Confessions of a finance-company CMO: ‘Social is a fraud’

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Marketers can often feel like they’re toiling in a fog of metrics and data. In this edition of Confessions, we spoke to the head of marketing at a major financial services company about how this atmosphere creates frauds and fear of missing out that is driving many major decisions.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

What’s the biggest mistake people are making in the marketing industry now?
I think that the people in their schools — mostly with their MBAs — have been taught this whole idea of disruption in advertising. It’s done to such a degree that they don’t realize that marketing is not about disrupting people’s lives. It’s about engaging them within a social or cultural phenomenon. The thing people get wrong is that someone actually cares about your brand.

People don’t care about brands?
Nah. People aren’t interested in your message as much as you think. It’s all an accident. If you’re watching, say, the NCAA game, you have a passion sport. You’ll go through the ads. That’s really it.

Isn’t that where influencer marketing came in?
[Laughs] It is a joke. The worst thing about influencers is the assumption that they are influencers. You don’t come across as an influencer. You get there with an attitude focused on knowledge. But nobody knows that.

Brands love influencers. Or has that bubble popped?
It hasn’t. Everyone loves them. If it works for their brands, I suppose good for them. It doesn’t work for us. It’s expensive. I’m not wasting time on that. There was a time an influencer had a role and everyone started doing it. But it’s cyclic. Everyone jumps after the latest thing. There was a time native content was working and everyone started doing it. Ultimately, the core thing never changes.

What do you think is overhyped these days?
Snapchat. To be fair, my product is expensive and complicated. It’s not for Snapchat. But it’s overblown. When the tide goes down we’ll know who survives. Fine, try all kinds of things. But ultimately, don’t blow all your money and lose sight of it because you think you should. But people have a blind spot with social in general. It’s like Facebook likes: I still get people telling me they got 167,000 likes on something. So?

Isn’t it about FOMO inside these organizations?
Yeah. My CEO has said to me we need a Facebook page — years ago. And it’s because his daughter said so. I kept asking “why?” Social is a fraud. There are so many frauds. The biggest one these days is people who do social media or “listening.” One guy stopped talking to me because I asked him why we’d pay for something we can get for free. There is a lot of bullshit but people don’t recognize it.

Every time I hear that stuff I assume people inside marketers aren’t listening to each other. Is that true?
Brands definitely struggle with that internally. It’s the same everywhere. What happens is that digital has given to a lot of young people because they lived in it. Great. But they end up being silent. Nobody is listening to them in their organizations because they’re thinking of them in this “you just started, what do you know?” way. Therein lies the problem. You have all these young people who I wish could be taught some corporate stuff. For example, at my place, the CFO has no clue what the heck is going on. So I’d love if the younger people could be taught to speak to them in a language he would understand.

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