Mike Fox on Marketing at Facebook

What are some of the latest developments in Facebook marketing?  How is Facebook changing the nature of brand-building?

These are some of the questions I cover in today’s interview with Facebook’s head of Global Vertical Marketing, Mike Fox.  Mike’s group is charged with developing category-level marketing strategies for Facebook’s clients, so he is able to share some behind-the-scenes perspectives about Facebook marketing.

Mike has been with Facebook since 2009, before that he was Vice President of Strategic Integration at CNN, and he’s also held marketing and brand strategy roles at Snapple, Sony, and a couple of advertising agencies.

Take a listen:

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Hello.  Today we get an insider’s look into one of the hottest companies around, Facebook. I am so pleased to talk with Mike Fox, Facebook’s Director of Global Vertical Marketing.  His team is charged with developing category level marketing strategies that work around the globe and across every sized marketer. So he’s going to be sharing some very interesting perspectives with us today. Just a few things to know about Mike before we get started. He’s been with Facebook since 2009 and before that he was VP of Strategic Integration at CNN and his career has also included stints at Snapple, Sony and a couple of advertising agencies which is where he and I actually met.  He is truly one of the smartest guys I know and so I’ve been looking forward to this talk for a while. So welcome Mike.

Mike Fox:  Hi Denise, hi everyone.

Denise: Hi there.  Well let’s start out with the basics.  Tell us what your group does, global vertical marketing, and if you have any examples of the things that you’ve worked on that you can share, that would be really helpful.

Mike: Sure.  In vertical marketing our job is really just to focus on specific industries, sort of the main industries that use Facebook for marketing and for advertising, and to develop the best understanding of Facebook for what each market really needs most. So, when we focus vertically, we’re able to really sort of take what those different businesses are trying to do and really map it closely to what Facebook can do for them. So that’s really sort of the essence of what we’re trying to do, and what we’re trying to work with our clients on. That’s sort of the external facing part of what this team does.  Internally what we are trying to do is actually create an industry point of view for Facebook itself.  So what, for example, what is retail really looking for from Facebook and from social.  What trends are happening in that category, that as a company we should be thinking about.  And what that ultimately does it in turn affects which products we build, the different kinds of solutions that use all kinds of products that were put together for each industry, and then how we wind up going to market within each of the different verticals.

So essentially there’s an external part of that as well as an internal part of it. Externally we’re trying to be more relevant to these industries, and internally we’re trying to bring what does industries need back into the process of what Facebook is building and how we sort of optimize our product for that. So that’s essentially what we’re doing. Then in terms of some of the things I’ve worked on over the last three years that I’ve been here when I started the real task out of the gate was, really to explain what Facebook was.  A lot of folks in 2009 had just started to use it or were sort of medium usage users of Facebook. But ultimately over time the marketing possibilities became something that you were really interested in, but they didn’t know what Facebook had to offer.  So what we’ve done over the last two or three years is really, by working very closely with some big partners to understand what works what doesn’t work. How different things in different categories could be much more attuned for what those marketers need. So just in general sort of like how we got to where we are.  But in terms of specifically what we’re working on right now, is really focusing on building solutions for different industries.

So we just launched early last week a solution for how to auto manufacture launch vehicles.  So if you’re in the business of building and selling cars to consumers, there’s never going to be a point in time in your business where you’re not going to need to launch a car.  And a lot of marketers on Facebook think like fanning is the only thing to be done. There’s actually a very good way to use all the tools that Facebook has. What our auto launch solution has is really sort of put together the blueprint for how do you use Facebook to most effectively launch a vehicle? We know that there’s a market for this, we know that marketers are really looking for this.

Coming up in the next couple of weeks we’re going to be launching a consumer technology seasonal solution.  So for a lot of the CE brands and Denise and I both worked at Sony at one point together so it’s not new to us.  The holiday season is a big, big quarter for that category. So building out a way that the folks in that category when they want to launch a device or promote a new device, how can they really take advantage of that window of time that has sort of those key dates like Cyber Monday and Black Friday/. How do they actually use Facebook during those key times to really amp up what’s happening and get people within Facebook to be talking about their different technology.  So these are a couple of examples of things that we’re working on currently and how we got to where we are today.

Denise: Right. You know it strikes me that you need to become like experts within each of the verticals that you’re focused on. So in your automotive example you need to know the automotive business and their challenges and their opportunities and their needs and you need to really become experts in that.  And there’s an opportunity for Facebook to almost be like a thought leader to that industry about best practices in marketing or innovations in marketing.

Mike: Yes. For sure, and in fact on my team I hire people specifically from those industries with a lot of experience. So they come into Facebook with all of that experience so they can actually learn Facebook and then start to apply what they already know about the industry and what they then learn about how Facebook works.  So for the auto category that I just mentioned, the person we have that runs that vertical for us, Doug Frisbee, spent 7 years at Toyota and a career in the auto category.  We just hired a few months ago Nicholas Franche from EBay, to run our e-com and resale vertical, and we have several others, I think we have about nine verticals right now staffed where people have years and years of experience inside of these businesses.  So they bring that with them, then we teach them how Facebook actually works and they become Facebook experts. And then the intersection of those two things is where the magic happens.

Denise: Wow, wow, yeah. Pretty cool. Now when I was up on the Facebook campus with you a couple of weeks ago, we had gotten into a discussion about how Facebook is changing the way that people connect.  Like who we connect with and how we connect with them and when. And changing because all of our activity is being posted and shared and it’s archived and being kept track of. And I was hoping that you could talk a little bit more about how you see that, like the cultural dynamics around that changing.  Because I think that’s just really changing the way that we live.

Mike: Yeah. So you know I think that’s probably something that was widely reported during the IPO.  But the mission of Facebook is really to make the world more open and connected.  And those are the key attributes of what we’re trying to do as a company. And I think the world has really changed in that direction in the last 8 years.  That our real identity, our true selves and representing that online, something that Facebook has played a large role in pioneering.  And to the extent that it allows us to connect to real other people that we know has been a really phenomenal thing to witness and to be a part of.  But really, as you know, I am like a marketing nerd.  I love this career.

Denise: That’s what I love about you.

Mike: I’m happy to admit I’m a working nerd. And so when I get out of bed every morning and what I’m really sort of passionate about is what does a more open and connected world mean for marketers?  I think it has profound effects. I think that a lot of the stuff that marketing sort of pioneered in the last 50 years has been a real sort of push method of marketing where we would craft what the brand meant, we would use our media channels to then push that messaging out, and repeat and rinse over and over and over again. And it didn’t leave a lot of room for consumers to pick up an owned brand and stand up for brands and personalize those brands. But I think that the internet started to make the two way dialogue a lot more possible.  But then with Facebook what you now have is the ability for individuals to interact with brands, for people to attach brands as part of their identity, so when you like a page or you like a brand on Facebook it’s saying something about who you are. And that’s a huge sort of motivational for why people like pages in the first page. But it also allows you to participate in what that brand means and how that brand is sort of interacting with the community of people that love or care about it.

So I think that’s a really interesting thing. Not that brand advocacy has never existed before, it has. But I think what Facebook has been able to do is actually really sort of help you gather those people that are most interested or most passionate about your brand.  And start to interact with them and have them start conversations with their friends and to help them spread the sort of the good word through the networks of people that they have.

So I think that the really exciting challenge for marketers is how to make the brands more successful in this open and connected world. And this really means letting brands become a meaningful part of people’s lives. And then the converse of that also is making people a meaningful part of brands. So it’s those two things that I think are really, really interesting and things that I probably love most about my job is how all that is changing.

Denise: Right, right. I just find it fascinating that your, the point you made about push versus pull, I think that’s a very interesting analogy, in terms of brand building and brand development and how really up until this point in our kind of communications development it has been about develop the message and then pushing that out.  I really think that as manufacturers have learned in the retail space, you know, pulling people into a store or in this case pulling people into a brand is a lot harder, there’s a lot more nuance.  It’s much more about attraction and influence and kind of seeking out the right people then it is kind of pushing yourself upon someone.  And there’s a lot more nuance associated with that kind of brand development approach.

Mike: Yeah, and I’ll add a third word to that too.  I mean there’s the push, the pull and then ultimately the share. And the nuance is certainly there but if you maintain one principle idea about being a brand in this new world, you can figure out the nuances and not get too off track.  And that’s really just being super authentic, being like who you really are. Not trying to kind of gloss over or over market who you are as a brand, but really tapping into what’s the true voice of the brand.  And that does include some nuance, but a lot of folks in brand marketing have a really deep understanding of what they mean and who they are. They’ve been sort of working on these brands for years and they know their customers.  And now it’s just like starting to act more like people act with one another rather than as sort of an authoritarian brand that’s going to tell you what to think about it.  It’s sort of, it changes the dynamic but the pushing and the pulling are the two, sort of yin and the yang of it. But what really is powerful is when you strike the right note the sharing that happens with those folks that you’ve been able to get inside of this connection space of yours the sharing that they do with their friends is much more powerful then any of that traditional push marketing that we used to use.

Denise: Right, right, absolutely.  Well Mike I wish we could go on. I have so many other questions to ask, but we need to wrap it up. So I really want to thank you and again this is Mike Fox, Facebook’s Director of Global Vertical Marketing. Thanks so much Mike for taking the time to talk with us today.

(transcript by Speechpad)



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