No matter how channel agnostic we claim to be, or whether we market ourselves as 'full service', 'traditional', 'creative' or 'digital', every person, and therefore every agency, has a natural starting point. A default setting. A genre of first 'for instance' that springs to mind, almost effortlessly, when trying to demonstrate how an insight, an idea, a creative spark might come to life. This 'for instance' could be anything, from a piece of film to a radio script to a print ad or digital banner.
Of course ideas stretch, evolve, and find their way into executional 'for instances' in other channels too. But we always have a first.
Over time, our first 'for instance's become consistent, even predictable. Not due to laziness - in fact, it's quite the opposite. It's due to an innate, automatic desire to create mental efficiency, which is at the core of how we're wired. Scientist Robin Marantz Henig described it far more eloquently than I ever could in a 2010 piece for the New York Times:
"As the brain matures, one thing that happens is the pruning of the synapses. Synaptic pruning does not occur willy-nilly; it depends largely on how any one brain pathway is used. By cutting off unused pathways, the brain eventually settles into a structure that's most efficient for the owner of that brain, creating well-worn grooves for the pathways that person uses most… The brains we have are shaped largely in response to the demands made of them."
In other words, we get good at articulating our ideas as a 30 second TV spot, a billboard, or a direct response ad, because that's a task we've spent a lot of time asking our brain to perform.
So while there's no single best starting point for every client, every brief or every audience, there are at least 11 million and three reasons why social is a bloody good place for an idea - and an agency - to start. Let me explain.
1. It's got the numbers
11 million Australians were active on Facebook today. 15 million will be this month. There's a pretty good chance you're one of them. And do you know how many of today's 11 million users saw paid content from brands? Every single one of them.
Let's be clear, the numbers are only heading in one direction. By active users alone, social media is more relevant today than it was yesterday, and will be more relevant tomorrow than it is today.
Now add the ever rising number of mobile interactions, the events, the checkins, the groups and the daily memories, and one thing becomes pretty clear. Whoever it is you're selling, or trying to sell to, is likely to be found on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat and whatever comes next, for the foreseeable future.
2. It's the toughest proving ground
If we're subscribers to the belief that reach and frequency are important contributors to purchasing decisions, we want to see our ideas executed everywhere. Social, TV, outdoor, print, radio, path to purchase - but where to start? And how do we know what's working before we commit serious media dollars?
By making an idea prove itself in the toughest environment first - and nowhere's tougher than social. Shrunk down into a couple of square inches, squished between an infinite stream of messages from people's friends, family and (seemingly) every other brand on the planet, we battle in noisy, public environments one minute, and quiet, private ones the next. We scream for attention without the benefit of sound, and operate under the constant threat of compulsively scrolling thumbs.
If an idea can cut through here, how luxurious does a giant billboard, an isolated magazine ad, or a 55" TV screen in the comfort of a living room become? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in reverse.
In line with this, our industry's recent self flagellation over the '3 second measure' for a video view on Facebook is completely unwarranted - at least until someone can tell me what the equivalent figure for a TV commercial is.
In the meantime, how about we get busy adapting creative executions to ensure that brand messages get across in the first three seconds, instead of pretending that everyone except for us slavishly watches whatever's put in front of them? That's what adapting to the toughest environment is all about.
3. It's beautifully efficient
Serial entrepreneur, digital marketing pioneer and four time best selling author Gary Vaynerchuk spent half of his 2017 SXSW keynote presentation describing how Facebook advertising, and in particular Facebook video advertising, is by far the most 'underpriced attention' available to advertisers today.
For those unfamiliar, social platforms like Facebook let us target audiences by geography, demographics, interest areas and a raft of other attributes. They also let us target - and retarget - audiences by behaviour. In other words, we can choose to only spend media money on people who have visited specific pages on our website, installed our app, watched our video or interacted with other pieces of content we've produced. Wastage can be all but eliminated.
Beyond this, there are countless tips and tricks that can drive the marketing dollar even further. For instance, Facebook and Instagram algorithms currently favour videos over photos. This means that a video will reach more eyeballs than a photo, despite having the same media spend behind it. Similarly, videos shot in 1:1 aspect ratios achieve greater engagement due to the amount of screen real estate they occupy compared to their 16:9 counterparts. The list goes on and on.
For all but a few edge cases, social done well can provide any brand with unprecedented efficiency in terms of reach and frequency. For brands with a very particular audience in mind or an inherent digital conversion point (an online sale, booking, enquiry or sign up) the efficiency piece through social becomes even more compelling.
4. It comes with unlimited options as standard
Compared to the finite space of a 30 second TV spot, a print ad, or a billboard, the internet is unlimited. Digital and social channels give us the opportunity to tell as many stories in as many formats as we want.
We can focus on facts and emotions, buying cues and backstories, calls to action and long lead nurturing. We can even focus on all of these, all at once, sequentially, ensuring our segmented user groups only see the message most relevant to their needs at that precise moment in time.
Facebook alone gives advertisers almost a dozen formats that can be used in isolation, in combination and even across it's platforms to reach a given audience. Different ad units are optimised specifically for achieving different objectives, including awareness, lead acquisition, engagement and click throughs - and that’s just within the platforms. If we manage to pull people across to our own sites or applications, the possibilities around storytelling, product showcasing, lead nurturing, customer servicing and ultimately, transacting, are endless.
Try doing that with a billboard.
For decades, legacy agencies have enjoyed the benefit of being exceptional at crafting first ‘for instances’ that fit the channel their clients believed most important to get right (ie 30 second films designed for viewing on TV, for those playing at home).
As the eyeballs, the options and the efficiencies continue to move to social, surely it’s time that great ideas, great agencies and great brands started here too.
This article originally appeared on Mumbrella.