Content-Driven Social Marketing: Time to Make the Digital Donuts


In the “days before digital” (DBD), brands could overcome the lack of interesting content by simply “yelling louder and more often”; during DBD, captive TV or Radio/Print audiences had no choice but to pay some attention to the ads that interspersed their programming.  Even if you weren’t directly watching the television, it was hard to avoid listening to and absorbing the “single-minded proposition” contained within effective ads.

P&G and other packaged goods companies literally had it down to a science –even splitting their marketing dollars into two categories – “Working Dollars” and “Non-working Dollars”; the former being money spent on buying airtime or print pages, and the latter encompassing the costs to produce the ad/content.  The objective was always to spend an ever-decreasing proportion of the budget on “non-working” (the message), and more and more on “working” (the delivery of the message).

The switch to digital was presaged by the introduction of cable; by offering choice, television-viewing audiences became smaller and more fragmented, with the eyeballs going to those channels that offered more compelling content (see HBO, USA, History Channel and AMC as prime examples).  With the introduction of digital, not only has fragmentation further proliferated, the amount of content that the viewer has to choose from has increased geometrically.

Now, more than ever, creating interesting and relevant content is the key element to successful brand-building.  The only means to consistently cut through the clutter we have today is to develop the reputation (brand-building at its most fundamental level) for being able to create and/or identify, and share the best content.  In other words, it is no longer good enough to “yell louder and more often”; brands must provide and share content that is good enough for viewers to want to associate their name with, and in turn, share with their online communities.

This is the real switch that is mandated by the ascendancy of digital – one could say that it is the reversal of the definition of “working” versus “non-working” marketing spend.  Today, brands will want to devote an ever-increasing proportion of their marketing resources to the creation of great content, and less and less on the delivery mechanism.

Another way to look at this is paradigm is to ask yourself, “would I rather spend more money on creating a great book or movie, or would I rather pay more money to UPS or FedEx to deliver it to my reader/viewer’s house?”

Some readers may want to challenge this “digital switch” assertion by pointing out that Super Bowl advertising time is still one of the most expensive marketing expenditures that a brand can make – its expensive because there are a lot of people to shout at, all gathered together in one place and in one time.

True, airtime is a huge investment, but the real measure of success for Super Bowl advertising is not that you have a Super Bowl ad, but that your content was enjoyed and rated the best and most relevant by the viewing audience.  Let me tell you from personal experience, the Monday after the Super Bowl is not the best day to be in the office if your ad was panned.

If you are curious as to who won this year’s pageant of ads, check out the USA today rankings.



The key to succeeding against this new paradigm is to restructure and reset both your expectations and your process.  While the costs of not filling your social pipelines with great content don’t seem to be prohibitive at first glance, let me show you how it might be the most damaging thing you could do.

A few years ago, I had the chance to speak extensively with the CEO of another footwear brand, and he was proud to share with me that he had implemented a new retail marketing program, where he had installed 42 inch LCD screens in all 72 of his retail outlets. He was very proud of his contribution to the brand’s retail experience, and was eagerly anticipating the impact that the free broadcast of branded content to a presumably predisposed and interested audience – shoppers who made a specific visit to his branded retail environment – would have on his conversion rates.

He was quite taken aback when I asked him to describe the strategy/process he was going to use to fill his network with content, and how much had he budgeted for the creation, adaptation and delivery of that content.  He brushed it off and mumbled that marketing would handle it.  You can imagine what happened next; subsequent visits to his stores confirmed that the screens were either blank, or silently repeating the same video loop over and over again (store associates were so sick of the audio, they either turned down the volume or turned the video off completely).

If you carry that analogy forward, you will realize that you will run the greater risk of turning off your potential customers on a broader basis if you do not put in place a process and carve out sufficient resource to fill your social media channels with great content.  Nothing says “brand fail” faster than having an inactive, or boring social media channel.

To help frame up a way that brands might want to approach the opportunity, I’d like to use an example that some of you may be old enough to remember, Fred the Baker.  Dunkin Donuts in the 1980’s had a very successful campaign based around the character of Fred the Baker.Over the course of the campaign, Fred would rouse himself out of bed before the crack of dawn to embark on his never-changing, daily routine, muttering to himself, “it’s time to make the donuts”.

What worked for Dunkin Donuts in the 1980’s is what will work for brands in the 21st century – the key to winning fans/followers and consequently, customers, is to create and serve up fresh and tasty content on a consistent, if not daily, basis.  To accomplish that requires brands to completely rethink how they spend their money, and devote more than they initially think they should towards the creation of great content.

Before you comment on how out of touch with reality that statement above is, I ask you first to look at how your people and dollars are allocated:

  1. How many people do you have devoted to creating ads, press releases and marketing collateral?  How many people do you have working on how to buy airtime/space for those materials? How many third-party suppliers do you have involved in that process?  How much money are you spending in total?
  2. Now, look at how many people you have involved with creating or curating social media content?  How many third party suppliers?  How much money?

If you are like most brands, the answer to the second series of questions is, “part of someone who already has a full-time job”, or at best, one or two dedicated heads.  And dedicated social media and content budgets are minuscule, because delivering content via social media channels is “free”, and the managers who are allocating the budgets that way are still trapped by the old way of thinking.

To leverage the possibilities made available by the switch to digital, re-orient and realign resources and dollars to first prioritize the production of content, on a frequent if not daily, basis.  Re-orient your creative teams to produce content that tells stories via multi-media channels in different formats.  If you consistently have fresh and relevant content, you will build your audience.  If you don’t, you will never succeed in the new world.  It is as simple as that.

Now, you may be forgiven for thinking that the only way for brands to succeed today is to spend a lot of money to create fresh, original content.  Fortunately the digital world does provide ways in which you can effectively link your brand to great content at a relatively low cost.

The Value of Curation

In the finance world, the principle we’ll leverage is called using “other people’s money”, or OPM – i.e. don’t rely on, or risk your own resources, but use someone else’s bankroll as the foundation from which you make your money.  In the today’s world, this principle could be recast as leveraging “other people’s content” – the digital universe has made it easy for people to create and share content, and it is both valued and welcome for others to help spread the word.

By developing the reputation for finding and sharing great content, you can further build your online presence, and supplement your content strategy for “free”.  All you need to do is:

  1. Set up a process for how your brand might identify great content, and
  2. Implement a process in which it is quickly posted and shared to your online network.

There are many great articles and posts on how to approach setting up a content curation process, and I will address a new way to approach that specific topic in a future post, but in the meantime, read a post by David Armano, EVP of Edelman Digital, on the value of digital curation.

Finally, following the example of Tom Sawyer, explore the potential to “crowd-source”.  Just as Tom Sawyer was able to recruit his friends and other passersby to do his work for him, ultimately to the point where he was able to turn the chore of painting a picket fence white into a revenue generating enterprise, brands can foster and leverage public interest in their product/issue into a labor and resource saving exercise.

Crowd-sourcing as a strategy can work on the biggest stage, as seen by Dorito’s success over the past few Super Bowls.  Their ads, produced by the public for “free”, consistently out-perform the other ads which air during the broadcast, which for the most part, are developed and produced in the traditional manner.  2012 was no exception – the two ads aired this year by Doritos came in at the very top of the USA TODAY Ad Meter.

Even when you include the two $1 million prizes awarded to the entrants who produced and submitted the ads, it was still cheaper and arguably more impactful for Doritos to open up the contest to harness the creative energies of the general public than to pay far more to engage professional agencies and production house – especially when you add in the social media buzz generated by the online voting competition Doritos ran prior to the Super Bowl to select the two finalists from the host of other entrants.

Crowd-sourcing can also be effective on a much smaller scale, with much smaller budgetstaking advantage of the talent of the public, the online community is capable of providing many a brand and business with lower cost content.

One of the more accessible examples is the micro stock house. Best epitomized by operations such as iStockPhoto, fotosearch and Shutterstock, these sites make high quality stock footage, created by talented amateur photographers worldwide, available for use at pennies on the dollar versus the old (and now virtually extinct) professional stock photography model.

Even now, the downward pressure on photography costs continue as new services such as Stock.xchng are making photos available for free.  Owned and run by Getty Images, the giant in the stock photography industry, the service connects designers and photographers together and provides the stable mechanism for the community share their work with each other for free.

More recent examples of that theme include the new crowdsourcing service,, which helps organizations leverage the passion of their audience base to submit photos and video that documents their experience with the product/brand as part of a contest or campaign.

Our own platform, Postano, can also be configured to perform that task, harvesting all content containing specific hashtag call-outs.  Examples of that can be seen for Portlandia and Flirt CosmeticsBoth microsites were produced to help support events celebrating the specific brand, and all the content was generated and shared for free by the public.

Net, in many cases, relevant content can be harvested and/or curated from the digital world at little or no cost, other than the organizational and time requirements necessary for the “call to action” to be generated.



In order to be successful in the digital age, brands must quickly navigate “the switch” and move their focus and resources more towards creating/curating relevant and fresh content that is worthy of being endorsed and shared by consumers with their online communities. 

Once the commitment has been made to engage in social media and participate in the digital universe, make sure your viewers don’t end up seeing an unchanging or blank screen, or an endlessly repeating loop.

There are three ways to acquire the content necessary to fill your pipeline:

  1. Create your own original content
  2. Crowd-source creative material to tap into the talent that exists all over the world, and to reduce origination costs
  3. Curate and share relevant content that is being created by other people, which they WANT you to share with your network

Determine how well you’ll be able to participate in each of these areas; organize your process and resources accordingly, and you are well on your way to making your own digital donuts.

>>Want to hear more of Cliff Torng’s musings? Follow him on Twitter @TigerScion.

>>See how Postano can help drive engagement with user-generated content

3 thoughts on “Content-Driven Social Marketing: Time to Make the Digital Donuts

  1. Excellent presentation. I have several clients asking me to guide them in Social Media and but none of them have a clear point of view. This will definitely help me swath a proper path for strategic discussion and planning of their social media. I definitely want to know more about Postano and intend to sign up and try it out.
    Thanks and Great job Cliff.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Fernando. Glad you are trying out the platform – let us know your feedback, and please drop me a line if you want us to give you a demo over WebEx.

  3. You proved your point with quality, not quantity when it comes to content marketing.

    Just take a look at this article! Though a bit on the lengthy side for typical internet content, you obviously put a great deal of time and effort into this post. It is articulate and error free.

    You brought up some really valuable points and illustrated them with enlightening examples from pop-culture and literature.

    I think this particular piece of content will be paying off for a long time to come. Bravo! Bookmarking and sharing!