Our Customers Are Revolting

We are living in a sharing world. 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 on-line 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 is 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.

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?

Research would indicate support for this view – in a Marketing Week  study conducted earlier this year the promotional channels deemed most important by today’s marketers were web-site, search, social and email. Those perceived as least important were TV, radio and outdoor. How things have changed. And yet 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. One only has to think over recent months to recount various social media debacles – Mars with their celebrity endorsed twitter campaign for Snickers that landed them in hot water with the ASA. McDonalds, Qantas and Pepsi all experimenting with Facebook and twitter in ways that provoked major customer backlashes – 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.

Time to step back and reflect on 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 life-style. 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.

With all of these considerations seemingly being largely ignored the marketing department can fire ahead on all cylinders and create pretty web-sites, colourful Facebook pages and issue pithy tweets – fulfilling an emerging need in ourselves – the ‘need to tell’. Interestingly this ‘need to tell’ is often at odds with the customers’ ‘need to know’. Naturally management of all this falls within the JD of the recently appointed ‘digital’ marketing person. 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’).

And I think this is where it has all gone wrong and we’re as guilty in academia as are marketing directors working in industry. In the marketing academy and the profession we all have conspired and created a monster called ‘digital marketing’. In the late 1990s it was called Internet Marketing and it then became Electronic Marketing and now it’s Digital 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.

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 but as importantly a channel for more effective communication with that customer. Through this approach we can learn from a process of value co-creation with all customers and through this sell more effectively over the life-time of those customer relationships. It isn’t about the technology or our need to tell; it is all about the customer and their need to know. We need to remind ourselves as to what marketing is all about and relish the opportunity to convert revolting customers into rejoicing ones.

[1] ‘Marketing Perspectives 2012: Adapting to win with multi-channel marketing’, Marketing Week White Papers. Available at http://www.sasknowledgecentre.com/

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