How Virgin Mobile is moving to ‘newsroom marketing’

Digital marketing is not about content, it’s about context, says, Ron Faris, head of brand marketing at Virgin Mobile USA. Gone are the days of a well-polished TV spot being plonked in the middle of a prime time television slot and left to do its job. Millennials need more than that, Faris says, and he’s revealed how Virgin Mobile USA is doing it.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Faris says that Virgin takes to creating content for social media using a method he calls ‘newsroom marketing’. That’s where, “every post  is breaking news optimised for the speed of pop culture”.

Faris says the advantage of marketing this way is that it costs half as much and takes half as long to produce. But try telling this to the powers at be. There is still a fair divide between what Faris calls the ‘old school marketers’ and the ‘new school marketers.’ Trying to convince the old school of the complex and revolutionary nature of what is happening with digital marketing and getting your message across via social media is still proving to be a hurdle for many.

“New school marketers, typically those closer to social marketing channels targeted at Millennials, are telling me they’re having a hard time getting their projects funded internally because old school marketers in the C-suite don’t understand the new context and metrics driving social marketing,” he says.

“These newsroom tactics complement typical display advertising, which now has the job of retargeting the user with promotional messaging several sites after the prospect enjoyed the newsroom-style branded engagement.”

Faris says, the social ‘share’ metric has single-handedly redefined what it means to engage with an audience on a regular basis. ‘New school’ marketers are less concerned with the unique monthly views on their microsites and are increasingly more obsessed with ‘owning the water cooler’ – that is, owning the spaces where stories spread most.

Currently, Virgin Mobile has an average three million views a month for its social content, rivalling the online audiences of Pitchfork and Rolling Stone.

Why? “Because we create content on a platform that was perfectly optimised for share-ability,” he says. “The name of the post, the length of the list, the photos selected – all these choices are thoughtful results from the A/B tests that founder Jonah Peretti and his disciples ferreted through before indoctrinating them as gospel.”

There are several platform options marketers can choose to take advantage of this trend in native advertising, but to truly reap the benefits of it, Faris admits more is needed. Marketers need to tailor all of their assets – even their studio assets – to drive prospects to conversion by bridging seductive content with hardcore commerce.

“Before your C-suite execs finalise their bloated budgets in the fall, they should first take a hard look at the total ‘shares’ from the campaigns conducted by their new school marketers. Hopefully they’ll realise that some of the best acquisition tactics are earned, not bought. In other words, stop acting like a marketer.

“Act like a friend,” he adds.