Twitter’s Top Tactician on How Brands Like Coca-Cola Can Win the Moment

Seems simple, but it's a lot of work

CANNES, France—Brands know they want to be on Twitter, but they don't always know what to say. That's where Twitter's Ross Hoffman and his team come in.

Hoffman, Twitter's director of global brand strategy, helps advertisers plan big missions on the platform. The brand strategy team puts in months of groundwork for precision campaigns that are then executed in short order. What looks like a real-time marketing effort is often the result of long-term, painstaking work.

The social media tactician was at Cannes to get working on the rest of the year, thinking ahead to back to school, holiday shopping and next year's car models.

"Our mission here is to meet with our largest brand and agency partners for the week to talk about the second half of the year and talk about 2016 to get as upstream as possible," Hoffman said, speaking on the patio of the company's temporary offices overlooking the Croisette—a little slice of Twitter San Francisco in the French Riviera.

Hoffman offered his take on how Twitter can get brands to fire across all its varied channels. Twitter now has multiple video avenues with Vine, Periscope and autoplay formats. It also has a new creative agency it acquired called Niche, which is a platform for Web celebs, artists and creators to match with brands and collaborate on marketing.

With so many options, the question of how best to use all of them while figuring out what to actually say can be a daunting challenge.

"They understand that they want to be on the platform but having the content strategy is something they look to us for," Hoffman said.

Brands say: "This is your product. Help us out."

The content is one component and the technology is the other. Twitter's data capabilities are becoming more sophisticated, which is something that can actually inform the creative. It's one thing to create one message and tweet it to everyone, it's another to create 100 different messages for every type of consumer, personalizing the ads.

"We call it personalization at scale," Hoffman said.

For example, in a recent campaign, Coca-Cola was able to send a personalized message in a virtual bottle to Twitter users. During its "Share a Coke" campaign, it served pictures of bottles with actual Twitter users' names in the ad.

"You see a Promoted Tweet with your name on it and you're like, 'Woah, how does that work?'" Hoffman said.

These are "serendipitous, cool moments for consumers with the brand, at scale," he said. It's also a hot area across digital marketing, a creative data play that rivals like Facebook and Google are also working hard to perfect.

Where Twitter has an advantage is its focus on live moments and special events. The platform is a popular media hub during key happenings like the Super Bowl and World Cup.

If there's not a mass event then Twitter works with brands planning their big moments like product launches or even the mundane—targeting breakfast time, for instance.

At Cannes this week, Twitter was showing off a new live events offering, a portable Twitter Studio that looks like a 19th century camera box but can actually shoot Vines, GIFs and other tweetable formats.

There's also a Periscope machine that live streams directly to Twitter's new app. Periscope is one of Twitter's more intriguing new products, Hoffman said.

"At an overwhelming majority of our meetings there is some discussion about Periscope," Hoffman said.

In another recent marketing campaign, France's telecom company Orange showed off the potential for Periscope. The company came up with an idea to feature two teens on a date and have Periscope users watch live. The viewers helped to decide where the couple went and what they did.

Orange went from a TV commercial, to promoting tweets, to streaming on Periscope.

"When you're thinking of Periscope you want to think of that live content where it's interactive storytelling," Hoffman said.

Twitter is here at Cannes at a period of transition for the company. It is in the middle of a new CEO search, and it still has work to do educating brands about how consumers use the platform. It's a lot more like YouTube than it is Facebook, Hoffman said.

"The No. 1 question we get asked from marketers still, and I've been here for five years, is 'What do we tweet about? How often do we tweet? What should the content be?'" Hoffman said.