Social Media is not Linear

Social Media MarketingThe straightest path between two points is a line – but when it comes to connecting with your customers – the path is anything but linear.

Ever since I can remember, business people have always wanted a “soda machine” relationship with their marketing and advertising.  Slide a dollar or two into your “marketing machine” – and out pops a sale.

It’s no surprise that those same people desperately want social media marketing to work in a similar “sales funnel soda machine” fashion.

The sales funnel is a myth either created by or created to satisfy the bean counters who wanted to see a direct link between marketing expenditures and sales figures.  In the attempt to “prove” that when a dollar is fed into the marketing soda machine that a soda can customer does indeed “pop” out the other end, the Rube Goldberg type of sales funnel was created.  This was the myth used to explain the complex process customers go through between the time they “consume” marketing dollars and the point in time when they show up in the sales figures.

Like all myths, it had a purpose.  In this case, it was created to provide “hard evidence” that there is a cause and effect between marketing and sales.

Unfortunately, for the sales funnel myth, in the real world, people are rarely willing to be lined up and marched in orderly fashion to make their company coerced acquisition on schedule.  Consumers don’t consider themselves to be “consuming” marketing dollars when they watch a television show.  They feel no moral obligation to purchase from their favorite television show’s commercial sponsor.

SURPRISE!!!  Customers make acquisitions to satisfy their own GDP – Goals, Desires and Problems.

Ah  -there’s the rub.  Those pesky customers have their own agenda.  Those pesky customers expect to be treated like real live PEOPLE  – people who are usually pretty smart and who make decisions as to what is in their best interest.  Those pesky customers who want more from their relatioship with your business than to be treated like a credit card wielding ATM whose goal in life is to keep your payroll and profit margins fat.

Social media is about connecting with people. It’s about pulling back the veil between companies and consumers and allowing companies to put a FACE on those customers who, until recently- were just numbers on a spreadsheet.  It’s about having the means and opportunity to watch as consumers discuss your product online – as they Tweet their recommendations – as they blog about their disappointments.

In Social Media’s Warning Label – I highlighted the story of a business that didn’t recognize or appreciate the marketing intelligence provided  by a disgruntled customer.

With that said, the social media warning label can only help the business owner who understands that the very nature of social media is to remove the veil which separates customers from the proprietors of the business in question.

Again – IMHO the sales process has NEVER been linear.  Success has always been found in focusing on the customer’s goals, desires and problems.  Francois Gossieaux over at emergence marketing writes in his post “Where are my leads?

A new study published in McKinsey Quarterly reports that 2/3rd of touch points in a buyer’s active evaluations process are now consumer-driven marketing touch points: user generated reviews, word of mouth, and in store interactions. Only 1/3rd of the touch points are still company-driven. DID YOU HEAR THAT? You still control 1/3rd of the touch points!

I’ve linked to Jason’s post before about why your blog needs to focus on creating cheerleaders and not leads but I’m doing it again because it’s a message that needs to be spread.  In a world where 2/3’s of the sales process is out of your hands – it’s best to marshall your marketing forces to try to SHAPE those interactions… or if nothing else – load your customer’s lips.

Your blog – your Facebook account – your Twitter account were not created to function as “sales funnel soda machines”.   They are communication tools to connect you with other PEOPLE!

Your customers are people too.  Their first concern is NOT your bottom line -it’s their GDP (Goals, Desires, Problems).   Creating a business which counts on customers caring about your bottom line is the quickest path to destruction – or if you’re an auto maker – government ownership.

Connecting with people CAN result in more sales for your company, but not because your blog is a sales lead collector.  Social media can literally pull back the veil and literally provide insight into how your company is perceived by your customers – without the whitewashing of a carefully constructed “customer survey” or “focus group” – if you have the courage to listen.

Customer Service in the Age of Social Media

Social media all about is providing advanced communication tools which allow information to travel faster than a speeding bullet.  When a celebrity dies – the news travels fast. However, it’s important for business owners to recognize that the same communication tool that allows the world to be notified in minutes to the King of Pop’s passing can also be used against your business. Disappoint a customer these days and they might believe it’s their moral imperative to start a social media shit storm with your business as the target.

Now more than ever, customer service has GOT to be a top priority for ANY business either online or offline.

Thirty years ago, if you were a business owner and your staff offended a customer, you only had to worry about the 16 people that offended customer would tell about the bad customer service experience.

However, you could count on the fact that at some point in time – the offended customer’s passion would wane, he or she would stop spreading the word about the mistreatment he or she suffered at your place of business.

That was then – this is now.

More an more people are “connected” online now.  Social media tools have made communication easy for all.  It’s no longer just geeks and freaks online.  The Pew Internet & American Life Generations online in 2009 report (PDF opens in new window – click save as if your browser can’t open a PDF), shows that that anyone who thinks that only the younger generation is online is sadly underestimating the impact of the internet.  As a matter of fact, the biggest jump in online use is in the age group of those 70 – 75!!!

Unless you’re a bingo parlor – catering to am exclusively octogenarian crowd – you’d better be concerned about your “online image”.

A few months ago, I wrote about a particularly horrific customer service experience I was having with my pest control company. It’s interesting to watch the comment thread of that post.  Truly Nolen’s director of marketing Barry Murray was the 2nd comment on the post.  I give him credit – he was there to “defend” Truly Nolen’s online reputation within hours of the post being published.  In addition to responding online,  Barry handled my problem offline as well.  He did so promptly and professionally.

However, the match had been lit – the fire had begun.  Over the course of the next few days – the comments kept coming in. The thing is – that blog post is going to be there for as long as I keep the site up.  Unlike a complaint to a neighbor over a backyard fence – this customer complaint is now a part of the company’s online DNA.

When Cath Lawson had problems with Sky TV, she wrote about it on her blog.  When Betsy Wuebker’s friend had horrible customer service at the hands of a moron employee of Wells Fargo, Betsy took up the cause and wrote about it on her blog.   Those customer complaints arem’t locked away in a  file cabinet – they’re out in the open – on the internet –  availabel for everyone to see.

On the other side of the coin, when a business goes above and beyond – social media users will sing their praises as well.   That’s what Betsy did in her post Considering a Staycation with Hotel Minneapolis and Resaturant Max.

Ah, the power of the new web, where communication is becoming easier – more people are connected and word travels FAST!

Ever since the dawn of time, people have wanted to share their experiences.  What was once etched on cave walls is now posted on blogs.   Unlike the cave walls though, the blog posts and other social media communications are being indexed by the search engines and archived in the Web Archives.

Which is why it amazes me to watch as some in the corporate world are viewing blog as a source of lead generation and nothing more.  “How many new sales can this thing generate?” seems to be the question of the hour.   Your company blog is more – much, much more than just another form of direct marketing.

Social media is bigger than just the potential to generate leads.  As Jason Cohen brilliantly points out, your corporate blog is a way to recruit more corporate cheerleaders for the company brand .  The fact that it can also gather leads should be viewed as a bonus – not it’s primary function.

Of course – cheerleaders come at a price.  The price you pay for cheerleaders for your business is exceptional customer service.    Hotel Minneapolis would be well served with a corporate blog right about now.  Betsy could have linked to it in her rave recommendation  just as she did when she raved about Linmar Gardens.

Companies need to recognize that the social media connections built today can possibly last – well, a lifetime.

Social Media: It’s a Moral Imperative

socialmediamarketing2For more than a millennium, the underlying relationship between consumers and business has overwhelmingly been defined by the term  caveat emptor (buyer beware).  However, over the past few years the easy to use mass communication tools we’ve dubbed “social media” has been subtly shifting  the balance of power in the relationship between buyers and sellers.

Social Media is shifting the balance of power in the relationship between consumers and the businesses that serve them from caveat emptor (buyer beware) to caveat venditor (seller beware)  and the easy to use mass communication tool known as social media is the sole reason for this shift.

The Power of Social Media Connection

The real driving force which is powering the social media explosion are the gossamer threads of human connection.  The unseen, unmeasured force which seems to drive us to connect with other human beings.

This was illustrated clearly a few nights ago when my family watched an absolutely HORRID movie at home.  It was one of cases where the movie’s marketing had caught our attention,  but we never found the time to see it in theaters.  I  popped a bag of popcorn and we settled in to watch a movie which had been heavily marketed as a “comedy”.

We suffered through almost 2 hours of  graphic sexual content and  intense violence (such as gun shots to the head and a death by ax bludgeoning) delivered by a cast of recognizable actors playing one dimensional characters under the guise of “comedy” .

When the final credits rolled – my oldest son jumped up and ran to his computer.

“What are you doing?”  I asked.  After all, it was shortly after midnight and I was heading upstairs to bed.

“I’m a member on IMDB.  This is what we IMDB members DO!”

Ah, the gossamer threads of social media literally pulled him to his computer to share his experience.

This is what social media looks like from ground zero.

Seth Godin refers to this kind of behavior as “tribal” and I think it’s a good description.  My son actually felt a MORAL OBLIGATION to spare others in his “tribe” the “agony” of watching this painfully un-funny comedic romp through hell.

It’s important to note that part of our extreme disappointment with this movie was the fact that the marketing for this movie had painted it to be a “comedy”.  I personally don’t find death by ax bludgeoning or gunshot wounds to the head to be even mildly amusing.    Obviously from someone’s marketing perspective – these gruesome scenes are real side splitters.

The expectations set by the marketing played a huge role in my disappointment with the flick.  We had all been duped.   Had my son not jumped from his seat as if he were called to a 3 alarm fire – this blog post would have been all about how important it is to create realistic expectations in your marketing messages.

However, my son’s actions illuminated a deeper truth to social media.

People are smart.  They’re smart enough  to realize when they’ve been promised something that wasn’t delivered.  When that happens, they get angry.  They want to TAKE ACTION!!! That combination of emotion and easy access to mass communication tools is like spraying a gasoline mist into a cylinder.

The resulting social media explosion can be positive – or negative.

When it’s positive – it’s called viral marketing.

When it’s negative – well, it can cause a social media shit storm.

Social media makes communication easy, fun but most importantly PERMANENT!

There was a time – when your advertising and other marketing messages didn’t live forever, easily accessed by the search engines.

That was then – this is now.

Disappoint customers today and they’ll take to the tools of social media to share their experience with others.   Those disparaging remarks will live on – and if you’re not on top of your online reputation’s SERPS – those customer complaints may end up being featured front and center.

The consequences of disappointing your customers can be more severe than just a negative rating on a single website.  Disappointed customers who feel  strongly can now easily, post a Tweet,  create a video – create a Facebook Fan Pages – or worse yet – blog about your current customer service.

It’s becoming obvious that this type of sharing is one of the moral obligations of social media.   Caveat venditor!!!

What to do when Social Media creates a Shit Storm

Only July 6, 2009 – United Airlines executives awoke to discover a social media shit storm had erupted thanks to this viral video from Dave Carroll.

Thanks to Carol Solomon of Stress Eating for the heads up about this video.

The video above was a long time in the making.  The  now infamous guitar tossing incident happened way back in March of 2008.   Dave writes on United Breaks Guitars about what it took to bring him to the point of creating the song (the first of a trilogy) and the video (again, probably the first of a trilogy).  After months of fighting with various levels of management at United… where they actively engaged in the age old customer complaint strategy of deny, obfuscate, and stall –  he writes:

At that moment it occurred to me that I had been fighting a losing battle all this time and that fighting over this at all was a waste of time. The system is designed to frustrate affected customers into giving up their claims and United is very good at it. However I realized then that as a songwriter and traveling musician I wasn’t without options. In my final reply to Ms. Irlweg I told her that I would be writing three songs about United Airlines and my experience in the whole matter. I would then make videos for these songs and offer them for free download online, inviting viewers to vote on their favourite United song. My goal: to get one million hits in one year.

United Airlines can’t say they weren’t warned.

Dave Carroll promised Social Media Armageddon and he delivered.

With over 2.5 MILLION views for the video,  multiple television interviews and the resulting blog buzz, this story is not exactly what most businesses envision when they ask for a viral marketing campaign.  It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for Dave Carroll… but it looks like a shit storm from the other side.

There are several  pundits who are saying that United can make lemonade out of this shit storm.  The phrase,  “there is no such thing as bad PR” has been tossed around.   One recommends that United should try to leverage this disaster in their future marketing.

All I can say is I’ll take a kilo or more of whatever it is these people are smoking.

If United were my client – I’d share with them the wise words my mentor shared with me over 20 years ago.  When one of my advertising clients awoke up one Sunday morning to a PR shit storm in the Sunday paper of admittedly a much smaller scale – my mentor shared these valuable words of wisdom:

The more you stir shit- the more it smells.

Talk about pithy words of wisdom – those were it.  So when I sat down with the client on Monday morning, my advice was simple: LET’S NOT STIR THE SHIT!.

My advice to United would be the same.

Don’t try to make lemonade out of shit stew – no amount of sweetener is going to make this palatable.

I would also advise United to FIX WHAT IS OBVIOUSLY BROKEN.

The thing is – twenty years ago – the customer service practice of dealing with customer complaints by  denying, obfuscating, and stalling was actually sound business advice.  Why pay restitution if you didn’t have to?   (I have to wonder why flight vouchers weren’t offered to try to placate him.)  After a few frustrating and fruitless conversations, most customers would become frustrated or bored and give up.

If this situation had happened two decades ago, there wouldn’t be much backlash.   United might have lost a customer – maybe one or two more thanks to word of mouth.  However, adding up the lost revenue and comparing it to the restitution involved in this situation would have made this an easy call a generation ago.  This guy and his band don’t spend enough to make it worth it to make this right.

Twenty years ago – Dave Carroll couldn’t have caused more than a scratch to United’s Teflon coated brand.  Without access to the mainstream media – his message wasn’t going to get very far no matter how catchy, clever or well produced it was.

That was then – this is now.

Now – Dave Carroll is planning a second video – riding the wave and stoked with all kinds of creative energy on how to make the next video even BETTER than the first.

Rather than play armchair quarterback to all the opportunities inherent in the situation for United’s competitors in the marketplace – I’ll offer this admonition…

A new age has dawned and it’s name is social media.

Social media makes it easy for average people access to a world wide audience.  Those average, everyday consumers can use technology to create what is know as user generated content.  Sometimes, that user generated content is catchy and clever enough to do more damage in a week than several decades of carefully orchestrated media buys and brand strategy.

In my book –Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results I warn business owners to be aware that “power customers”  -those who can do serious damage to their marketing efforts – were not easily identified and as a result, EVERY customer needs to be treated as if he/she has the ability to influence dozens of other consumers.

Social media takes the power of a single consumer and expands it exponentially.

You never know when a consumer may have a popular blog – or even access to one – so treat them all like they do.

This is a full blown shit storm for United – but every day, similar smaller stories are happening all over the web. They aren’t as well documented as this one is but, then again, six weeks ago Dave Carroll was just another musician with a beef against United.

Another crippling blow in retaliation to piss poor customer service has been delivered.

Perspective’s role in your marketing messages

perspective and marketingIf there is one commonly overlooked “truth” in the world of marketing it would have to be the importance perspective plays in creating the marketing messages.

If you’re in charge of creating marketing messages, then it is CRUCIAL that you recognize how your perspective  colors your perceptions.  In the blog post Business Building Secret: People are actually pretty smart… I wrote about how if  you perceive  that your potential customers are idiots – then that perception will permeate your business to the core.

Not only will your perspective color the marketing messages that you create but it will permeate and affect every aspect of your business.

There’s a story which illustrates the importance of perspective… I’ll tie in how it relates to marketing perspective after the story…

One day , a wealthy father wanted to show his son how poor people lived so he made arrangements to spend a  week living on the farm of an impoverished family.

As they returned to their mansion –  the father asked his son , “What did you think of the trip?”

“It was great , Dad.”

“Did you see how poor people live?” the father asked.

“Oh yes , ” said the son.

“So , tell me , what did you learn?” asked the father.

The son answered:

“I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. We have a small piece of land surrounded by walls and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We buy canned and packaged food, while they eat freshly harvested food they grew themselves. We have walls around our property to protect us , they have friends to protect them.”

As the boy’s father tried to formulate a response, his son continued,  “Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are.”

Notice, the father ASSUMED that the son would naturally see the “superiority” of the carefully manicured lawn,  the crystal clear waters of the carefully maintained swimming pool and the lavish house which they called “home”.

If instead, the father had taken a moment to see the world through his SON’S eyes – he would have seen what a difference perspective plays in perception.

I vividly remember riding the school bus by one of my classmate’s house and seeing dogs, cats and chickens roaming the yard.  I was perhaps six years old and I thought they lived in the most wonderful, magical place on the bus route.  Years later, when I drove past the same house – I saw it through different eyes.  What looked like untold wealth to my six year old eyes – looked like squalor thanks to the changes in my perspective.

Perspective and the role it plays in your marketing messages.

Most of my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results focuses upon the importance of viewing your business through your customer’s eyes.

Maintaining that perspective is an essential ingredient in creating marketing messages that deliver results.

One example I use in the book is to look at creating marketing messages targeted at busy mothers. In the book, I cover how important it is to be able to see the world THROUGH a busy mother’s eyes in order to create marketing messages that “connect” with her.

By trying to see the world through the busy mother’s eyes – you can hopefully gain the perspective you need to “connect” with your customer.

A glaring example of what happens when the marketing message creators perceptions “leak” into the message is the now infamous Motrin Mommy Ad:

The backlash was positively EPIC in response to the ad. One of the tweets on the subject hit the nail on the head:

“Obviously they never consulted any REAL mothers before they ran that ad.”

Obviously.

What is also obvious – the contempt the ad’s creators have for new mothers.  You can hear the contempt DRIPPING from the voice over on in the ad.  To be honest, the delivery of the marketing message is probably the most offensive part of the campaign.

The result of this underlying perspective being exposed via the marketing message – Social Media Armageddon.

It’s impossible to remove your perspective’s stamp upon your marketing messages and I’m not sure you should do it, even if you could.  Your perspective is a vital part of creating marketing success.  However, it is possible to recognize the effect perspective plays in creating marketing messages.

Recognizing  the role your perspective plays in your marketing  can help you to avoid creating your own Social Media Armageddon.