Schematicky_atom

Social Results Will Stay Small

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Social Integration CMO Survey
Chart Source: CMO Survey

If you think small, you stay small. That’s why companies and brands that treat social like a unique practice — a box within the larger whole — will struggle to achieve results and intangible outcomes.

Building seemless customer experiences should take the fore in all strategies. Yet according to the CMO Survey, the integration gap in companies is not closing, in spite of years of research showing that cross-tactic coordination produces more sales.

The struggle to achieve ROI and real business impact with new media strategies is a direct result of focusing on individual tactics. Rather than simply discuss integration, an easier approach may be to consider building from the customer’s viewpoint.

Customers don’t care about social, in-store, mobile, content marketing, white glove treatment for influencers, or any of the other strands of spaghetti you see strewn across the marketing blogosphere wall. They don’t care about integrated multi-channel approaches either.

No, customers care about a damn good experience. If you think customers are wed to one channel, one type of medium or a partcular influencer, you are sorely mistaken. They want what they were promised at purchase.

Marketing is Not a Product

Let’s say brands execute their socil media marketing well, yet aren’t getting results beyond vanity metrics. A damn good Facebook, blog, info graphic or Vine experience does not directly translate to value for monies received. In fact, it’s arguable that for most customers, social presence and response are expectations that need to be fulfilled, a small but necessary part of the overall customer experience.

Ask any rationale human being who is not a social media marketer what they care about most — a great product or a decent blog community. The latter means little in comparison to getting the actual result they purchased.

The first job of a marketing strategist is to get beyond their practice and consider the big picture. That’s regardless of tactic — social, PR, marketing, direct, etc.

Customer experience begins with the product or service. Marketing’s job is to extend that experience before and afterwards so that people trust the brand, and can enjoy and interact with it (if they should choose to do so).

Marketing is not the final product. Yet for some reason we treat it like a stand alone offering in our marketing conversations online. It’s frustrating to hear conversations about companies modeling after Red Bull, and then watch hundreds try to become a media company. Much of the resulting customer-centric content is created haphazardly with a blind eye to customer-brand relationship.

Marketing is a series of non-linear communications emanating from a brand (directly or indirectly) that customers choose to participate in. Even paid placement — native, billboard, magazine, wherever — can be ignored.

Media companies report on an editorial mission that serves readers. So without a maniacal focus on serving customers with extended value, content marketing (a step lower than pure editorial in customers eyes) as a social and search tactic fails to market effectively.

Instead of fancy marketing efforts, a simple focus on customer needs can make a big difference.

If a customer base is best served with short answers on YouTube, then give it to them. If a customer base prefers not to talk about missile defense on Facebook, then listen to them. There is no easy one size fit all solution to customer communities.

Think in 3D

Schematicky_atom
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the greatest flaw in thinking about strategy is to stay inside the tactical tool box. Businesses and nonprofits should thread social into the overall customer experience to fulfill its maximum potential.

Many organizations think about social as a silo. Then they move into a hub and spoke model to integrate.

Consider social a core function of interacting with customers, and putting the customer experience in the center of the company universe. A universe is three dimensional. Even an atom is three dimensional.

Customers and people and objects never interact with a universe in linear fashion, and that’s why silos, and hubs and spoke models create weaknesses. Today’s Internet enabled world seamlessly blends with other real world activities and media. Customers can interact with a brand through many disparate paths. They can bounce up down, left right, and across your universe. Consider this real and fractured path:

Mobile web browsing —>
Friend who is an employee —>
Magazine and web site research (including blogs and social chatter) —>
Store browsing —>
Third party website to purchase —>
Customer service to ask a question —>
Twitter to complain —>
Customer service —>
Workplace, forums and Google+ group complaints, brand tarnished.

In this case, though many marketing pieces were in place, the product didn’t meet the promise. There was a gap between the customer expectation and product marketing. Trust was built and then destroyed, creating a net negative experience for the person and the brand.

Everything, everything is part of that customer-centric universe: Human resources to serve them, marketing to build and maintain trust with them, sales to consummate a relationship in an honorable fashion, operations to ensure the product is built, and finance to ensure the health of the customer-centric organization.

Marketing leverages brand strengths and builds on them, while observing weak points and addressing them internally. Ultimately, everyone’s job in a company or nonprofit is to build a comprehensive experience, a small brand universe that customers enter and exit at will. Social media and networks are just paths in and out of that universe.

It’s not a perfect marketing world, but we can always strive towards progress.

What do you think?

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  • http://www.writerightwords.com/ Erin Feldman

    At a recent Creative Mornings talk, the speaker talked about designing his company’s website. He said they started with the customer experience first and focused on the actual design of the home page last. I think it’s a good approach. You begin to focus on the underlying needs and questions rather than the surface ones.

    • geofflivingston

      It really does make the web site a lot better. I recently read a case study about Papa John’s on Jason Falls blog. Their mobile web site has very simple options. Location, pick up a pizza, get a pizza delivered. That’s it. And it makes sense given what a mobile customer would actually visit the Papa John’s web site for…

  • Neicole Crepeau

    I think one of the hard parts is how to actually make this work on a a daily basis within the organization. To some extent, the lack of a holistic customer experience is due to the lack of a holistic view internally and coordination. Sales, marketing, support, IT, etc. are all separate departments with their own goals and focus. If these groups weren’t separate departments or if they worked together frequently and closely in a way that kept the end-to-end customer scenarios top of mind and a priority, then you’d probably see better customer experiences.

    • geofflivingston

      Well, some companies seem to be able to weave together a holisitic customer experience with these departments. To me, it comes down to executive leadership and an undying corporate mission that drives everyone to the common goal.

  • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

    Here’s what your post makes me think:

    Know who you are and ooze that everywhere.

    Most companies don’t know who they really are well enough, or if they do, actually living who they are doesn’t endear them to the buying public.

    When you always have to stop and debate internally how to respond to complaints, criticism or public outcry, chances are you don’t know who you are, or you realize the public doesn’t really like the real you and you are figuring out how to put on a better public face. Long term, those are difficult places to be.

    • geofflivingston

      Yeah, it’s really hard. I mean you have to think listening to the public offers some direction. Not necessarily giving them what they want, per say. Sometimes the whole crowd rules your company concept is a bit much, not that it’s wrong to do that if there’s a legitimate problem. But to become more authentic, or move into a different direction that’s increases the chances for a win-win.

  • RandyBowden

    Geoff this is one of the clearest post I have read in some time. Be where your customer is, give them what they want with measured efficiency. Understanding your customer and how your product and service can fit into their needs. Sounds simple but to many brands and marketers have blinders on and simply go with the tactics.

    • geofflivingston

      Thanks, Randy. Like you, I read. A lot. And I am always struck by the lack of customer centric thinking in marketing discussions. Marketing is always, always about communicating value to and building trust with stakeholders. Why do we forget so easily? The endless drive for sales, but you must give to get. No shortcuts.

      Thanks so much for coming by last night.

  • http://richardrbecker.com/ Rich Becker

    When given the opportunity, the first thing I do for any company or organization is to assess its assets and help the internal team define the organization and its products or services. We look at everything from the inside out, outside in, and how it exists within its environment. It’s hard work.

    Inevitably, someone will always want to stop me because they think the overarching strategic communication/marketing plan will somehow limit what they want to do with their tiny slice of ownership. It’s the opposite. When people who want to crack a joke on Twitter or paint the logo pink or tell a customer off, they aren’t representing the organization as much as their own ego, a far more limiting master than communication or marketing plan that merely asks representatives to respect the mission and vision of a company.

    Sometimes I think it’s rather ironic that the very medium that was suppose to free everybody has grown up to become one of the most limiting by asking people to bend to personal “brand rules” and brands to bend to “network rules.” But maybe that makes sense. It’s when something is small (to appropriately tie this to your headline) that it wants the most control.

    Great post Geoff. It’s always good to see people who uphold the value of strategy against the popularity of a tactic.

    • geofflivingston

      Thanks, Rich. I like the tie back to small. And I do like the reference to ego. Building community and presence to sustain ego may be personally fulfilling, but the bottom line is much greater. In the end personalities have their day in social, but I think great brands are doing the hard work.

      I was looking at the LEDO community yesterday for a Vocus post, and I was just stunned to see how much farther along they are than most in putting value, and growth, and social impact and meaning into their social media. Just so much further along than the trite win a badge or be my follow friday stuff that we see.

      I love your inside out exercise. I’d love to see more on that!

  • Andrea Bona

    Thought
    provoking post; and great conversation in the comments. It all goes back to asking a customer what they want and delivering products and services they will buy. The asking is the non linear conversation. Of course it is easier said than done.

    • geofflivingston

      I think that’s the major shift… Thinking in a non-linear fashion. Isn’t that how Spock beat Khan in Star Trek II?

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  • http://brianvickery.com/ Brian Vickery

    I am working on our maturation process right now. As a professional services company, who has always flourished via referrals and recurring clients, we have the classic “cobbler’s shoes” issue. Our people are on so much billable work that it is hard to take the time and develop a true platform for inbound marketing efforts.

    I started my own blog to work on establishing some social proof, a tribe, and some basic brand awareness. However, that needs to be expanded to a more comprehensive site that can really highlight ALL of our offerings.

    Time to think 3D…

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