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On Facebook, Intent and Marketing

This is a cross-post from the Percolate Blog. I thought you all might enjoy reading it here as well.

Let me get something out of the way before we get started: In case you haven’t heard, Facebook is going to IPO this week.

Okay, seriously, all this IPO talk has driven people to dive into Facebook’s business model and lots of folks are coming up with doubts. As Peter Kafka points out, even Facebook has its doubts, mentioning as much in their IPO filing: “We believe that most advertisers are still learning and experimenting with the best ways to leverage Facebook to create more social and valuable ads.”

But what does that mean really? And what’s the opportunity? And, most importantly in many people’s eyes, does Facebook really have the opportunity to be a bigger company than Google?

While I don’t know the precise answers to those questions, I do have lots of opinions and since it happens to be Internet Week in NYC, I’ve been having these conversations a lot (mostly on panels). The bulk of the argument against Facebook revolves around their lack of “intent” data. This, of course, is what Google has in bulk and is the reason they are a multi-billion dollar business. Being able to target people at specific points in the purchase process changes the way marketing works. It allows advertisers to do something that was all but impossible (you could buy in-store and outdoor around stores, but that’s a whole lot less efficient). This is an amazing thing for marketers and Google’s market cap reflects it.

But if you ask most advertisers why they spend millions (and sometimes billions) on traditional ads, it’s not to harvest people who intend to buy, it’s to create demand: continuing to grow a business requires continuing to bring in new customers constantly. However it makes you feel, most ads exist to remind you that you need something new. That shoe company with billboard isn’t trying to get you to buy their shoes over a competitor, they’re trying to remind you that you need new shoes and, they hope, when you walk into the store you’ll spring for their brand.

That’s where brands spend real dollars. When startups show off “the chart” (you know, the one with the gap on time spent versus ad spend), they are looking at the effect of digital platforms not having a good answer to intent creation.

That, I believe, is where the opportunity for social is. We’re not there yet, but the promise is that you can use your understanding of a user’s interests to present them with messages that let them know about things they want before they want them. If Facebook figures this out it will be a bigger company than Google.

So how does content fit in?

Using the traditional purchase funnel, I think you still have a gap between awareness and intent. Once someone knows about your brand or product, how do you create need? One really good way of doing that is to remind them you exist (a large portion of CPG ad spend is used for just this). The way to remind people you exist is to create content they’ll see. To create content they’ll see on Facebook you need to a) be engaging enough that it builds organic activity and pushes beyond the base distribution you get through EdgeRank or b) buy Reach Generator. The two big goals (awareness and intent creation) have paid actions associated with them in Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. If these companies continue to build on these ideas and find better ways to target users based on their interests they will be solving a real problem for advertisers, something that hasn’t really been done on the web since paid search in the early 2000s.

Of course, there are lots of ifs here. The products are not quite there yet (targeting, for instance, is still largely based on social connections instead of interest connections), but I think these platforms will get there and I think they’ll succeed.

May 16, 2012 // This post is about: , , , ,


  • Linkness. What we’ve been reading | May 18, 2012 | NEXTNESS says:

    […] says Facebook ads don’t pay off | WSJ.comOn Facebook, Intent and Marketing | Noah Brier dot ComBrowsers and Apps in 2012: The browser’s doomed, because apps are the future. Wait! Apps are […]

  • addictive! the full service mobile agency says:

    […] can do that whilst making the transition to a mobile company, there is a really lucrative future. Noah Bryer sums this up well – they have to find a way to create intent. And this is more positive thinking about the way Facebook can quickly monetise mobile – more […]

  • Rob Day says:

    Great discussion points on this topic right when I was about to tune it out. The comment boards everywhere are just packed with so much white noise from people who have no idea that I just wanted to hide from this story.

    The bottom line is they own an environment that commands the collective attention span of a huge audience. Marketers and technology will improve over time and Facebook should grow.

    I have bigger questions in their current focus (from an outside user’s view). Many people are disgruntled with Facebook’s functionality and Facebook seems to keep focusing on design and re-design to the chagrin of anyone who has tried to set up an event lately. Each app that fails the user opens up an opportunity for a competitor.

    So far the functionality issues are annoyances not deal breakers, but who knows what they will do going forward. Ticketmaster made quite the nice business off creating something that just worked… EVERY TIME.

  • Ad-Killers « bronzebygold says:

    […] as blogger Noah Brier reminds us on Percolate, the other job of advertising (beside to sell) is to create need, and that if Facebook […]

  • Linkuri de luni #19 » Bogdana Butnar .ro says:

    […] b. Ca poate nu e musai bine sa va bagati ptr ca diferenta dintre ce face FB si ce face Google este una de Intent si deocamdata din Intent Marketing se scot bani buni, dar din ce face FB nu e clar cum se vor scoate – LINK […]

  • Simone says:

    Interesting article. I actually think there are a lot of misconceptions about marketing communication (let alone social media communication), something which I see mostly linked to poor (or lack of) strategic thinking.

    If you have a new product which has some incredible advantage over what’s existing, basically you need to build awareness, intention to buy and actually purchase will come in tail. You need to show your product in a visible way and communicate your key benefits in a beautiful-yet-straighforward way. For that you need quality adv space and Facebook (just like Google Ad Words) lacks that. Let’s face it, FB ads are not beautiful and not overly visible (which probably accounts for the risible CTR rates). They have great targeting options though (interests, which can be used to proxy for lifestyles), which is why a lot of companies think it’s worth to put adv-money there

    If, on the other hand, you have a product which has been around for a while and/or doesn’t really offer a huge differentiating benefit vs. the alternatives you could use content to make your brand a little bit more interesting, to link it to new lifestyles/occasions/people/emotions. (or you could innovate…or you could do other things but let’s stick to the whole content marketing thing for a while).
    Provided that, by all means, content should be shareable on social platforms I don’t think content should necessairly live on Facebook, nor do I think consumer interaction or user-generated content is necessairly key. (you might find a lot of users are either not interested in interacting with a brand or what they have to say in regard to your content is actually not so interesting = ruins the whole image of the project).

  • Douglas Crets says:

    Isn’t it as simple as people need new stories? People need these stories, and the only way they will get them is if they meet new people, who have made the purchase, or who live in those retail communities — I think of them as hangouts in the purchase theme. It’s funny how everyone forgets that relationships lead to purchases. Content relationships; thematic relationships; people relationships. People are using social to hide in bubbles, and what’s lacking are the stories that enable them to leave one bubble and travel to another one. The Internet is not made of cats. It’s made of unemployed English majors who believed all that socialist anti-capitalism crap they heard in theory literature classes. What they should be doing is creating the new advertising for the digital age. It’s narrative. It’s David Ogilvy on steroids.

  • Helping People Discover | Noah Brier dot Com says:

    […] been saying the ability to build awareness is the biggest strength of Facebook (and more broadly social). Intent is great and Google has built an incredible advertising machine, […]

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