Heineken and Six Flags may have little in common, but marketers at each company agree on at least one point when it comes to social media: don't make it an afterthought. At the Argyle Executive Forum's 2011 CMO Spotlight Forum: Retail and Consumer Goods & Services on Wednesday, marketers from the brands spoke about integrating social media into their marketing mix. p>
Laure Levin, solutions strategy director, enterprise solutions at Infogroup, who led the discussion, pointed out that online ad spend is likely to reach $28.5 billion this year, with social ad network spend likely to be up 55% over last year. But marketer confidence is not rising at the same rate. Citing an Infogroup study, Levin said that 73% of marketers feel that simply finding time to create social content is their biggest challenge. "Small businesses are slightly more likely to use social," she says. "The real question is whether it is helping to grow businesses or just, as [The Daily Show's] Jon Stewart said: 'A world passing around notes in a classroom.'"
David McKillips, SVP of corporate alliances for Six Flags Entertainment, said social is regional and therefore a critical component for a company whose 19 parks in the U.S. attract crowds who live within 100 miles of them.
He likens marketing at Six Flags properties to having kids. "They all look alike, but each has its own personality. So we have a national Facebook page, but we advertise locally and regionally, and not nationally," he says. "We have to reach the local customer. Nationally, we have 99% awareness. So we decided to go ahead with national Facebook page but it shoots you to our regional parks." At those sites, he says, interactions are really person-to-person, not consumer-to-company. He says each park has a staffer dedicated to talking to customers on social media, conversations in which the Six Flags rep uses his or her first name.
McKillips says the company has 1.5 million fans on its national Facebook, and a total of 3 million regional fans. "And we are a top-25 brand on Foursquare. We are very active on Twitter, and we blog once a week. Our fans are also very active."
He says social media also allows Six Flags to go beyond a single big message. Although the theme park's traditional marketing efforts are heavy during spring, when the company touts new rides and a season-pass message as well as a one-day ticket message starting on Memorial Day, TV ads "only give us 30 seconds to tell our story. On Facebook, we have an opportunity to talk about all the other things we have to offer. Also, it's not just a marketing engine but a critical part of PR and guest relations, which are incredibly important to us."
Kheri Holland Tillman, VP trade marketing and sales strategy at Heineken, said the bottom line for her company is that its social and digital efforts must add up to a bigger idea. "For the Heineken beer brand, for example, it's about music. For our Dos Equis brand, it's 'the most interesting man in world' program. Everything must tie into a bigger plan. For each program, we do we have to make sure we have the right objective and strategy."