Twitter Uses War Room to Coax Marketers Into Spending

Director of Brand Strategy Ross Hoffman Talks Marketing For Big Moments

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Twitter is building up a war room to coax marketers into spending around big events. The top general is Ross Hoffman, director of brand strategy.

Mr. Hoffman joined Twitter in 2010, long before its IPO and when its ad products were in their infancy. Before that, he worked on business development and strategic partnerships with YouTube, overseeing the video platform's live-streaming strategy. At Twitter, he now also manages Hatch, a program launched in February that sits the company's ad team with marketers to devise a game plan in advance of a large public moment, when tweets are expected to pour in.

Mr. Hoffman spoke with Ad Age at Twitter's San Francisco headquarters. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Ross Hoffman
Ross Hoffman

Advertising Age: Tell us about your approach to Hatch.

Ross Hoffman: Probably about a quarter in advance, we'll prepare a laundry list of questions for a brand and an agency really getting at the root of what they want to do: [whether] it's around an event, a product release, a key time of the year. We want to think about the innovation that we can push with them.

Marketers ultimately want two things: they want impact and innovation. Can we do something that's truly special and rises above the rest? Can we measure the efficacy of it?

We work with the brand [and] agency in those weeks and months leading up to a day where we'll have one to three pretty good ideas about where we'll be going. As opposed to getting in the room and saying, 'We're gonna leave this room with greatness.' We want to do that ahead of time.

Ad Age: How do you select a brand partner? What characteristics are you looking for?

Mr. Hoffman: A marketer that we've been working with for a while, that has committed resources to us and who we've committed resources to, whether it's time [or] revenue. These are not things that we're going to work with a marketer who just got a [Twitter] handle or has just dipped their toes in the water with our promoted product. They know us really well; we know their teams really well.

Once you have that trust ... you hear someone say, 'Bring us the crazy stuff. We wanna do something totally out there and wacky.'

Ad Age: But sometimes that backfires. Brands take risks on Twitter and end up putting their foot in their mouth.

Mr. Hoffman: There are scenarios like that -- it's ultimately people controlling the handles.

When you have the right processes in place, a lot of that can be avoided. At the same time, you can't have a 10-step scenario and flow-chart for when you're going to publish a tweet. We're a real-time platform. If you're second or third in that moment, it can work against you.

Ad Age: At Twitter, you've been pushing for marketers to utilize a variety of big moments, like the World Cup. What type of events are you focusing on beyond that?

Mr. Hoffman: It can be a product launch, an event-based sponsorship. NFL, NCAA, the Grammy's -- anything like that. I love it. When marketers are integrated in television, they're running media across the entire web for a specific moment in time, Twitter can be a connective tissue across all of that.

It sounds simple, with a hashtag. But a hashtag can actually be the glue that ties all the media together and lets it work in tandem.

Ad Age: What attributes do you look for in marketers tapping into these events?

They're always building out their foundation on Twitter. That can be a tone of voice that they have; that can be a cadence. It can be always building their following, both organically and paid products. And they're amortizing that cost and they're leveraging it during a big event.

If you think about a big event, everyone wants to be there. Apple launches a phone, the Super Bowl. We're an auction based platform. If everyone's there, there's a higher bid, you're going to be paying more. It's simple economics. Therefore, if you're continually building that following, building the reach, building that muscle memory, getting your agencies more nimble, that's when you can exploit those major moments.

What T-Mobile does well -- and what I'd like to see other marketers take advantage of on Twitter -- is real-time, anonymous word-of-mouth. By anonymous, I mean someone you don't know, but you can click through their profile to see, 'That is an actual person who just changed their plan to T-Mobile.' That's so powerful that they can do that. We have 'Whitelisting' -- so Nike white-lists [NBA star] LeBron [James]. When LeBron has a new shoe coming out, LeBron tweets about it. And it is promoted by Nike. You could, in theory, do that with anyone.

Ad Age: Are there any ad products that marketers aren't using to the fullest potential?

Mr. Hoffman: No, I think it's the opposite. I've been pleasantly surprised. They're still innovative uses of all of our ad products, especially with promoted Tweets. It's a simple unit. But they're so many ways it can be taken: with the copy, with the media that's going to be attached to it, with the Cards that are within the tweets, which is where there will be a lot more focus moving forward next year.

Ad Age: What is your biggest frustration with marketers on Twitter?

Mr. Hoffman: A frustration I have, which is lessening: I'm starting to see a better relationship between marketers and their legal departments. They could often lead to some friction. Think about it: a marketer wants to take risks; an attorney is paid to make sure the risk is very granular.

I'm starting to see them have an understanding. Whereas, in the past, that was difficult. We'd be coming up with an idea, and everyone's happy about it. And then we'd get a red-line contract back. Then we'd explain the intricacies of the platform, and they'd get it. I'm starting to see that less and less.

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