IT seems the world has gone digital marketing mad – some would say with the emphasis on dig! Because according to Naked Leader devotee Mark Durkin, a professor of marketing at the University of Ulster, we are digging a hole for ourselves when it comes to communicating with our customers, to the detriment of our relationship with those who are the lifeblood of our business.
He reckons these days we seem obsessed with telling customers things via the various platforms available to us such as Facebook and Twitter. However, while there is a ‘need to tell’ culture born from our insistence on making use of the new wave of technology in our lives, we are forgetting the age-old need of the customer – the need to know.
As Mark explains: ‘Social media has provided us with a platform through which we can tell each other everything – and it seems we feel obliged to do so. In our personal lives our online personalities have become richer than our off-line ones and we are spending hours each day checking Facebook, tweeting and making sure we have our Linked-in profile updated and a flattering but appropriate picture displayed. In our business lives we have become obsessed with what new technology can do and how we can connect to, and communicate with, our customers in new and ‘engaging’ ways.
Mark feels passionately that we are risking the wrath of customers by ignoring their needs and he goes on: ‘Today it’s all about digital and if we’re not careful those pesky customers might revolt and say nasty things about us online and ruin our business! Where once a dissatisfied customer would tell 12 people about a bad experience now, through social media, they can tell the world. So we need to understand this new and rapidly moving world of digital and social quickly so we can stop them. Right?
‘For all our enthusiasm in adopting digital and social channels for our businesses we don’t seem terribly good at using them or realising the opportunity they undoubtedly present. Some big companies have suffered major customer backlashes – conducted in public of course thanks to our sharing world and which were simply caused by a lack of sensitivity to the world of the customer.’
Mark has a theory for how we got here. ‘In recent years marketers seem to have become obsessed with what new technology can do but, (rather ironically), are not remotely obsessed with how customers might wish the company to use such technology so that value can be added to the product, service or experience being provided. While marketers see these new interactive channels as highly important they acknowledge that their relative competence in managing in this new market-space remains low.
‘Established influences on why, or to what extent, customers may wish to engage with new technologies seem to be ignored – little thought is given, for example, to the customer’s self-efficacy level, demography or lifestyle. Less thought still is given to the nature of the company’s value proposition and where social media might add value to that and it seems no thought at all is given to the nature of the business the company itself is in, or the extent to which aspects of market context might shape the nature of its engagement with social media.’
It seems marketing departments are ignoring these considerations and hurling themselves headlong into what Mark describes as ‘pretty websites, colourful Facebook pages while issuing pithy tweets’.
Employing the youngest/newest staff member to the marketing team – which is often the case – because they more readily understand the technology is a mistake in Mark’s eyes as the need to tell clashes with the need to know. This will, in all likelihood, be the youngest/newest staff member to the marketing team (because they’re on Facebook all the time and ‘know this stuff’, says Mark).
‘I think this is where it has all gone wrong and we’re as guilty in academia as are marketing directors working in industry,’ he continues. ‘In the marketing academy and the profession we have conspired and created a monster called ‘digital marketing’. In the late 1990s it was called Internet Marketing and it then became Electronic Marketing.
‘Irrespective of the preface to the word ‘marketing’ there is one common problem in all this – the focus moves away from being marketing-driven (as defined by customer need) to something technology-driven (as defined by the innovation).Where we appoint a ‘digital marketing’ staff member we perpetuate the separateness of ‘digital’ from ‘traditional’ marketing. What we achieve is to create a discreteness for digital, and we build a naturally non-integrated marketing model. Rather than focusing on customer need and seeking an integrated marketing solution we classify traditional marketing efforts as less important and put all our energy into new channels – how myopic and reactive we have become.’
So what does he see as the solution to the problem? ‘Let’s re-energise our efforts now to engage with the customer with authenticity and employ a more judicious use of new and old media together which will provide both a more informed and engaged customer and a channel for more effective communication with that customer, he insists. ‘Through this approach we can learn from a process of value co-creation with all customers and through this, sell more effectively over the lifetime of those customer relationships. We need to remind ourselves as to what marketing is all about and relish the opportunity to convert revolting customers into rejoicing ones.’