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Do tech companies (and people) misunderstand advertising?

Firstly, let me apologise for writing yet another post that mentions Facebook; I promise, this will not become a Facebook-focused blog. In my defence though, there’s an awful lot happening with it as a business and much of it is incredibly interesting for new age marketers – ie. app developers. So on that note…

There’s been a lot of ink (both real and virtual) expended in recent weeks analysing the current and future performance of Facebook, and putting aside its rollercoaster IPO, much of that ink has been devoted to the performance of Facebook in the advertising realm. A quick whip around the news sees stories about: declining revenues; inability to get mobile right; the loss of GM’s business just prior to the IPO; and of course comparisons with business like Google who did get their advertising model right prior to IPO. Most, if not all the analysis warns that Facebook hasn’t got their advertising model right and that with its weakness in mobile it’s falling further behind. Firstly, this is fairly obvious, but as the actions of GM show, some marketers, some commentators, and perhaps even Facebook itself, seem to have a misunderstanding about how advertisers can make best use of Facebook’s facilities – the key here is considering how users interact with Facebook.

Let’s first start with those who get it right – Google and Amazon. Have a think about what is going through your head when you’re using these sites; most likely you’re in acquisition mode, whether for information, products or services. If it’s either of the latter, advertising that promotes a specific product at a specific point in time will be helpful to you. Chances are that you’ll be more receptive to the message and you might even click through and purchase. Contrast this with Facebook which is more “recreational”; in this mode you’re relaxing, you’re spending virtual time with your friends, connecting, playing games, etc. Any advertising that prompts you to buy there and then is either ignored or worse, is an irritant – imagine someone tapping you on the shoulder trying to sell you something whilst you’re catching up with friends… not the best approach. As an advertiser your best approach in this circumstance is to brand build, allowing customers to gain a greater insight about your company and what it stands for without trying to sell something on the spot. In time they will hopefully develop a preference for your brand and products and then, next time they’re using Google or Amazon they’ll click and buy.

Does this then mean that Facebook is the wrong place to advertise? Not at all. What matters is what you (as an advertiser) are hoping to achieve and therefore how you advertise in that environment. GM don’t seem to have figured this out – and if Facebook tried to convince GM that they operated like Google, they were probably kidding themselves as well. Fortunately for Facebook, Ford and Chrysler have figured this out and have stuck around.

So what do we take out of this? For Facebook, a couple of pieces of free advice. Firstly, Facebook should stop telling anyone (clients, users, the markets,anyone) that its advertising model is anything similar to that of Google and Amazon, clearly it isn’t. With its scale, Facebook has the opportunity to be the most powerful generator of insights into the human condition this side of god. So find a way to commercialise that! Secondly, Facebook’s corporate Clients currently get an incredible amount of free branding and consumer engagement via their corporate Facebook pages – actually selling that service (provided the pricing is right) would net Facebook a very handy revenue source.

For app developers, the lessons are useful – if you are developing an app that includes in-app advertising, think very carefully about how people will use your apps, when advertising will be most suitable and what sort of advertising will work most effectively. If you intend to advertise your app to potential customers using a service like Vungle, think about what your customers will be doing when they see your advertisement. What will be the most compelling way to communicate with them without annoying them? Get this right and you’ll not only build your brand but you’ll increase sales in the longer term.

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