The Customer Is Not Your CMO

Walmart's "It's Back" Tags Direct Customer to a Detergent Reintroduced to Store
Image by Walmart Stores

Wouldn’t it be great if customers ran marketing?

No, I don’t think it would be great. In fact, it would suck.

It flies in the face of the way business occurs. People within a company determine how to build products for, market to, and serve customers.

A customer centric business model is smart and often the mark of a successful company. Great companies exist to serve these customers. Today, the social business movement (an unfortunate term born to be clichéd from the get go) seeks to reinvigorate modern companies with a listening-based customer-centric model.

But let’s be clear here, customer centric does not make your CMO a customer. The customer has no interest in showing a company how to market. Honestly, the only time they tend to interact with a company after a sale is because of a customer service issue, or because they are ready for a next generation product.

Yes, there are die hard evangelists, and these are invaluable resources for a company. But the customer has no seat at the table, how can they be the CMO?

Nor would they be good at it because they have no professional training. While crowdsourcing advertisements have yielded some diamonds for products like Doritos, an overwhelming majority of the crowdsourced ads are crap. Really, they are. We just see the one good one out of the lot.

What About Customer Service?

Some say that customer service should be the linchpin in a customer marketing experience. Let’s be clear: Customer service is a touchpoint, not The Touchpoint.

It’s a feedback loop for product development and marketing, and the front line. When consistently excellent, customer service can create word of mouth and new sales.

Companies that don’t understand and listen to their customers experience problems because not only are the ignoring their customer, but also the flaws in their offering. That’s because customer service is usually activated when people are pissed, not when they are happy.

What about the vast majority of happy customers who never call? How can customer service represent them?

Just like the army doesn’t want GI Joe managing a supply line, international troop deployment, and war strategy, I don’t want customer service driving marketing. While feedback can lead to innovation, overall I think the effect would be stymied, reactive products that don’t advance anywhere nearly as quickly as they currently do.

Just my two cents on working with customers, crowdsourcing for a few years, and building programs to market for companies, including a turnaround campaign or two that involved negative customer perception. What do you think? Is the customer your CMO?

Some Truths About Crowdsourcing

Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) at the Nationals

In today’s online world, the term crowdsourcing gets bandied about quite a bit. It’s the most difficult and visible form of community-based social engagement. For companies and nonprofits alike it has become a nirvana-like state to attain.

Yet, much of today’s conversations deal with fleeting uses of “crowdsourcing,” such as asking questions of Twitter communities. There are also plenty of interesting articles about benefits and the possible impact of sustainable crowdsourcing (as well as the tools to do it) but I find that the pragmatic how-to experience is missing.

The issue with the resulting lack of information is that most folks have no idea how difficult sustained crowdsourcing can be. I’ve had a couple of turns at it myself with major projects, one I would call very successful, the other average. Both required a ton of work and management that afterwards made me feel contemporary thinking can use some more depth.

crowdsource.jpg

Just based on my own experiences, here are some lessons (some obvious) that you don’t see in contemporary discussions about crowdsourcing ideas, innovation and change:

1) The crowd has to care, and they have to be made into heroes. The latter part is well documented (rewarding active community members), but the prior isn’t. In my mind, crowdsourcing is the last stage of a well-thought out social media strategy (UNLESS you are having a contest with a notable purse as a reward).

The managing party must understand its subject matter AND the community’s inherent interest in that topic. The crowdsourced effort serves both parties. Otherwise you will crowdsource little to nothing. Or worse, you’ll be evangelizing to get people to participate.

2) While the crowd craves freedom, it desperately needs structure. People need to be told how to participate and the rules of engagement. These rules have to be clear, empowering of the crowd, and directive in their end result.

Believe me, I’ve tried it the other way, but your crowdsourcing effort needs to be well structured (See Beth Kanter’s discussion of Chase’s Community giving contest design). A recent crowdsourcing effort made me realize how much more simplified our process needed to get for the future.

3) Rules need to be enforced or adapted. Issues come all the time because people invariably do what they want, the rules be damned. The organization needs to either enforce them, or publicly change them and show why they are amending them. Then you have to be ready to deal with the haters.

For citizengulf, I threw out a day-time yoga event because it wondered too far away from the mission/purpose as well as the event style, and it competed with another event in the same city. No was the obvious answer. And as a result, I got plenty of email telling me I was an a-hole. So be it.

4) You’ll need to invest a lot of management resources. If you think social media is time consuming, try crowdsourcing. It involves grassroots customer service and handholding like you cannot imagine (I was amazed). You may publish a lot of information, but you need to be present for your community if you expect them to be present for you. Crowdsourcing innovation does not mean outsourcing human resources, just the innovation. And even then you may end up refining it like Cisco had to with its I-Prize innovation contest.

There are other issues, such as managing the idea market so that popularity doesn’t trump quality. Another is ensuring that while the crowd may want a result, that the business or nonprofit mission maintains its integrity.

I am not the biggest fan of Pepsi Refresh (I still struggle with understanding how this is impacting society and the incredible amount of Vote for Me #pepsirefresh spam it creates). That being said, I admire the hell out of Pepsi Refresh from a communicator’s perspective. It’s incredible that they can maintain interest, and handle the amount of issues that continually come up with their contest. From first hand conversations with their team, it is clear how hard they have worked, and continue to work to keep this contest going and to support their winners. The sustained energy is simply impressive.

The well discussed benefits of crowdsourcing are amazing, but going in with eyes wide open about the task at hand is critical. First hand experience and research about crowdsourcing are also helpful. It’s my intent to continue this conversation with best practices for causes from a tactical management standpoint via a by-lined article on Mashable. Stay tuned.