Where’s the beef? Social marketing decisions will not come easy in 2009

Despite budget cutbacks, layoffs and corporate restructurings, companies cannot stop marketing. But they can do a better job.

* Jennifer Leggio is on vacation

Guest editorial by Kristi Grigsby

WhereÂ’s the beef? Social marketing decisions will not come easy in 2009
There’s been a lot of rumblings lately about the value of social networking at an enterprise level. The rumblings are not new, of course. What’s new is the growing intensity around the financial implications, and our industry’s inability to produce real ROI metrics.

While many continue to base the value propositions associated with social media on the ability to open dialogue or create a buzz, marketers are screaming ‘Where’s the beef?’

Is it any wonder? Marketing decisions are under some pretty intense scrutiny these days. Despite budget cutbacks, layoffs and corporate restructurings, companies cannot stop marketing. But they can do a better job of controlling that spend to ensure that every dollar invested is optimized to yield an even greater return.

Why would we think social media should be treated any differently? After all, as a decision-maker within your own company, would you risk putting your career on the line to recommend a costly investment that yielded no tangible return?

In a recent post, blogger Marc Meyer recapped his experience grappling with these very issues. While his experience was no doubt painful, he deserves a lot of credit for choosing to boldly relive the regret through his keyboard rather than hiding under a desk with his tail tucked between his legs (like he probably wanted to do).

WhereÂ’s the beef? Social marketing decisions will not come easy in 2009
The fact is, Marc is not alone. From presentations by ‘the experts’ at industry conferences, to our own experiences learning from customers who have conducted extensive research, the value propositions are limited to discussions like ‘expand your reach,’ ‘amplify your messaging’ or ‘excite your customers’. And they’re not very compelling.

One has to wonder what the value proposition was behind Johnson & Johnson’s highly publicized Motrin campaign (‘publicized’ in a very unfavorable way, as seen here and here and here). As one commenter pointed out on the Forbes blog, “I'd bet there were words like "prompt a dialogue" or "create buzz" in the PowerPoint presentations selling it internally.”

Whatever happened to cold, hard metrics? You know…the kind of numbers that financial executives can really sink their teeth into?

Here’s the difference:

Value proposition A

A social media strategy will enable you to engage your customers, give them a voice, and build loyalty among those consumers who now feel as though they’re a part of your organization.

Response from the CMO and CFO on the other end? If you’re lucky, you may be offered a drink of water before being escorted to the door.

Value proposition B

WhereÂ’s the beef? Social marketing decisions will not come easy in 2009

Response from the CMO and CFO on the other end? Tell me more…

Incidentally, the latter value proposition is very real – and it’s one that we delivered to our customer. These metrics are not impossible to ascertain, and companies have not only a right to demand them, but also a growing obligation to do so.

Too often social media technologies are deployed at the forefront, with no clear ROI orientation, strategy or accountability. In these cases, any success is purely accidental. Try selling that to an executive whose career is on the line.

The approaching 2009 is a new ball game. Most companies realize the necessity of incorporating an enterprise ‘social’ strategy into their business plans. But it’s not going to be an easy sell. Like Wendy’s ad campaign from the 80’s, marketers will quickly tire of the ‘Where’s the beef?’ question and will simply stop asking. Those who are unable to produce ROI won’t even get in the game.

Kristi Grigsby leads the marketing efforts for Neighborhood America from its headquarters in Naples, Florida. Her career has focused on both finance and marketing, providing her with a unique perspective on how these two disciplines must work in tandem to bring value not only to the company, but also to the customer. She can be reached at kgrigsby [at] neighborhoodamerica [dot] com or on Twitter.