Tagged: marketing

Seamless omni-channel customer experiences. Did the customer order one of these?

omnichannelYesterday I received an email invitation for a Social Media Today webinar which posed the question “are you providing an omni-channel customer experience?”  Now I have a suspicion that in 10 or 15 years time when marketing has finally moved-on, we are all going to look back at this sort of stuff and shake our heads.  How was it that we ever got ourselves caught up in such tangled nonesense, we will ask.

A ridiculous term like omni-channel customer experience is only born when we need to use language to disguise a fundamental gap in understanding.  Terms like this are a sure sign that we don’t really know what we are talking about.  We are just making things up that sound good and have the reassurance of seeming vaguely familiar.

According to Caitlin McCulloch, Director of Community Marketing at Social Media Today “Omni-channel marketing focuses on a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available channels, including mobile Internet devices, computers, brick-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalog, and so on. When brands think customer experience, they need to think omni.”  A seamless omni-channel customer experience in fact – even better.

The problem here is that the social digital space is not about channels and messages (reach and frequency) and generic customer experiences.  It is about behaviour identification and response:  it works in a completely different way.  It is well nigh impossible to have a conversation with the same person in multiple channels.  You can only have a conversation with an audience in multiple channels – but the social digital space is the world of the individual, not the world of the audience.  A concept like a seamless omni-channel customer experience can only ever work in the world of the audience: the world of traditional marketing.  It just has no relevance in the social digital space, where people need to be treated as individuals.

Brands may want to bombard their customers with omni-channel experiences, but customers cannot, and will not, reciprocate.  They just want to talk to brands through whatever channel is most appropriate to them at any given moment in time.  The customer selects the channel and they never select an omni-channel.  The only part of this that needs to be omni is the ability for a brand to be available on all the channels, thus have to ability to listen and respond at the time and in the place that its’ customers want.

Customers don’t want ‘customer experiences’.  When has a customer ever asked for a ‘customer experience’?  They want brands to listen to them give them answers to questions in as close to their time (i.e. real time) as possible.  In fact, the closest thing to an omni-channel, from a customers’ perspective, is Google.

But hey, providing a seamless omni-channel customer experience sounds really great. It fits into the statement “we at x brand are totally committed to providing a …”  It then opens the way for agencies who can then sell seamless omni-channel customer experience marketing solutions.  Ker-ching and everyone is happy (except the customer of course).

 

2015: The Year of Hot Marketing (you heard it hear first)

Marketing has always been a cold business.  We may not have realised this in the same way that our ancestors in the Ice Age didn’t think it was especially chilly.  As they were huddled round their fires, drapped in layers of woolly mamoth skin, they were not dreaming of laying out on a sunny beach in their fur-lined swimwear.  We only call it the Ice Age because we are looking back at it from the perspective of a warmer world.  We can now see that pretty much eveything our ancestors were doing in the Ice Age revolved around the fact that keeping warm was difficult, but to the folks at the time, this was just business-as-usual.

Marketing is the same.  The rules of marketing were established to deal with a ‘cold’ environment where distributing information (like staying warm) was expensive and difficult.  But because these rules applied to everyone, we didn’t notice them.  Instead, we simply focused on playing the game better.

But marketing (especially consumer brand marketing) is now in trouble.  In fact, I think 2015 is shaping up to be a very tough year for marketing.  The reason for this is that the brand climate is warming up, and brand marketers haven’t got themselves a hat and some sun-screen.  Instead, to continue to stretch an already rather mixed analogy, they are trying (unsuccesfully) to make a fur parasol.

The social digital revolution is melting the problem that marketing was based around.  It is now not a problem defined by the difficulty of distribution, it is a problem defined by the opportunity for connection.  It is not a world defined by relationships with audiences, it is defined by relationships with indivuduals – and relationships between individuals are always going to be ‘warmer’ than relationships with audiences. We may have believed that we could create a warm relationship with a ‘target audience’ but that was only relative.  The best audience-type of relationship can only ever be at the warmer end of a fundamentally cold scale.  It may have seemed like a warm relationship to us at the time, but only in the same way that 1 degree above freezing might have seemed a pretty balmy day to the folks in the Ice Age.

Any strategy or set of tactics designed for a cold world will become increasingly less effective as the world warms up.  This is the problem we see with marketing.  Everything we know about how to ‘do’ marketing still works, it just works less and less effectively as every year passes.  And this is why marketing directors are tearing their hair out and coming under pressure from finance directors and CEOs – pressure which is then translated to their agencies.  It makes no business sense to keep pouring progressively more and more money into something to compensate for the fact that it is delivering less and less.

But – there was a Great Hope.  We could all see that the problem seemed to be coming out of the digital space, so we therefore assumed that the digital space would offer up to us a solution.  The tools, the things, the channels that came out of this space would deliver for us the results that the old tools and channels were failing to do.  Or so we believed.

The reason I think 2015 is going to be the year of reckoning is a dawning recognition that the Great Digital Hope (in all its iterations) – is failing to live up to the promise.  It might be delivering a bit, but it is not delivering enough.  Indeed, in many instances it is turning out to be an even more unproductive environment in which to spend traditional marketing dollars.  For example, we have now realised that ‘organic reach’ in social media is no sort of reach at all.  We can bolt advertising solutions onto this, but this advertising works less effectively than it did when we were doing it in traditional media.  We can become more targeted in our approach, but the more targeted we become, the less receptive people are to being targeted (or less responsive to what we have to target them with).  The metrics we have all been chasing: engagement, followings, ‘likes’ are turning out to be both hard to achieve at any sort of scale, and also pretty worthless if you achieve them.

Of course it is not the digital environment that is failing to deliver, it is simply that the old approaches don’t deliver in this new environment.

In the new world, you don’t deal with audiences, you deal with individuals.  But, you can’t deal with individuals all at once (or else they become an audience again).  So if you can only deal with a small number of people at any one time, the value you have to extract (the heat if you wish) has to be dramatically greater.  And generating sufficient heat will inevitably involve ceding elements of control back to the consumer, because productive relationships have to be balanced.  Brands have not been giving consumers what they really want, they have been giving them what it is economically efficient for them to provide.  But while brands are all playing to the same rules, it can appear as though we are responding to our consumers – when all we are doing is being a tiny bit less-responsive than the next guy.

The logic behind ‘hot marketing’ is pretty compelling, in much the same way that the logic behind global warming is pretty compelling.  It is also relatively easy to start to identify how to create value through the power of connection (rather than distribution).  But, as with global warming, recognition of the problem doesn’t make the solution easy – because it involves surrendering the old certainties and doing things differently.  This isn’t going to happen overnight.  However, the first step is for brands to understand the rules of ‘hot marketing’ as well as recognising how fundamentally cold the previous rules were.

My mission for 2015 is therefore to be an evangelist for Hot Marketing.

 

Convening an audience: the new challenge for marketing

sermon_mount2I believe there are now two consumer worlds: the world of the audience (the world of ‘traditional’ media and marketing) and the world of the individual (the world of social media). These worlds are very different, not least because in the world of social media consumers will expect to be treated as an individual and will tend to resent or ignore attempts to treat them as just another member of an audience. This doesn’t mean that consumers don’t ever want to be treated as a member of an audience, just not when they are in the social digital space.

This presents two problems for brands. First, almost everything we know about marketing (including digital marketing / media) comes out of the world of the audience. Marketing, to date, has essentially been audience-based marketing. But putting audience-based approaches into the social space just doesn’t work, because it can’t support the potential for creating high-value relationships with individuals. Traditional marketing is a high reach but low engagement business and there is no point in putting the low engagement techniques of traditional marketing into the low reach environment of social media.

Audiences are very hard to find or create in the world of social media. This is because when people are in this space they are looking to create connections and you can’t create connections with an audience, only with individuals or within groups. The social media space is a medium of connection, not a medium of distribution. When a brand operates within the social space it has to accept that it can realistically only talk to very few people at any one time so it therefore has to (and can) create relationships of far higher value than anything that is associated with traditional marketing. But you only do this by recognising what it is that people want from you in this space, which is real-time individualised response and recognition, answers to questions and information.

However, this fact is not stopping many brands from trying dump audience-based, low engagement approaches in the social digital space. Content marketing is the latest iteration of such an attempt. Continue reading

Social media is failing so lets forget it

I have noticed an increasing trend of late for articles and comment to emerge declaring that social media is failing.  This example from The Telegraph is a case in point.  These are not #socialmediafail pieces – i.e. examples of silly things organisations have done in social media, rather they are declaring the failure of the whole medium or more precisely the failure of the medium as a space for marketing activity.

The question we have to ask, of course, is what is it that is actually failing here.  Is it a failure of social media, or is it a failure of marketing to adapt itself to work within social media.  In my view it is the later.  As I never tire of saying, social media is a completely different space with a new set of rules.  You cannot drag traditional one-to-many mass marketing approaches into social media and expect that they will work.  Cue favourite analogy: if tradition media / marketing is the land then social media is the sea.  It is perfectly possible to operate in both environments provided you understand the difference. You can make a car that floats, as Top Gear are fond of showing us, but it is never going to be as effective in the water as a boat.

I think we can expect to see much more of the ‘social media doesn’t work’ sentiment going forwards.  It is simply more evidence of the fact that the adoption of social media is tracking the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technology (see left).  It demonstrates that we are entering into the Disillusionment phase.

Some have reacted to this by taking the extreme view, which is to declare marketing dead (as per this Harvard Business Review article).  This is as misguided as the idea that social media is failing.  Traditional marketing is simply become less effective as other alternatives emerge.  It is not going to die, rather we are starting to understand the boundaries of its competence.  Traditional marketing is actually a channel and message identification challenge defined by the ability to place single, concise messages in front of large numbers of people.  Within the social space, the challenge is defined by identification of behaviours (not messages and channels) – i.e. the ability to reach exactly the right people, at exactly the right time, with exactly the right response – based upon what those people are doing, rather than who they are, or within which channels they sit.  Both are valid approaches – you only get into trouble if you try and crunch the two together.  The trick is work out how to use both approaches in a complementary, rather than supplementary, way.  And it also means we are right to question whether social media should actually fall within the realm of marketing at all – a conclusion that this article in Forbes is edging towards.  It is only when we fundamentally understand the difference between social and traditional media and develop a process (and probably department) that is adapted to work in the social digital space, that we will start to head up the Slope of Enlightenment.

 

OMG – Coca Cola Content 2020 – OMG (by the way, did I say OMG?)

Content and Engagement – these are Big Things in social media at the moment.  But I have a theory that no-one, not even the really big, important, famous companies like Coca Cola and P&G has any clear idea what engagement and content actually look like in the world of social media.  I suspect we are all talking a big game, but basically bluffing.

So, I was taking a wander around Coke yesterday to gather evidence and I chanced into this video of its’ content plan.  OMG.  I pressed the play button and for the next 7 minutes and 28 seconds sat there spellbound, dazed and not a little confused.  This is either:

  • a glimpse into the future of marketing that is so far out there that I struggled to comprehend its brilliance, or
  • an example of a company so totally lost it is covering its confusion in steaming piles of marketing BS.

Or maybe a bit of both.

It talks about ‘liquid ideas’ (funny that for a drinks company) and a lot about stories.  Full marks for that – I am always going on about the importance of stories and the shift from reductive to narrative marketing.  But cop a load of this for how Coke defines ‘dynamic storytelling’ – it is “the development of incremental elements of a brand idea that get dispersed systematically across multiple channels of conversation for the purposes of creating a unified and coordinated brand experience.”  Now that is class marketing BS.  It also talks about the importance of data – no complaints there.  As I have previously said, the enormous amounts of data individuals are now generating is probably the single most significant aspect of social media, from a marketing or social control perspective.   Coke puts it thus: “Data will become the new (s)oil within which ideas will grow and Data Whisperers will become the new Messiahs“.  Data Whisperers, Messiahs, wow, OMG etc.

Anyway – I was entranced.  Also, you have to take your hat off to Coke and to Jonathan Mildenhall, Vice-President, Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence, who provides the reassuring down-to-earth voice-over, for letting this dish out of the kitchen.

And then – I discovered there was a Part 2!  Ten minutes and 18 seconds more!  This time I made a coffee and got the biscuits out, but like many sequels, this was a bit of a let-down.  No more data whisperers, it all got a bit operational, with the traditional exhortations to be brave and take risk with the music rousing to a climax as we end on representation of the Coke bottle.

Still, the whole thing was a fantastic insight into what could be right and also what could be terribly wrong in major brands’ approach to social media.  I am not sure which is which at the moment, but I still stand by my belief that no-one really understands how engagement and content work in this new space and no matter how important content may be, a successful social media strategy has to be rooted in the creation of behaviours, not the creation of things.   And if you are going to create content, this has to be content that answers consumers’ questions.  It is not about providing a form of extended advertising albeit in a new channel (which is the sort of place we get to at the end of the second Coke video).

Anyway – I am going to have to look into this in more depth, and certainly use this as discussion material for future social media workshops.

Update: having tried this out in a few workshops, the central issue for me is Coke’s assertion that this is all about the shift from insight to provocation.  Totally wrong.  Provocation is not social.  The only reason Coke feels it needs to provoke conversations is because people don’t want to talk to it.  Or at least, the conversations they want to have with Coke are not the conversations Coke wants to be a part of.  Coke wants to have a “look at me, aren’t I fantastic – now go tell someone else how fantastic I am” conversation.  From a creative perspective, Coke (or any brand) has the challenge of putting itself centre stage – creating attention is what it is all about.  In social media, there is no stage, there isn’t really even an audience and in-so-far as there is, this audience wants to talk to itself, not to brands.  Hence the assumed need to provoke.

In social space no-one can hear your marketing budget scream (or why being a marketing director is a bit like being a fund manager)

Being a marketing director is like being a fund manager.  You have your marketing budget, something you strive to increase year-on-year, in the same way that a fund manager has funds under management, which they also look to increase.  The challenge for both is where to allocate this money in order to maximise returns.  The fund manager has their asset categories and within these decisions about individual stocks or products.   A marketing director has a range of media assets or channels and then a decision about what type of campaign or message to put within each.

The problem that marketing directors face is that the yield available on these assets has been relentlessly declining year-on-year.  There is no safe stock, such as gold, or a way to play against the market.  Instead, they desparately need to find a new asset category, partly as a way of improving the ROI on conventional assets by reducing demand and thus forcing the price down, but also in search of higher yields.

In this environment social media can seem, superficially at least, very attractive.  Here is a whole new space to spend your money in – and there are no shortage a players looking to take it from you: digital agencies who will build you community platforms, social media agencies who will create social media campaigns, or Facebook itself who will accept big fat cheques for helping you “integrate your brand into consumers’ life stories”.  However, the yield problem remains.  In-so-far as we have been able to work out the yield on financial investment in social media (and that isn’t very far), it isn’t proving to be startling better than that available in the old media assets.

The reason for this is the unfortunate fact that the only bits of social media that are worthwhile are not available for sale.  You can’t buy social media, you can only participate within it.  To paraphrase the slogan of a famous sci-fi thriller “In social space, no-one can hear your marketing budget scream”.  The asset you need to participate in social media is people – and people are seen as a toxic asset in most businesse these days: a guarantied way to get fired is to increase headcount and a guarantied way to get promoted is to “take costs out of the business” or any of the other various euphemisms for making people redundant.

Until businesses create permission to invest in the asset that is people,  the social media space is never going to yield a productive return.

 

Don’t drag your website into Facebook

The other day I came across this post from eConsultancy while digging around for some examples of corporate use of Facebook.  The author, Jake Hird, had selected what he considers 25 brilliant examples.  What immediately struck me was that none of them looked like Facebook pages, they all looked like websites.  Indeed, this was the criteria the author was using: these were considered brilliant because they had ‘got round’ what was seen as the inherent design restrictions of the Facebook format by creating separate tabs as ‘landing pages’.

What sort of insanity is this?  Surely, the key to successful corporate usage of Facebook is to develop an approach that reflects how people actually use Facebook, based on an understanding of what it is that Facebook is adapted to do.  Facebook is not a website, it is a tool that small groups of people whom already have some form of social connection, use to preserve and enhance that connection.  That is a very different function from that of a website, which is designed as a destination that you drive the maximum number of people to in order to give them information.  The Facebook format is not something to be ‘got around’ it is something to be embraced.

Jake’s logic seems to be thus:  once upon a time we had a thing which we understood called websites.  Then something new came along called Facebook.  Facebook was really different and we needed to find a way to understand it so we decided the best way to do this was to try and turn it into the thing we understood.

I know this article was written some 18 months ago, time for both the author and the companies concerned to learn the error of their ways – but having checked the Facebook pages concerned, nothing much has changed.  Why?  Well I guess there are some powerful forces at work here.

First is fear of the unknown.  Marketing directors want to be reassured that all the knowledge and experience they have accumulated in the world of mass media, can easily be exported into this new world of social media.  It can’t, because social media operates to a different set of rules – as much as anything else, social media is not something you buy, it is something you participate within.

Second is the fear of digital agencies that their business model is melting.  Digital agencies, the smart ones anyway, know they are in trouble.  To quote the boss of one such agency “how are we going to make money building websites in a world where anyone can now make a website”?  However, if they can persuade marketing directors to spend lots of money creating customised Facebook pages or building expensive brand communities – that can be a lifeline.

Third is Facebook itself, which receives virtually all of its revenue from marketing directors and needs to keep them and their agencies happy and reassured.

There is a fourth, which is the fact that a Facebook page is a much better data capture opportunity than a website – hence the current obsession with securing Facebook Likes.  In fact most Facebook strategies go something along the lines of: drive people to the Facebook page, incentivise them to click the Like button, then get them the hell out of there into a digital platform better adapted to doing what it is We want to do with them.  But is this behaviour really sustainable and is it not fundamentally missing whatever genuine opportunities Facebook might present?  Facebook is, in many ways, just a new form of social behaviour.  That is certainly how its users relate to it.  And these users are only going to be prepared to ‘engage’ with those brands that understand and respect this.  (Long term this is also a bit of a problem for Facebook, because you can’t own a form of behaviour).

Personally, I think the sign of an effective corporate use of a Facebook page is that it looks like, well, a Facebook page – an environment that looks and feels exactly like the environment Facebook users are creating for themselves.  It should be a space where people who want to come and talk to a brand, can come and talk if they want to.  Frequently, of course, these people are going to want to ask questions or raise complaints – but that’s fine, it’s called customer service.  Of course, you don’t want people asking questions or raising complaints all over your website – yet another reason why turning your Facebook page into a website is a stupid thing to do.

The fact is that we are now operating in a bi-polar world – the world of traditional media and the world of social media.  The traditional media world isn’t going to go away in a hurry, it is just going to shrink in importance as the social media space grows.  The defining challenge for any marketing or communications director (in fact any CEO) over the next 10 years is how to operate with a foot in both camps and the key to this is the recognition that both spaces are fundamentally different: what works in traditional doesn’t work in social and visa versa.

Selling to the Facebook focus group (not a good idea)

Everyone in marketing (and also now politics) is familiar with the focus group.  This is technique where you have a structured conversation with a very small group of people selected to be representative of your whole target audience.  Focus groups work because sufficiently skilled practitioners can draw conclusions and insights from that very small group that are relevant to the larger group.  Their most common usage in marketing to understand how people will react to new products, but mostly how they will react to new ads.   (As an aside, I have always found it amazing how many brands come to understand what consumers think of their products or services only through the lens of how they understand their advertising).

The relationship a brand, or the researcher representing it, establishes with the people in a focus group is quite a strange one.  Quite often, the brand may not even reveal itself, but the participants are frequently encouraged to disclose highly personal information about themselves, which they do both because they are paid a small sum but mostly because they feel flattered to believe that their opinion counts for something.   After the session ends, the relationship finishes.  It is very rare to return, or even report back, to the participants unless they have been recruited as part of a panel designed to see how thoughts and opinions shift rather than define what those opinions are.  Certainly the brands concerned don’t believe there is any advantage in preserving a relationship with attendees at focus groups or even encouraging the participants to buy their product or service: you don’t sell to the focus group, you get insights from the focus group in order to then sell to the much larger group of consumers or customers.

Facebook, as far as a brand manager is concerned, is basically a focus group Continue reading

Stories and storytelling – its the future of marketing

Here is a good post from Antony Mayfield with some examples of the use of new technologies to tell stories.  As I have written about (at some length) before, storytelling and what I call narrative marketing is becoming incredibly important because social media is conversational and stories drive conversations, whereas propositions drive ads (or other forms of restrictive one-to-many mass messages).

The quick story on stories is this.  Continue reading

What’s the connection between social media and woolly mammoths?

The business of marketing as we know it is a creature of the ice age.  It has evolved to adapt to set of very limiting conditions in the way that a woolly mammoth evolved to adapt to, what we now see as, the very limiting conditions of cold temparatures.  Until recently, we haven’t been able to see what marketing’s limiting conditions have been in the same way that woolly mammoth’s didn’t think it was especially cold.

However, we can now see that marketing’s limiting condition has been the high cost of distributing information.  This has meant that the evolutionary path of marketing has been about efficiency of message – packing the greatest amount of information into the smallest space in order to make the most of the precious resource which is the ability to harness an expensive distribution channel.  Continue reading