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Jeff Pundyk (@jpundyk) is founder of Rebound Media. He works with B2B firms to help them connect with clients, prospects, and recruits in a richer, more sustainable way.
The traditional role of the marketer is to influence buyers at the moments they are considering a purchase. But digital platforms and, more pointedly, social media have spread those moments over wider and wider areas, introduced unexpected advisers from unlikely sources, and managed to both contract and expand the consideration process, making it increasingly expensive for marketers to engage prospects and customers at the right times with the right message.
Companies do not need to be sold that social media matters. According to a recent study by McKinsey & Co., 39 percent of companies already use social media services as their primary digital tool to reach customers, and McKinsey expects that number to increase to 47 percent within four years. But, while marketers are embracing social media channels, they are not embracing social media thinking, pushing for bragging rights on “likes” and “followers” rather than looking for ways to engage.
In the B2B space, marketers can leapfrog Social Media Marketing Version 1.0 by building “marketing products” instead of “marketing campaigns.” Social Media Marketing Version 2.0 should integrate social’s ability to foster dialogue with mobile’s always-on connectivity to create products that customers find truly useful. This goes beyond the largely transactional task of managing the customer experience to winning long-term loyalty through products that build relationships.
Mobile and social functionality are already converging, even for business users. According to Forrester Research, 87 percent of U.S. business owners engage in social media at least monthly, and 39 percent are using social media on their phones at least monthly. And smartphone and tablet users spend more than an hour-and-a-half a day using applications, while the average time spent on the Web is shrinking, according to an analysis of comScore, Alexa, and Flurry data conducted by Flurry.
I am not suggesting that you dump your Web site or ignore social platforms, online communities, search, or even paid marketing. They are the components of an integrated digital presence. In fact, tablets and smartphones are becoming significant drivers of Web and social traffic. And as tablet-based apps take advantage of cloud computing’s ability to bring PC-like functionality to mobile devices, the opportunity for clever integration between Web and mobile will grow. In fact, a recent report from Adobe Digital Index (PDF) predicts that tablet visits will account for more than 10 percent of Web traffic by 2013.
I am suggesting, however, that gaining big marketing rewards requires rethinking the role marketing plays–that the social and mobile revolution presents the opportunity to become a pervasive partner to your key constituents, and that the best way to do that is to move beyond “likes” and make yourself useful.
An example: Ernst & Young teamed with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to publish a video-enhanced e-book focused on the future of global banking. The e-book, designed to be read on tablets, features Ernst & Young experts, Wharton professors, and practicing bankers who set the framework for scenario planning exercises. The e-book is a tool, intended to help global banks plan. What’s more, Ernst & Young and Wharton’s executive education program are now using the e-book scenarios as curriculum in real-world seminars with key clients.
Ernst & Young has gone beyond marketing. It has created a credible product that reinforces its position as a trusted adviser, moved off of the Web to match its audience’s channel preferences, and is clearly focused on helping solve a problem for its clients. As a result, the accounting firm has solved a marketing problem–it is in the right place at the right time with the right message.
This is the “productization” of great marketing thinking. Getting there starts with an old idea: Put the customer first. Understand your customers and understand their customers. Talk to them. Visit them. Their business lives do not stop when they leave the office, so push to get the full picture. Now take those insights outside of the marketing department. Take them outside of your agency. Check your learning with the sales team, and talk to operations, customer service, and the product team. Create a cross-functional team of subject-matter experts, product people (including user experience experts), operations, and marketing with the mandate of piloting programs that extend existing systems into the world of anywhere, anytime access and unfettered exchange. Use these pilots to test and learn–to paint a clear picture of what success looks like–while you take a hard look at your larger digital presence.
Some of the questions to consider in preparation for an integrated social and mobile future include:
- Is each of your digital channels–Web, email, mobile, social platforms, search, and paid–doing only what it does best? Are they feeding one another? Which channels are best-focused on the transactional aspects of customer experience, and which are best-focused on building relationships through customer engagement?
- Are your owned digital properties optimized for mobile?
- Are you relevant? (Use social listening tools and search analysis to find out.)
- How are you represented in the online communities that matter to your key constituents? Are you fully leveraging your internal experts?
- What does your content “supply chain” look like? Who has decision rights over what gets “published”?
- Are you creating content “on spec,” or are you really meeting a customer needs? How do you know?
- Is your content the right length and style for the target’s channel of choice? Smartphones and tablets are two very different experiences, as is the Web and email.
- Is your infrastructure flexible enough to zig when the market zigs and zag when the technology zags? How about your organization?
- Do your budgets reflect the cross-functional nature of the initiative? Are internal incentives aligned?
- Are you close enough to your customers to keep up with their fast-changing digital needs?
If this abbreviated list looks daunting, it should. The combination of social and mobile is pushing digital disruption to new levels across every function of the organization. That’s the “inside the building” problem. Outside the building, the era of pervasive customer engagement is well under way; customers are already blurring the distinction between marketing and products. Marketers can play a central role shaping sustained customer relationships by thinking beyond traditional campaigns and partnering with colleagues and customers to create products that customers find truly useful.
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