years with traditional testimonials. In doing this, however, DR marketers must be mindful of the new regulations governing social media. To the extent that DR marketers initiate, encourage or embrace these conversations and incorporate them into their marketing campaigns, they must ensure that all claims about their products are truthful and that any material connections, such as issuance of free product or providing other consumer incentives are properly disclosed.

Garnett: Offer content. Content of all types can be usefully passed along. It is inexpensive to repurpose existing content for social channels. And this has two impacts: driving some immediate sales and establishing broader credibility for your offering that can increase phone, mail and other Web sales rates.

Heroux: We capitalize on celebrity endorsement for PajamaJeans on several social media outlets. In an effort to prevent a groundswell of negative comments, our internal team works with our online marketing partner to identify, in real time, potential customer service issues. These can be related to shipping delays for a newer product, a perceived issue with a particular product that we need to know about and address, etc. Therefore, monitoring social becomes an important activity, especially for companies that want to sustain and grow their customer bases. Monitoring also helps us protect our intellectual property, preventing rogue affiliates and copycats from steering search traffic away from our sites.

Koeppel: Be transparent, practice goodwill with your customers, and most importantly, listen. In the social arena, the tables are turned and the customer leads the conversation. Marketers cannot hide behind a TV commercial or a 1-800 number, so going out of your way to be responsive to what is being discussed is an ideal way to capitalize on social media. Join the conversation and create content that engages your customers. Create trust first and sell second.

Lee: Twitter now has a service that allows a marketer to advertise their Tweets in search results and timelines. By targeting users while they are actively discussing a topic, the marketer is able to provide relevant information, while the consumer is still in the process of researching product options. The other option from Twitter is to promote trends, which are conversations focused around popular topics, to drive interest around the market’s brand or product. This placement generates a massive amount of exposure and is a great way to start off a new campaign.

Medico: Historically it was only high-ticket items, such as appliances and cars, that consumers researched. Now, with the “frictionless” access to information, consumers are more discerning than ever. More than 70 percent of Americans look at product reviews before making a purchase, so brands need to be present and active. A negative comment regarding customer service can very quickly and easily be addressed and rectified. When consumers see a marketer addressing the concerns of their customers, it makes them feel better about the purchase they are considering. In addition to researching quality, consumers now browse Facebook pages as if they are catalogs. In the apparel, accessories and housewares markets, it is important to monitor photo commentary as well to make sure that if a consumer requests guidance on where to find a product the marketer is there to assist them.

Netzley: It is important not only to be part of the conversation but also to respect the nature of social media and not try to control everything. There will be positive and negative statements made about most every product or service sold, just as in the real world. If we are participating, we can easily accept praise and accolades from brand lovers and promote further sharing of great news and results. The challenge comes when we, as the brand owners, see negative comments about our products or services. If they are matters of opinion, we must simply let them be, as tough as that may be to do. People online today recognize that there are many voices, and if DRTV marketers try to filter out all of the negative voices, they will quickly find their social media sites either bombarded with negative criticism or avoided altogether. However, and this is an important distinction, if there are errors of fact or a lack of information that could help turn a negative comment into a positive, then the DRTV marketer does have the right to insert its voice — and the correct information — into the conversation.

Raymond: DR marketers need to be participating where the conversations are taking place. At the very least, they can diplomatically blunt criticisms and poor ratings. On the positive side, they can provide ideas, offers and suggestions that further conversations. Rewarding social participants is a way to generate additional buzz. In one example, offers discounted product if their product was mentioned on a customer’s blog. Mommy bloggers everywhere flocked to take advantage of the offer. The blogger who wrote about the card product exponentially spread the message about the product.

What social media campaigns have you seen that impressed you from a DR-style approach? What worked in them to make you think they’d be a call-to-action for consumers?

Goldstein: The technology behind many of the emerging social media platforms affords tremendous opportunity for DR marketers. One of the largest emerging trends is the convergence of social media and mobile through platforms like Foursquare, Facebook Places and the use of QR codes and augmented reality. These platforms afford marketers the opportunity to engage in the conversation with their customers right at the point of retail, to direct the consumer to retail, while at the same time, sharing rich content that can help drive the sale right at the point of purchase. The growth of location-based marketing tools is another valuable feature that can help DR marketers drive consumers to the point of sale, and deliver incentives right at the point of purchase. There have been some really interesting campaigns using QR codes and augmented reality. Both Bloomingdales and Volvo used campaigns several months ago, in which consumers scanned the QR code and rich digital content was delivered to the consumer’s phone. It is a great way for DRTV marketers to deliver video showcasing their products to the consumer right on their phones and to deliver incentives to help drive purchase. DR marketers should also look at the emergence of Pinterest, which is quickly becoming the third-largest social media site. Brands are beginning to harness the power of Pinterest by placing a “Pin” on their brand pages on the Internet so that consumers can “Pin” products or services they like on their Pinterest board. It is a terrific way to drive a viral marketing campaign, and unlike Facebook Likes, which simply portrays a “number” of followers, Pinterest is visual, so it is virally distributing the picture of your product or your brand to enhance consumer awareness and recognition.

Heroux: The blogger outreach campaigns that Wuggle Pets and The Amazing Mat did were smart and effective. Mommy bloggers are ranked among the most credible social sites in Google’s algorithm. So, it makes sense to target them with product sampling and PR communiqués.

Koeppel: Couples Resorts is comprised of four all-inclusive Jamaican properties. Relatively new to the online marketing space, it was looking to take its campaign to the next level through SEO, PPC, display, and, more specifically, social media. However, its social media accounts lacked a centralized branding. Additionally, a lack of recent usage of social media channels left their followers unengaged. The company wanted to create a robust social media presence that captured new and past guests to the resorts, and cultivated brand advocates via social channels. It created a social sweepstakes that grew the Facebook “Likes” on the company page and tracked sales from the social channel. By sending an E-mail marketing piece to its database of more than 160,000 in December, the resort group drove an open rate of 16 percent and a click-through rate of 5 percent. They were directed to the Facebook landing tab, where they found clear instructions on how to enter the sweepstakes to win four free nights at one of the resorts.

Lee: The team at Beachbody has done an amazing job of staying in touch with customers on the go-to networks like Facebook and Twitter, and are now even working to include Pinterest in their social marketing efforts. On a regular basis, their fans have the opportunity to engage in contests to win prizes and share their success stories with each other. Not only does this keep existing fans excited about the video series, but also encourages others to purchase so they can be part of the fun. I can’t tell you how many debates I’ve heard during the past six months about which video series from Beachbody is the best. The natural excitement that they generate about their products has a direct impact on the effectiveness on the DR advertising.

Medico: American Express’ “Amex: Like, Link, Love” allowed American Express Card holders to receive automatic discounts on their Amex cards when shopping at brands they have “Liked” on Facebook. The company complements this activity on Twitter, by offering discounts at certain businesses based on Twitter activity. Another example is SENSA Weight Loss’ Facebook page, which aligns well with its on-air content, e.g., beach imagery. SENSA uses tabs to allow customers to: shop, enter sweepstakes and easily access new information. Facebook “fans” also receive discounts on their purchases, and the company’s photo commentary is monitored so that customer questions are answered promptly.

Netzley: The work done by our client, MaxClarity, on Facebook is some of the best social commerce working being done today.

Raymond: We don’t know how well it worked, but the O’Cedar ProMist campaign with Peter Walsh was highly integrated with social media and leveraged blogs, celebrity website, banner ads, YouTube, viral video, Facebook, social couponing and, I believe, Twitter. They even did Webisodes to leverage the story. (See one on YouTube here:

How can social media outlets improve their offerings for marketers, DR and otherwise? What do you want to see from social media websites that will actually help marketers drive response and purchases?

Garnett: In many ways, the fundamental reasons consumers go to social media websites are for action amongst friends and acquaintances in a world where they aren’t bombarded by commercial offers. This presents social media outlets with a fundamental quandary: how much commercialization will their members accept?

Heroux: Facebook and other social sites offer ad words campaigns, enabling DR marketers to reach segmented pockets of consumers. So, social sites have come a long way in terms on monetizing the immense volumes of traffic they receive.

Koeppel: Allowing further integration of plug-ins, such as lead capture forms and customized shopping carts, would be a good start. That, along with more data sharing and built-in analytics, would greatly improve the social sphere for marketers. Being able to track referrals and time spent on a page would be a great addition.

Lee: When social media first became a buzzword, agencies initially focused on catering to branded companies as their clients. While it’s taken a few years for the networks to embrace the needs of direct response marketers, many of the platforms now include sophisticated tracking mechanisms that allow DR marketers to analyze their ROI on a case by case basis. Moving forward, it would be helpful to create tools to allow new brands to establish themselves quicker online. The revenue generated from these fans could be reinvested back into the campaign

Medico: These outlets themselves enable brands to be extraordinarily creative and have significant reach. However, they do not make it easy for a small business to efficiently access all the tools. There are tools available to businesses to help them take advantage of the power of social networking while still delivering on their DR goals.

Netzley: Allow for faster engagement with customers and prospects. Many social media campaigns set very high bars for engagement prior to solicitation. DRTV marketers are accustomed to getting to the sale faster, with fewer hurdles. By quickly enabling social commerce to emerge and facilitating its progress with tools like “click to purchase,” social media outlets will find many more DRTV marketers embracing their opportunities.

Raymond: Social media outlets need to find ways to allow DR and other marketers the ability to purchase performance-based social media engagements beyond buying ads. Allow marketers to turn on and off offers, optimize performance and reach other audiences. For DR to work in social media, marketing success needs to be more than capturing “lightning in a bottle.” It needs to be directed and accountable.An additional idea we like is allowing customers to broadcast their purchases to their friends on their social networks. A customer is incentivized at the point of purchase to make their friend network available to the marketer for postings, tweets, messages, etc., sent to their friends pitching the product.

In five years, how will social media have changed the DRTV business?

Garnett: The biggest impact will not be on direct sales, but more strictly holding companies accountable for delivering quality products that deliver on what’s claimed. Social media has tremendous potential to spread the word on bad products, because it’s clear that frustration spreads faster than the positives of a good product. Otherwise, social media appears to be establishing a role as a clear adjunct to DRTV and other high-impact advertising campaigns.

Goldstein: The key to a successful social media campaign from a DRTV perspective is for social to be fully integrated into the other segments of the campaign. Marketers cannot think about social media in isolation. It needs to be part of an integrated marketing campaign that combines broadcast with digital and mobile for a truly integrated experience. With the increased convergence of all of these marketing platforms, and as mobile becomes not only the primary device on which content is delivered but also the payment vehicle through emerging M-commerce platforms, the next five years in my view will see the mobile device replace the television. Social media will be an integral part of a DR campaign, but the conversation will more likely occur through one’s mobile device. Robust social media campaigns will also likely replace some of the more traditional uses of testimonials and endorsements, and hopefully DR marketers — who have always benefitted from the power of the consumer experience — will be able to capitalize on the social media revolution.

Heroux: I look forward to seeing this firsthand. What’s hot today may fade. However, the forward-thinking social sites may last beyond the fad phase and become iconic parts of society — just as we strive to do with many of Hampton’s products. This requires remaining relevant and evolving. It requires building a brand that delivers on its promise.

Koeppel: With more and more DRTV activity driving consumers to the Web, the social media component will continue to play a larger role in DRTV campaigns as it applies to converting a browser into a customer. Many people will continue to get their first point of contact with a marketer on TV, but many will follow up that touchpoint with some bit of online research in the social sphere. Being active and accessible on the major social sites like Twitter and Facebook, along with online reviews and marketplace options, will ultimately drive more people to a sale than ever before.

Lee: Social media is definitely a game changer, just like online marketing was a few years ago. If marketers don’t embrace this new channel and integrate it into their campaigns, then they should expect to be left behind while innovative companies continue to build brand loyalty and increase their consumer re-engagement.

Medico: Eighty-five percent of people in the world have access to the wireless grid — more than have access to electricity — and smartphone usage is expected to grow from 835 million to 1.4 billion within two years. Add the fact that the No. 1 smartphone activity is social networking and it is clear that social media will play a huge factor in the success, or failure, of a DRTV business.

Netzley: Success in DRTV marketing is about product and offer superiority. Social media brings the added requirement of transparency to the forefront, allowing all voices to be heard as they relate to your product or service. This is a good thing, as it strengthens brand equity for solid products and will help build the entire industry, building off of the combined exponential power of online and offline integration we have seen to date.

Raymond: In five years, social media will be an ever more common and integrated part of the daily online experience. Closer integration of location and mobile platforms will become ubiquitous game changers in social media and likely have a significant effect on DR campaigns of all types. DR marketers will also be able to target specific audiences with timely, cost-effective messages that can then be turned into optimizable ROI — something that doesn’t exist now.


About the Author: Thomas Haire

Thomas Haire

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