Market Smarter

Helping Businesses Market Smarter and Create a Culture of Execution

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Marketers are not hesitating to invest in social media. Over 73 percent of chief marketing officers say they will increase budgets for social media solutions. Forrester predicts social media will have the steepest growth over any other media channel. Investments will grow at 34 percent CAGR over the next five years and are estimated to reach $3 billion by 2014.

What do businesses hope to gain from social media investments? According to the “Social Media Marketing Industry Report,” the number-one benefit of social media is generating exposure for a business. The top three benefits for social media ranked in priority are 1) increasing exposure for my business (81 percent); 2) increasing traffic/subscribers (61 percent); and 3) building new business partnerships (56 percent).

This was followed closely by an increase in search engine rankings (52 percent) and generating qualified leads (48 percent). The all important question of “Did it help you close business?” was cited as a benefit by 35 percent of respondents.

It’s interesting to note there appears to be a direct relationship between the amount of time spent weekly on social media and the amount of experience a person has with it. Ten percent of experienced marketers average a whopping 20 hours or more per week, and this same group also claims to close more business than light users. If you can’t devote that kind of time to social media, you will be relieved to know that marketers spending six or more hours per week claim “exceptionally positive results.”

It’s also useful to look at what hinders adoption of social media. Company culture influences a company’s social media usage. Most large companies govern communications with a very tight leash, and this extends to social media. Some marketers participate in social media under the radar and others follow protocol which tends to get caught up in corporate governance and legal teams. Risk tolerance and fear are a few of the key issues slowing adoption of social media.

If people are to be given a choice between using social media and the local newspaper to reach the masses, for many businesses the choice is social networking. There can be many reasons for this decision, but foremost are ease of use and the means to share what you post to hundreds if not thousands of people at the same time.

Unlike traditional media, digital media such as online social networks give control to the publisher without being limited by cost, space, or distribution, among other factors. By means of social media, people can exercise freedom of speech in a way that gives new meaning to the First Amendment. Anything positive you say online about a product can be used by a company to boost brand popularity at the expense of the competitor’s product. On the other hand, anything negative you say about a brand can also be used by the competing company to boost its image.

Consumer opinion and sharing activities online can make or break a product. When the sleeping Comcast technician video was shared socially on the Internet, Comcast suddenly had an image problem to fix. Comcast had no control of the spread of the video and it punctuated the power of social media online. People generally don’t care about whether a brand sinks or not. They just care about sharing; letting their friends know about something they found out online. With so many digital media sites and services on the Internet like YouTube, Digg, StumbleUpon, and Blogger, consumers now have the power to produce, distribute, and share their own media content and no wonder marketers are now following suit, having seen the power of social media in shifting the tide in favor of or against a brand.

What drives the popularity of consumer-generated media? At the most basic level is the emotional need to be heard. People that feel “wronged” want to be heard as much as they want to evangelize what they love. The Internet and social media is so accessible and easy to use, it provides a platform for those that want to connect, communicate, and drive change.

Social media and social networking is also referred to as social influence marketing (SIM), which describes the business benefits of social media. It is not only a channel through which people can experience and interact with your products, services, and company, it expands the reach and multiplies the influence consumers have. This creates momentum around how brands are interpreted and have meaning.

Communication on social media platforms is transparent and perceived as much more authentic than traditional advertising and marketing. When consumers embrace a brand, they turn into its greatest promoters, bringing a level of legitimacy and authenticity to your brand that you couldn’t possibly buy.

Businesses must get comfortable with releasing control and step into the role of leading and guiding the brand. Smart marketers are tapping into the real power of digital media by engaging in conversations with customers, guiding their experiences with the brand, and giving them the tools to help raise awareness and market their brand.

Encourage interactive dialogue with customers and prospects by posting a blog on your Web site. You will actually have more control than you would if customers had to go elsewhere to blog when they have something to say about your company. It also gives you the opportunity to respond to ideas, inquiries, and complaints much faster than traditional methods.

For example, when Dell was presenting at a national conference and the PC literally burst into flames, word quickly spread on Twitter. Dell could have chosen to issue a press release and suffer through days of agonizing backlash. Instead, the company quickly communicated on Twitter to explain the situation and the buzz was quickly dispelled. Not only was a PR nightmare averted, but you could argue that it helped their image because they were so responsive and transparent about the incident.

The speed and sheer reach of digital media spreads news and events like wildfire. It has catapulted people like Susan Boyle into instant stardom, and it has garnered some commercials with the same status as Super Bowl ads. When the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) advertisement for the Super Bowl was declined by the networks because it was too provocative, the ad was distributed online and may have been seen by even more people because it was shared across social media networks. Dozens of online media and news channels featured the story on their home pages. Millions of people saw the commercials and forwarded the message to friends, family, communities, and organizations using social media—and all this was free. Sure beats a million-dollar Super Bowl commercial.

Marketers embrace social media because it can help them accomplish many goals. It can increase their understanding of how customers use and value their brand, monitor customer satisfaction, improve customer experience, and launch marketing programs and campaigns. It also helps in the area of product development. Customers are the best source for innovative new ideas, and social media gives them a channel to share suggestions to improve products and business processes.

Marketers are increasingly taking a lead role in product development by connecting with customers to engage them in ways not possible with traditional media. If they mingle with their consumers online using interactive tools, they can have real-time conversations that result in designing products around customer needs while also building better customer relationships.

All of these benefits explain the real value of social media. It’s not trying to figure out how to “sell more” by leveraging advertising campaigns into social media, or trying to assess ROI using traditional marketing measures. The evolution of social media will no doubt create opportunities for monetization. My point is that the opportunity and benefits social media provide are much more than that.

If your goal is to position your brand expertise, it won’t happen overnight in the social media space. Just as face-to-face networking is relational and takes time and effort to foster, so does social networking. But imagine the difference over time. If you attend an event with 100 people in the room, you’ll be lucky to connect with five people in a meaningful way. If you spend the same amount of time in an evening on social networking platforms, you may connect with ten times as many people.

Keep in mind that social media requires practice, patience, and persistence to build a network and awareness. What works for one company does not work for another. There are differences in business markets and in consumer markets, as well as in industry and company size. It takes time to build, and the payoff is a better brand image and a reputation that is built by consumers.

John GallianoThe right to freedom of speech should be ubiquitous—the lack of consequences for abusing that right (i.e. when you deliberately harm others) should not.  With that being said, it is just that John Galliano joined the ranks of the unemployed this past Wednesday, March 2.  For those unfamiliar with his self-defamation, it began when Galliano was arrested after a couple accused him of an anti-Semitic accosting late February 24.  He is currently being tried for his alleged remarks, but what ultimately was the last straw for the House of Dior, where he was the creative director for 15 years, was the shocking video of a previous incident in which he declares, “I love Hitler.”  The video was uploaded and sent to The Sun, most likely on and from a cellular phone.  Again, mobile devices and internet-access is fundamentally changing access to information, and the real-time impact on a brand.

After viewing the video myself, I must agree with Dior’s axing on principle, but also because if I were a company with a zero-tolerance policy for anti-Semitism, I could not in good conscience—much less in good business—keep him on my payroll.  The proudly Jewish, and recent best-actress winner Natalie Portman threatened to remove herself as the face of Miss Dior Cherie perfume, claiming she wants nothing to do with Galliano.  Neither will any conscientious or brand-conscious company, for that matter—in spite of his ‘apology.’ 

Galliano, now commencing proceedings for defamation and threats against him, ‘accepts’ that the accusations made against him have “greatly shocked and upset people.” Furthermore, he states: "I must take responsibility for the circumstances in which I found myself and for allowing myself to be seen to be behaving in the worst possible light. I only have myself to blame and I know that I must face up to my own failures and that I must work hard to gain people's understanding and compassion.”  I added the emphasis in his quote to point out what he is really apologizing for, which appears to not be his behavior, but for allowing himself to taint his image.  Thankfully, Dior realized that keeping him around would hurt their image—and in light of his unapologetic ‘apology,’ no one will want to take him on again except in court. 

This recent event highlights the influence, impact and importance of values in corporate culture. Personal values drive behavior, both at home and at work. In a work environment, the collective behaviors of the people who work together form the company culture, which is ultimately the internal brand of the company. Since the internal brand drives the external brand of a company (how people perceive and feel about a company), you would be wise to pay attention to this valuable asset. If you are the business owner, CEO, or senior leader in a company, ask how well you communicate company values. Are they just words in a business plan or on your company website, or do they actually drive how you do business? Do you make hiring decisions based on alignment with your company values? Could anyone in the company really say what they are and what they mean?

Don’t wait for a crisis to examine how values are integrated into your corporate culture. If you don’t take a proactive approach to this matter, it is only a matter of time before you wake up to find out it’s been done for you.

If you have read my book or heard me speak at a conference event, then you know how important I believe it is to integrate market research into the planning process.  It can make the difference between success and failure of a business, or companies might fail to be as successful as they could be.

There are several reasons why businesses don’t do research or value it as much as they should. It might be that they don’t know how, or they may not be aware that there are processes to do it efficiently, or they might think they don’t have the time for research and analysis because they are too busy executing.  After all, it sounds a lot better to execute than research or plan, right? 

But the problem with skipping this critical step in business planning, or not giving it enough attention, is this has a direct affect on the results of demand generation programs. It causes the targeted ROI to fall short of achieving the objectives because the target market is incorrect, or the messaging is not right, or a dozen other errors are made that can cost a business time, money and lost opportunity.  Ongoing research is critical because a business can’t possibly understand all the market drivers of their business without understanding their market, competitive environment, and most importantly, what their customers want and need. Everything is in a constant state of change and this is why adopting a real-time marketing plan process is so helpful. 

When businesses integrate a real-time planning process into their business, then research is built into daily operations in areas that range from social media to competitive intelligence. There are so many tools available to assist with real-time research making it easy to find relevant, timely information. Using these tools with a process for collecting and sharing information cross-functionally in a company not only helps a business to be more competitive, it increases organizational learning and significantly improves company culture at the same time.

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