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What Social Marketers Can Learn from David Ogilvy

Remember when there wasn’t social media and people instead did…wait, what did they do? Even those of us who once ran across the ice fields hunting mammoths for dinner have trouble imagining a world without social media. From a marketer’s perspective, which communication channels were out there to leverage?

Hang on…why do we care? Isn’t this one of those “why do I have to know how to do long division?”–type situations? We have social media so we don’t need to crack open the archives and snuffle around in the dust researching what our grandparents did for fun before the germ theory of disease was a thing (some of us remember “Put a coat on if you’re going out or you’ll catch pneumonia”).

10 Social Marketing Lessons from Forbes Most Valuable Brands

But we should crack open the archives. Because we can get too focused on the social media channels and their technology and lose sight of the fact that people are still people and communication principles learned back in the days of the three-martini lunch can still be applied by the social marketer.

Here’s one: In those bygone, less-noisy days, we still talked about “breaking through” the noise, even when the communication channel was a print ad in a paper periodical—whether that periodical was a B2B vertical newsweekly or a newspaper (people used to drive around in cars and throw this “newspaper” thing on your driveway and you’d walk out in your robe and slippers and eagerly pick it up so you could find out the scores of games played half a day before—I know, go figure).

Not convinced? Check out these gems from David Ogilvy—the father of modern (yes, modern) advertising, who wrote his seminal treatise in 1983 (using a feather quill and an ink pot, no doubt)—which I’ve paraphrased and adapted for the social marketer of today:

  • People don’t have much time to stop and read. Get to the point as quickly as you can when posting to social channels. If people worried about breaking through noise and getting no time from their targets back in the day of the once-a-day communication channel…well, you can do the math.

  • Clearly define your positioning and who you want to talk to. Surprisingly often (but never at Simply Measured!), I have seen marketers who want to throw out everything they can think of about their product and “let” the audience select for itself what applies to them.
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This was always a bad idea, but with the noise that defines social channels it’s marketing suicide.

  • You have to know your prospect in great detail. Yeah, Ogilvy figured out even before most social marketers were born that people walk a journey. He knew about the funnel. One “luxury” of his slower-paced era was that you could invest time in deeply understanding your target personas.
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You can use Simply Measured Listening to understand the sentiment, volume, and reach of the social conversation around your brand and industry, discover emerging themes in your target audience’s conversations, identify demographics, and extend reach.

It’s too easy for social marketers these days to get buried in the barrage of content production and never take the time to regularly update what they need to know about the needs and aspirations of their prospects, and how those prospects work through finding what they want.

  • OK, I’m going to skip one. Let’s just agree that not every principle from the olden days is still applicable (this one was about thinking of the consumer as if she were your wife…yikes).
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  • Talk to prospects in the language they use every day. This one is huge for social marketers. Ogilvy counseled marketers to talk to readers as if you are alone with them—not as though they are gathered in a stadium.

How many of you can say you never forget that the prospect is alone when reading your posts, and that you never slip into delivering something that looks more like it’s intended for a mass-consumed broadcast?

So, the next time that ancient marketer yells, “Hey, you damn kid! Get off my lawn!” you might want to walk up to the porch and sit down at the master’s knee for some education. Make sure you don’t walk across the lawn to get there.

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Scott Fallon

Scott Fallon is the VP of Marketing at Simply Measured. He has experience across startups, SMBs, and enterprise software companies, including Microsoft and BEA, and has launched or expanded both social marketing and content marketing at several companies. He holds a BA from University of California, San Diego and an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University.

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