Okay, not that old fashioned.

I’m sometimes criticised for stirring the pot without providing an answer. Like my last tirade against brand immaturity on social media. If you didn’t disagree with that post but were wondering what to do – here’s how I’ve been strategically thinking about brands on social.

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I think their customer service sucks, they lie to brands, they pulled a rug from under us and Mark Zuckerburg is Lex Luthor. But Facebook isn’t going anywhere. Despite its flaws, its cannot be dismissed.

Most brands know this, and have jumped in head first. But they suck.

Since I started freelancing the most common conversation I have with clients is telling them they’re social media strategy is bad. They’re wasting time, effort and money. Often because of an approach sold to them by parties with vested interests or a limited understanding of how advertising works.

Here are some red flags you might raise with your current agency/snake-oil-social-media-expert:

  • You measure success (or worse, invest) based on page growth/likes/followers
  • You measure success on engagement
  • Your strategy is built on ‘organic reach’
  • Content is promoted indiscriminately
  • You spend more on content creation than content distribution
  • You’re creating more than one piece of content a week
  • Your content consists of stock imagery or is sourced
  • You don’t know what a Relevance Score is

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat – they are all media channels. And we must treat them as such.

This means a return to good old fashion advertising. But using the new opportunities these modern channels bring.

The notion of building communities or interaction is a myth. And largely it exists on unproven hypotheses, and a good dollar margin on content production. Content creation can be very profitable, and therefore is an attractive recommendation for vendors. What they won’t tell you is to be most effective you should be investing 80% of your budget into media. Because here the margins are a minimal (and continue in their race to the bottom). It’s also a skillset that doesn’t sit with a traditional creative agency.

The truth is, there is no content beast that needs feeding. The most important word in social media is not “social” but “media”. Do not invest in high volumes of content, instead focus on reaching potential buyers.

Of course, making good content is still important. Facebook rewards brands that do (if you haven’t already, research Relevance Score and its role in increasing your reach).

Brands should be doing fewer things better. Create only a few killer content pieces and nothing more. You know where the rest of the budget should go. I’m going to take a guess and say you’re not at risk of over saturating your audience. If you’re feeling bold, make one great piece a content a quarter – setup the media to reach many with a low frequency.

There’s no need to post daily, or even weekly. This means content calendars are largely redundant.

Instead think about programs. One of the key technology benefits in digital is the ability to target people through a marketing funnel towards conversion. Use your marketing plan to build relevant messages for each audience at each stage. Definitely do not worry about International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Another benefit of digital is our ability to measure. Forget about vanity metrics, instead build actually useful plans to measure brand and ad metric uplifts based on exposed versus unexposed audiences. Or use third party shopping data to understand actual buying behaviour.

This is how brands should be building social media strategies in 2018.

In many ways, it’s a return to the basics. Create ads that build saliency and distinctiveness. Then spending money distributing them to refresh memory structures.

Without intending to, I wrote a three-parter on the current state of uselessness of brands on social media. I took umbrage at:

These are lazy strategies. They are easily copy and pasted (and often are), lack insight and usually lead to work that is generic and uninspired.

Unfortunately, they often work. At least in the short term, in so much as bullshit metrics like Engagement Rate. If you do the above, it will get you a handful more likes. Even a lift in ad recall. But this is not how you win. (In same cases it may even do harm.)

This is what happens when you give the kids a seat at the grown up’s table. (I know, I’m one of them.)

In the past it didn’t matter because social and content had little impact. You’d joke saying it was a good job for the intern. But now, rightly or wrongly, brands are investing more time, effort and spend. Suddenly this activity is being seen and heard, with scale.

Yet it’s still the same unexperienced marketers behind the wheel. They’re just not driving go karts anymore.

Michale Goldstein compares it to fishing with a line or fishing with a net. To bastardise his analogy, line fishing has an immediate return but it’s one fish at a time. Net fishing is a long game, with no quick wins or visible short term result. But they haul more fish eventually. And have the infrastructure to keep hauling every year.

Brands on social have forgotten how to fish with their net.

Peter Field has proven brand building drives long term growth. And everyone’s favourite marketing academic Byron Sharp says “Most of your sales this year come from work that was done in the previous twenty.”

Do we honestly believe the Bachelor reference you tweeted last week is going to impact your customers’ buying behaviour in 2037?

We need the grown ups back. The ones who have been around long enough to understand how to build brands and think long term.

Today Pigs Don’t Fly turns 10.

From the very beginning it was naive and too often arrogant. But my early writing is a good reminder to voice a opinion, especially when it’s controversial. And don’t do too much self censoring – it’s okay to piss people off occasionally (especially when you’re right).

I certainly write far less than I used to. In 2008 I wrote 153 posts (most of which were rubbish). In the last twelve months I published 15 (still mostly rubbish).

What started as a side project at university quickly sparked an interest in writing. It became somewhere to explore digital marketing, and later brand, communications and entrepreneurship.

It got me a foot in the door to advertising and helped build my personal brand, for want of a better term.

In many ways it’s come full circle, back to being a side project. In 2009 I did 45k pageviews, this year I’d be lucky to reach 10k. The once-thriving Australian marketing blog scene is largely dead.

If I was smart I’d probably be publishing on LinkedIn or Medium. And I’d definitely have migrated from Blogger to WordPress (which has been on the To Do list for about eight years).

Most recently, Pigs Don’t Fly has become the banner under which I freelance. We (read “I”) just had our first project signed off that requires people other than me. I guess it’s an agency now?

Above all, it remains a place to think out loud, collect my thoughts and occasionally write something people read.

Thanks for being one of them.

Animated Gif Product Shot

Product shots have became a default strategy on social media. Especially for brands in FMCG, alcohol and retail.

And it’s a sign we’ve hit rock bottom. We’ve regressed into the lowest cost, lowest common denominator approach to social.

We’ve forgotten comms need a strategy and an idea. And how to think long term.

Somewhere, somehow, we convinced ourselves flatlays would create meaningful business impact.

I mean, you wouldn’t even use a product shot in old school media without a price point. But I guess if you animate it as a boomerang that makes it better.

Not to say there’s not a role for them. Product shots might be the reinforcement a person needs to convert further down the funnel in your content marketing engine. But you’re not going to change behaviour with just a well-lit cinemagraph.

Even worse is the approach of reposting user-generated content. Usually as a product in some punter’s hand. No concept. No strategy. Not even some art direction. If you think anyone’s being persuaded by this except marketers you’re delusional.

(Nothing against driving UGC. It leverages the real power of social – the network. It creates social norming and reach with advocacy. But that doesn’t mean brands create value in broadcasting it.)

And it’s not just social publishing either. We pay “influencers” to take photos of our products. Even better if they’re holding it!

(Note the deliberate use of quotation marks. Read any number of articles on bots which generate fake interactions or the concept of an ‘engagement pod’.)

Or the epitome of modern advertising, paying six figures for your product to replace someone’s head as a Snapchat lens. But if you open your mouth it animates so I guess there’s that.

It’s usually the Strategist who wants to shoot the Creative or visa versa. But we’ve watered down social so heavily they probably both want to put guns to their head.

How did we get here?

Definitely a lack of experienced marketers and advertising folk making decisions. More on this in another post/rant.

We’re also lazy. You don’t need an insight or a concept for a product shot. And the margin’s healthier because of it. It’s easy to get your hands on product and shoot something with decent production quality. Especially when most agencies look like converted warehouses.

Fortunately within every problem is an opportunity. The very last brief I wrote before leaving my previous agency turned into a series of product porn piss-takes:

Easy Roller Social Content

Don’t forget kids, product shots don’t build brands. And you’re not going to win the battle for attention without an idea.

Once you’ve developed a creative strategy, written a brief, got a concept and sold it in… there’s still plenty to be done. The next stage is a comms strategy – finding the best way to spread your idea to the right people through the right channels. More often than not, you do this with media.

And it’s rare these days to see a media plan which doesn’t include Facebook. Facebook’s revenue grew 62% in the US last year. Between them and Google, they receive 85 cents of every $1 in digital growth.

Which is problematic when it doesn’t work.

The above error message is what a client of mine saw the day they went to push a major campaign live. No context, no means to solve and no help anywhere online. Especially not on launch day.

This is a pretty standard level of service. Facebook are notorious for giving little support unless you spend big each month. If you do manage to track someone down, there’s usually nothing they can do except escalate, whatever that means. And conversations with online support yield little, to a point where you wonder if you’re talking to a bot.

In the end there was nothing to be done except for my client to wait it out. Six days later it was fixed. And the only reason they knew was because we were checking daily, not because we were notified.

That’s six days a client wasn’t able to be in market. Six days of opportunity missed and sunk production and resource costs.

With any other media owner, it would be completely unacceptable. You’d remove them from all future media plans. At the very least they’d work with you and your client to make the rectify the problem, or give bonus value. You’d definitely get a response to your emails.

More than ever media owners need to do everything they can to win and keep your media custom. (Although to be fair some of them are hopeless too. Last week I reached out to two sales reps for a client looking to spend $50k with each of them. Neither got back to me.)

The sad part is, despite the huge fuck up, Facebook’s monopoly means they’ll still be on the media plan next time. Probably with a 62% increase in budget.

Unfortunately I’m yet to see a brave media planner tell a client they’ve removed Facebook because it’s not in the industry’s best interest long term. And margins are so thin it’s in the agency’s best interest to avoid fragmentation anyway.

We’ve shifted an awful amount of spend and therefore power to Facebook and Google. And in doing so we’ve painted ourselves into the corner of a seller’s market. Which is very problematic, but no one seems too worried because we’re losing our ability to think long term.

Today is my last day at Cummins&Partners.

I’m closing what has been an excellent chapter in my career. For five years I’ve worked on some outstanding brands and business problems. I got the opportunity to build and manage a content department. And I learnt from some of the best (and funnest) in the business.

As of Monday, I’m a freelance digital thinker. The plan is to dust off a few side projects too and write a bit more.

So if you need a problem solver who understands how brand, creativity and media engage consumers through technology – buy me a beer. I promise I’ll make things much simpler than that last sentence.

When brands ‘hijack the conversation’.

Hijacking the conversation. Culture-jacking. Real time marketing. Whatever you call it, it’s a social strategy too often abused by brands.

As a strategy it’s a first thought and generic. It’s usually poorly executed, where quality is sacrificed for speed. Most importantly, it almost always forgets to build brands.

As social media seems to regress in its creative sophistication, apparently now we’re just doing things for the sake of it.

Oreo is largely to blame. Their Dunk in the Dark post “won the Superbowl” in 2013 and has been thrown around content meetings ever since. Kristina Halvorson has a fantastic take down of the work, describing it as hitting “peak derp” in her excellently titled presentation Go Home Marketing, You’re Drunk.

I’m less critical but only for one specific reason – the work aligns to broader comms strategy. All case studies analysing the stunt (both positively and negatively) overlook how six months earlier Oreo ran their Daily Twist campaign – 100 days of ‘real time content’.

Their Superbowl activity wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. It was a considered and deliberate approach to build relevance for their brand. They planned for it, which yes means they have the right people and processes in place, but more importantly they identified the role it plays strategically.

Some brands do it even better. Specsavers have a brand platform built on it, which allowed them to capitalise on the mistake at the Oscars. Likewise Nando’s have been doing cheeky takes on culture in print for years.

Neither of these brands are fast for the sake of it – they understand the role it plays in growing or changing the perception of their brand.

While it’s fun to present strategies and setup processes for ‘planned spontaneity’, too many businesses overlook long term impact and relevance. A bit like those who post memes.

(I should mention, for a much better articulation on the problem with real time marketing, read Jon Burkhart’s chapter in Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief, which I saw while drafting this.)

I bloody loved ABC’s War on Waste.

So much so I wrote 1,000 words on the potential impact of a petition to relax cosmetic standards on bananas. Apparently it wasn’t enough.

The show dives into a range of issues in sustainability – each one an insightful look at different strategies to change behaviour (or at least tries to). Here’s four ways governments, business and individuals are attempting to influence our decisions and how we act:

1. Recycling Soft Plastics
Did you know you can recycle soft plastics? Waste like glad wrap, bread bags and chip packets can be taken to most supermarkets and recycled along with your plastic shopping bags.

The primary challenge here is awareness. As we see on the show a whole street of families change their behaviour once they become aware of the solution. My household did too after watching.

Our industry tends to get caught up in whatever’s trendy at that moment sometimes overlooking the simple answer – in this case: good old-fashioned awareness building. Particularly with so much data on our hands now, we’re increasingly spending time looking at the conversion end of a funnel and not the top.

Dare I say, to efficiently address this problem on scale with speed… we need television?

2. Banning Plastic Bags
One lever you can pull to influence behaviour is to remove barriers. Make something easier and they’re more likely to do it.

Or in the case of getting people to stop using plastic bags, add barriers and make it harder. That’s the focus of the Ban The Bag movement. Recognising that charging people for bags (in some states they’re no longer free) hasn’t had enough of an impact – to properly address this problem we need to go harder. The answer seems to be adding the biggest barrier of all: making plastic bags flat out illegal.

3. Killing Coffee Cups
Another tool for behaviour change is adding incentives. Coffee cups are a problem in Australia because their plastic lining can’t be recycled. As a result they end up in landfill. To address this, some cafes are leading the charge by offering discounts to customers who bring their own cup.

This issue has an interesting secondary problem too – people think coffee cups can go in the recycling bin, contaminating whole containers. Yet again another problem we can fix with awareness (although this one could be more tactical, with messages on bins or the cups themselves).

At work we’ve taken the barrier approach. Our coffees are ordered through an automated Facebook Chatbot (advertising, amirite!?). We’ve made it harder (actually, impossible) by removing the option for a paper cup from the system altogether. Problem solved.

4. Slowing Fast Fashion
Another issue highlighted in the show is the ‘fast fashion’ trend and the six thousand kilograms of clothes we toss away every ten minutes in Australia.

H&M and other retailers are doing their bit, offering vouchers for returned items to recycle and reuse them for those in need. But as host Craig Reucassel points out, this strategy really only makes things worse, incentivising fast fashion to be faster. No solution to this one yet.

Man it would be fun to write strategies for any of these problems.

ABC’s War on Waste is a fantastic series that explores how we’re fucking up the environment. Once you get over your guilt, it prompts a lot of conversation on how we need to change to reduce our impact.

It’s even more interesting through the lens of behavioural economics.

One of the show’s major focuses is food wastage. Annually we throw away $8 billion of food, having produced enough to feed 60 million people (nearly two and half times our population). And it’s a huge problem, not just in wasted resources for production but in disposal. When food rots in landfill with other organic matter it releases a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than the carbon dioxide from car exhaust.

It’s not just household behaviour to blame, in many cases food becomes waste before it leaves the farm. War on Waste hones in on bananas, our number one selling supermarket product with five million purchased daily. That’s a lot of bananas.

The banana grower highlighted in the show, the third largest in Australia, produces 1.4 million boxes a year. In some cases up to 40% can be put straight into landfill. Again, that’s a lot of bananas.

Why? It’s not because they’re bad.

Our supermarkets have strict cosmetic standards on what is acceptable. Bananas can’t be too long or too short. They can’t be too fat or too thin. Too marked or too ugly. Craig Reucassel, the host of the show, gets particularly frustrated that one of type of straight banana can be thrown away because it’s too bent, while another bent breed can be too straight. That’s really fucking bananas.

These, he points out, are arbitrary rules defined by the supermarkets.

The supermarkets blame consumers (of course!). And while they make token efforts through initiatives such as Woolworth’s Odd Bunch – they state it’s consumer demand that drives decisions on what makes a banana too straight or too bent.

Thankfully, a generation of slacktivists responded (I’m not actually that skeptical, it’s a really good thing people give a shit). 136,000 supporters signed a petition announcing we don’t care what size and shape our fresh food is. And those poor Community Managers running the Facebook pages for Woolworths and Coles have been flooded with messages.

But I don’t believe it’s that simple. Or that people realise the potential consequences of their actions. Inspired by years of the Freakonomics podcast, I started thinking how this could actually play out.

Sometimes we appear to be doing more good than we actually are. And in some cases we make it worse (see the Cobra Effect).

Take the recent changes for first home buyers here in Australia. In an attempt to increase home affordability, the government has added incentives for people to buy their first property. But when you increase the market’s buying power, demand goes up. And homes will be more expensive, not less.

Humans are also really good at exploiting systems, which is why you’ll often see properties sold for $600,001 – $1 over the threshold for stamp duty savings.

This is why we need economist-thinking on what happens if Coles and Woolies relax their cosmetic standards. I’m by no means educated enough to think this out a loud, but sometimes that’s what blogs are good for.

If we relax our cosmetic standards for fruit, more bananas become available. Less bananas leave the farm for landfill and instead end up on supermarket shelves.

But demand won’t increase overnight. Australian’s aren’t suddenly going to start eating 40% more bananas.

Allowing more bananas through the system will make farmers more efficient, but the supermarkets don’t have a need for the surplus bananas.

With 60% of the land and resources now supplying 100% of Australia’s banana needs, it opens opportunities for farmers to diversify the remaining 40% into alternative production. Even if the land can be used for something else, it requires capital and knowledge. Not to mention the inefficiencies in managing two different products. I’m no farmer, but I imagine it’s not simple to turn a banana plantation into an apple orchard.

Instead, farmers will lose jobs (and likely farms). If the supermarkets only need six farms to supply them instead of ten, four go out of business. It’s cheaper to deal with fewer suppliers.

That’s a tough outcome for a country who’s been hearing about the struggling farmers for the past decade. But that’s the free market and while we’ll ultimately be better off, there’s hardship to be had in the process.

There is another factor: price. You learn in the first week of Economics 101 that an increase in supply lowers price. And there is some evidence to suggest bananas are quite elastic, meaning price movement impacts sales. 2006’s Cyclone Larry saw almost 90% of Australia’s banana supply wiped out, with prices up 500% leading consumers to seek fruit alternatives. But can a 40% demand gap be utilised by dropping the price a dollar per kilo? How many bananas can we eat?

If it happened, it would be a great outcome – particularly if Aussies were to consume in favour of cheaper junk foods. Health, unfortunately, is not really the concern of supermarkets.

The one place there is actually a supply shortage is feeding those in need. But based on the same episode of War on Waste the issue here is not in food donation – it’s logistics and storage which are most problematic (and expensive).

Ultimately if you remove what is essentially a tariff for something to become more efficient, it will be better for the market long term. But it means farmers might lose jobs.

Of course, it’s not really that straight forward. And I’m not nearly clever enough to talk about it as much I have – but I do wonder if 136,000 people who signed the petition thought about its impact.

The most effective content marketing strategies are also the most mundane. Often too in execution.

Our approach to content nurtures leads through a conversion funnel based on their behaviour. Dry! And this might be executed through assets like articles that teach someone how to use the product. Yawn!

It works, but wow it’s boring compared to a big idea. Especially in an advertising agency.

Content marketing also suffers through a lack of industry visibility. A consumer isn’t exposed to content unless their behaviour indicates they are a potential lead. Most of the content engine sits beneath the water line. A bit like Facebook where the good stuff happens in dark posts, not on the wall for all audiences to see.

There’s little wastage as a result but it means marketers often don’t see it out and about either.

It also doesn’t usually have a million views. Unlike, say, the viral marketing fad where everything you saw was popular (hint: you only saw it because it was popular), content marketing isn’t a numbers game. We create things for very niche audiences, sometimes designed not to be seen by many. Through targeting it reaches few, but conversion is amazeballs.

Because content marketing is boring, hidden and not trending – it’s not sexy enough for trade press. Instead it ends up in long case studies full of tech stack jargon and media acronyms. More yawns!

Unfortunately all of this makes it harder to sell. Even though it’s more effective than viral marketing. So if you’re doing content work that works, tell the industry about it. And if you have something that’s not boring please share so I can stop putting people to sleep trying to fight the good fight.