Brands Need To Get Comfortable With Less Control In Social Business

Here at the Pivot Conference during New York's social week, brand marketers are learning how to do "social business."

"We are at a pivotal point in the history of marketing," says Brian Solis, author of The End of Business as Usual, with more than a single meaning.

"Pivotal" because there is more than one type of consumer.
For the first time, there is more than just "the consumer." Social media has forced the consumer into two segments: the traditional consumer, and the connected consumer.

The connected consumer has emerged quickly, inserting herself boldly into the marketing loop. In 2004, the entire Internet was only as big as Facebook is today. But in 2011, we have to consider not only a huge Facebook, but also hundreds of other platforms on which consumers focus their attention. New marketing programs must reach people in the places where their attention is already focused.

Brands are now trying to reach an audience with an audience with an audience. Thus, it is time to rethink the basic premise of paid, owned, and earned media. To those, it is time to add shared and promoted media: I talk to my audience and it talks to its own audience. All the more reason to strive for relevance in your communication, because relevance can lead to resonance. 

Marketers who are already dialed in to social media know that because someone has liked their brand page, they don't necessarily have permission to market to that customer. So what else are brands going to do for consumers besides market to them? 

Well, first you have to ask your customers what they want from social media; then you have to design experiences that make customers engage. Only then do you  enhance customer loyalty and advocacy.

While half of companies are already using social media to some degree in their marketing, the other half are still in the experimentation phase, held back by both budget constraints and lack of a clear ROI. That second half will have to be convinced that they can produce meaningful outcomes that align with their business goals. As you focus on increasing experiences for the customer, all the other things that matter come to you.

"Pivotal" because brands have lost control and make mistakes. 
John Hayes, CMO of American Express, makes this point in a presentation about the speed of communication in the social era. The pace of information growth is accelerating, which raises profound questions for established brands on how to adapt. His example of the speed of information dissemination is, of course, Lady Gaga, who made $500,000 in 2008-9, and a cool $250,000,000 in 2010, so quickly does fame spread in an era of virality. Movies, too, are made or broken with near lightening speed: total box office can be accurately predicted by the results of the first Friday night 7:30 screening.

Listening, then, becomes crucial, so the fast adaptations can be made. Netflix and its abortive launch of Quickster is the poster child for listening and engaging with the consumer: the brand was launched and killed in ten days.

Hayes mentions a mistake his own brand, American Express, made in the 2008 recession. I remember this particular one well, because it caught me, and I have not trusted American Express since. As an American Express customer since the '90s, I always put up with the ridiculous fee charged for the Platinum card because of the service. Among other perks, the card has no upper limit, which is helpful if you travel around the world. And yet suddenly in 2008, my card was declined, although I never missed a payment. I have never recovered from that experience, even though they fixed it quickly over the phone. The representative told me "We are in a different economy now," and used this as a reason for changing the rules. This change was rejected by so many irate customers that American Express was forced to retract it. With one action, the company lost control of the brand.

Welcome to the most exciting time to be in marketing.

[Image: Flickr user flyingg]

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