On Social Media: The Real Marketing Transformation

April 28, 2011 at 5:06 pm 1 comment

By Mary Ludloff

We are going to be releasing the beta version of our Social Media Analytics solution in the near future and as a result, have been steeped in what I like to call the social media monitoring versus analytics debate. As a B2B marketer I have some thoughts on this topic as do some of my B2C marketing colleagues (hah! I feel a metrics faceoff in the making) but I am going to save that discussion for our beta announcement post. That being said, the whole topic of social media got me thinking about marketing in general and how the advent of social media has had a profound effect on the way we communicate.

In the “olden” days we B2B marketers were focused on the message as in “be on message.” We spent a great deal of time on the message platform, carefully crafting messages that articulated the pain of our targeted audience and spelled out our value in words that would resonate with them. To begin the process, we’d throw a bunch of executives, our top sales performers, and one or two product marketing folks into a room and begin with this simple exercise: if our company was a car, what kind of a car would it be? Pretty silly huh? And what has this to do with messaging?

Well this was a way for us to encapsulate the company: are we trustworthy (the Volvo), silly (the Volkswagen), high performing (the Mercedes), fast (the Porsche)? Yes, it was simplistic but it served as an ice breaker for the real work which involved segmenting prospects into categories, understanding what that category’s business challenges were (in relationship to our solution), and then coming up with the unique value we delivered to solve that challenge (hopefully, in that audience’s language). Once we had all that down, we would start creating all kinds of collateral (sales sheets, data sheets, technical sheets, white papers, you name it) and deliver it in traditional and digital formats. In other words, we talked at people.

Of course the world was simpler then. There were no smartphones and iPads, no clouds, no Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Here are some statistics (courtesy of the HubSpot blog) that keep most marketers awake at night:

  • 78% of Internet users research products online. Yep, the web is now king.
  • 91% of email users have unsubscribed from company emails. They may have opted in but the company did not offer enough value to keep them.
  • 57% of businesses have acquired a customer through a company blog. If the web is king, the company blog may very well be queen.
  • Companies that blog get 55% more web traffic. Okay, the blog is the queen.
  • 41% of B2B companies and 67% of B2C companies have acquired a customer through Facebook. Social media is a force to be reckoned with.

Now, along with the digitization of our world came the data and metrics we could apply to benchmark success but as I said previously, that’s for another post. I want to talk about something else that is equally important: the marketing communications transformation.

In the pre-digital world we communicated as a monolithic “one company voice” to the “masses.” Today, we talk with, not at, and the “withs” may represent singular conversations (a private tweet or email) or a one-to-many conversation (a public Twitter conversation or a Facebook wall post or LinkedIn share or blog post). We (as in company) are talking with many different people about many different things and it has had a profound impact on how we communicate.

Let me put it to you this way: the company as a car exercise has been replaced by the company as a multi-faceted personality exercise. And it’s constantly changing: we may be passionate about issues we care about, focused on how “we” can change our industry for the better, irritated by bad behavior, and concerned about world events. The company is now a living, breathing organism and it expresses itself differently. So, instead of a message platform that pretty much details how we talk and specifically what we say about a given topic, we have guidelines for each communication “vehicle” (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, Comments). Staying “on message” (translation: be consistent) is now replaced by what some of us (marketing folk) call being coherent.

Huh? What does that mean? Well, take our blog for example. For those of you who are regular readers, I am willing to bet that you don’t need an author byline to know which one of us (Terence or Mary) wrote a given post. Terence and I have different voices—I of course, like to think that I am funnier than he is and he would probably say that he is far more able to stay on “topic” and that comedy should be left up to comedians (sigh). We cover a lot of topics in our blog, but they usually come back to the problems, issues, and challenges of big data and analytics generally and by industry. But we also talk about other stuff like this post for example. While we tweet about our latest posts, we also tweet about comments or great articles that may be related to our central business or may not. And if you go to our LinkedIn accounts (company and personal pages) you will notice that what we “share” there is different as well.

When you talk to a social media consultant about launching a social media initiative (marketing speak for “I need to start figuring out how to reach out to customers and prospects using social media tools”) this is what they will tell you: listen first, participate, then engage, and finally, build a community. Well, that philosophy applies to marketing communications as well: we must now constantly listen and engage in lots of conversations and in order to be coherent (that word again), we need to understand what’s important to us as a company. For example, we want our customers to be happy with the service they receive from us, we want our customers and prospects to trust that we know what we’re doing and that we can help them, we want to be a valued member of our industry, we want to act with integrity. This is what I mean when I say that the company is a person. Companies today (well, most of them) have much more authentic voices because we are having conversations, not talking at people. And we have social media to thank for that (thank you, thank you, thank you).

Of course, an authentic voice is great but there’s got to be more or why would anyone want to continue talking with you? That’s where valuable content (note the use of the word “value”) comes in. And valuable content is not a product or solution overview. It’s a blog, a white paper, free access to your latest solution, an Ebook (like ours on data privacy and that’s right I am plugging it again—would you expect anything less from someone in marketing?). You may be wondering, what’s a good example of a company that provides valuable content? If you haven’t already, take a look at HubSpot’s website. It is “chock full” of valuable information and resources and I use it all the time. (And I am not a customer, but I will be some day because they’ve already convinced me of the value that they bring to the table.) Don’t get me wrong, we focus on valuable content at PatternBuilders too, but HubSpot is who “we” want to be like when we grow up (again, company as person).

Which brings me to this: I get really irritated when companies start to fall into that old marketing speak where they talk around issues and don’t simply tell you what’s going on. For example, Apple’s FAQ about the iPhone location tracking dust up/kerfuffle/stupidity that I mentioned in a recent post on location tracking made me grit my teeth. First of all, it’s a week after the fact (and a tremendous amount of negative coverage has been piling on every day) and secondly, it reads like the answers were carefully constructed by a couple of product marketing managers and a bunch of lawyers to hopefully avoid any number of lawsuits. I expect more of you Apple. Can’t you just say you’re sorry, you screwed up, this is how you are going to fix the problem, and this is why something like this will never happen again? Is that so difficult to do? (Sometimes it’s fun to have an authentic—albeit cranky—voice!)

You know, we spend a great deal of time (pretty much everywhere) talking about the impact of social media but we forget to give a hat tip to the art (yes, I think it’s an art) of marketing communications. It’s come a long way too! And let me tell you, these days it’s looking pretty fabulous.

Entry filed under: General Business, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , .

To Cloud Or Not To Cloud Social Media Initiatives: Marketing Fundamentals are the Same, Vehicles are Different

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