Social Results Will Stay Small

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

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?