Last year, on AMC’s cult favorite, Mad Men, creative director, Don Draper, was talking about a pitch the agency was making for American Airlines. He basically summed up the effort as having “lots of bricks, but no building”. In other words, the team had lots of random good ideas, but no cohesive strategy that was going to drive business for the airline.

What a perfect analogy for what has been happening in the social media space. Companies have been experimenting with social media tactics. In fact, they have petrie dishes all over the place. The problem is these experiments are tactical; akin to lots of random good ideas that don’t roll-up into a strategy. Many marketing teams are tricked into believing that they are growing because their experiments are evolving along with the “maturation” of social media channels. For example: a product group may start with a single Facebook page, then add some cool apps, create campaigns to drive traffic and build their fan base, and eventually run a Twitter stream on their pages. Or, they may start by posting a single YouTube video, then build a branded YouTube channel with multiple videos and “shows” and eventually become a YouTube partner and create campaigns using its contest tools.

I don’t doubt that marketing teams and agencies are learning from these experiments, but the smart companies are starting to “press pause”. Why? Because they need some urban planning. They are realizing that what they are doing on YouTube has little to do with what they are doing on FaceBook. Or worse, they’re finding that they have dueling initiatives from different product groups who are vying for the same consumers and are unwittingly dissipating each others efforts.

Urban planning organizes initiatives around customer groups instead of product groups or corporate initiatives. Customer neighborhoods are defined, building codes developed, municipal services organized, officials elected and neighborhood watch groups established.

  • The neighborhood defines the special interests and needs of its designated customer group.
  • The building codes establish the rules of engagement such as frequency of contact, how programs are deployed, .
  • Municipal services organize and integrate the social media tools that make sense for each group.
  • The elected officials determine what tools will be used and organizes the outreach and deployment from a variety of departments or product groups. They also make sure that social media approach is tightly integrated with traditional marketing channels.
  • The neighborhood watch group tracks and manages all the analytics and rolls all the social media initiatives into a single, actionable dashboard.

Urban planning is even more crucial when companies have multiple community initiatives. While we’ve been seeing more companies press pause, we think more should do so. ComBlu recently started a comprehensive research project to determine who is an urban planner and who simply has a pile of bricks. Our early findings are interesting, with very few companies or brands having a solid foundation for a cohesive community strategy. So far, we have looked at 3 industries and see many commonalities across them. Unfortunately, these similarities are what not to do instead of great best practices.More on this as the research evolves..

Cheryl Treleaven

Cheryl Treleaven


Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.

Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.

Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.