The author, Ashish Jajoo, is a leader in Pittsburgh’s Digital Marketing and IT services. Ashish has been kind enough to grant me permission to publish his essay on Marketing Challenges in the social media world of Many-to-Many communications.
Ashish argues for the ever increasing importance of a holistic consumer experience as the consumer’s voice becomes more powerful in the era of social media. Product life cycles and marketing have changed – products and marketing continue to intertwine even after the product has been purchased; this in turn gives new meaning to customer loyalty and underscores the challenges and opportunities presented by this new mass dialog.
Consumer behavior patterns and influence spheres now extend beyond focus groups and interactions with service professionals. Many to Many (M:M) communications enabled by social media, communities, forums and blogs has changed the dynamic, putting the consumer in-charge of the brand/product with which they choose to associate and share their attention.
Communication paradigms and shifts
In the coming three to five years, marketing organizations will not have a distinct role for digital marketers. All marketers will be digital marketers, with some having specialization in print, TV, and other media (currently mainstream marketing channels). This change reflects ongoing transformations in commercial communications made possible by technology advances that continue to shape our ability to reach audiences and customers.
Prior to the 14th century, sending messages to a multitude of people required a proclamation to be issued for individuals to gather at a given time and location. With print media still a century away, one-to-one (1:1) and one-to-many (1:M) communications (i.e., oral communications) flourished. Once the printing press was invented, 1:M communications benefited from an entirely new distribution capability which provided a clear advantage over the pure vocalization of messages. The advent of the telegraph, telephone, phonograph and broadcast radio and television furthered the reach and convenience of 1:M communications, making them more reliable, consistent and manageable. Communications underwent yet another radical transformation in the internet age, but retained many of the traits of its previous 1:M forms.
The rules changed with the advent of Web 2.0, and a far more enigmatic paradigm – many-to-many communications (M:M) – has become the new reality. Facilitated by social media such as FaceBook, Twitter and others, M:M communications have unleashed both challenges and opportunities never before seen.
Transforming Organizations – Driving Change
Global organizations will need to transform to effectively convert these challenges into opportunities. They will be driven to dissolve internal functional silos across value chains or risk exclusion from the dialogs their customers are engaged in. Under such circumstances, firms would quickly lose relevance in the marketplace. Alternately, organizations that do embrace M:M communications in the form of digital marketing, will ride the next wave of branding opportunities into the future.
Knocking down these silos will require bold leaders who think holistically and understand the potential synergies between once disparate functions such as IT and marketing. The first signs of this transformation will appear in front offices, where consumer facing employees will become at least as savvy as their customers in social technologies. The traditional front office will convert to a digital front office – marketing, sales, service, PR, and HR will share a unified communication platform that provides for social and digital messaging awareness. Every employee will realize that they are ambassadors for their organizations and brands, especially across social and digital touch points.
As organizations restructure, consumer engagement models will evolve to become more inclusive. There will cease to be separate functions and programs focused on individual communication channels. Print, television, events, and online will come together in meaningful ways, creating a unified customer experience. This convergence will enable reuse/repurpose of resources and assets, driving efficiencies and lowering costs.
The definition of brand value will expand to include consumer lifetime value (CLTV) by including factors such as relevance and richness of content and experience, depth of engagement, and breadth of interaction. KPIs will change from impressions and CPMs to include a wider, 360 degree perspective of individual consumers that chronicle the valuable brand interactions being shared at the sub-value-chain level. This ecosystem of sub-value-chains will form the basis of all M:M brand communications going forward.
Impact on consumer communications
Consider the impact of these changes on a CPG or insurance payer organization* seeking to promote their brands and drive sales. (* insurance payer organizations have been recently empowered to market to consumers directly.)
- In 1:1 communications, marketers and sales staff would speak face to face with customers. Organizations were in absolute control of the messaging and brand positioning.
- In 1:M communications, organizations used mass media like print, radio and TV to communicate with many individuals at a time. The race for “eyeballs and attention” began. This was further facilitated by the advent of the internet, which many experts considered simply another mass media channel. Marketers were still in control of their messaging, and creating strong brands and loyal customers remained relatively easy and familiar tasks.
- In M:M communications – made possible by the convergence of bandwidth availability, increased computing capability, advanced application development tools and mobility platforms – control over marketing messages passed at least in part from marketer to consumer. It has let loose a torrent of “conversations” – interactive messages – that are not controllable in traditional marketing terms. However, while marketers and brand managers have the ability to create and distribute the messages of their choosing, they have little to no control over how it will be received, shared and further still perceived. In this environment, it is difficult to predict the context in which consumers will receive and interpret a given message. M:M communications can only be loosely channeled, rather than tightly controlled.
Social media brand interactions are a reality that is here to stay. Consumer engagement with brands is completely transformed, and the richness of interaction is unprecedented. In one instance, a CPG’s toothpaste brand promotion received 300 comments on just one social media outlet within 48 hrs of going live. The brand website, while typically registering as many unique visits in a day, was unable to engage more than the standard 12-15% of consumers beyond clicks into conversions.
M:M puts the entire organization in focus for every consumer to critique as they wish, when they wish. The integrity of the organization’s value chain has never before been under such scrutiny, and will continue to be in the future. Building strong and vibrant brands will not only rely on product marketing, but also on the integrity of the value chain, visible due to organizations’ increasing transparency. It will become important not only to let consumers know that a given product is green, but that it was manufactured with minimal environmental impact, that the organization is planting trees to offset its impact, and so forth. As consumer awareness rapidly increases, no brand will be immune to scrutiny and public dialog.
This dialog will be channeled through brand managers, advocates and brand champions, and it will appeal to the social consciousness of consumers, attracting and retaining them. These types of connections with consumers will be built at a higher, “meta level” beyond product benefits – they will be directly correlated with satisfaction derived and desires fulfilled by brands, creating a stronger identification with the brand promise. A consumer who self-identifies as an affinity member stands out to marketers as a potential brand champion. This is where M:M communications and social media prove their greatest value to marketers. “Sub-value chains” revolving around such consumers – self-identified brand champions – are established, and the conventional marketing value chain is transformed by the addition of these smaller units.
The definition of a loyal customer will continue to evolve to include these sub-value-chains. We are truly in the age where the consumer will become active participants in the overall marketing value chain of the organization they choose to engage with. The involved and informed consumer, who has chosen to engage with the organization and the brand, will be the loyal consumer of the future – a consumer who feels ownership and hence loyalty towards the brand. Brand loyalty will have an increasing dependence on the value chain of the organization, which in turn is dependent on the attention a consumer is willing to spare for it. Organizations will be faced with the imperative to become more transparent throughout their value chain to make their customers feel an integral part of it.
Previous notions of the value chain have failed to include the paying customer – the most important part of the chain. Organizations will have to change – to place customers front and center – which implies that attention will become an essential part of the transparent value chain of a successful 21st firm.
Attention is the key to marketing success
Digital marketing and the front office will be the turf on which the battle for the attention of consumers will be waged. Consumers have changing and ever increasing expectations for the brands they interact with. Anticipating these expectations, providing the desired engagement channels, and exceeding customer expectations will win and sustain the customer’s attention.
Attention is nothing less than the currency of the future. Currently measured on an overly simplistic high-low basis, it will soon evolve into something entirely different. It will be considered an inviolable trust between consumer and brand, a coveted and precious commodity that possesses the ability – not the mere potential – to move markets, to change behaviors, and to change the world at large by re-imagining marketplaces, economies and enterprises.
Attention from consumers will dictate both the nature of engagement and the imperative to provide engaging experiences with brands moving forward. Marketers, CSRs and the rest of the front office will drive that engagement across social and digital channels in this, the new information driven, service oriented economy.
As services continue to become a greater component of the Global economy and as GDP rises, expectations of customers will rise and competition will drive greater incentives, promotions, etc. to grab the finite commodity – consumer attention. This rise in expectations, combined with an increasing need for marketers to reach and remain relevant to customers, will increase the demand for attention. This will indeed be a golden era for consumers, who will sit at the center of the marketing universe and will be served by organizations on their own terms.
Once given, attention can only be kept for a short time as countering claims bombard the consumer. This means that engaging content driven by superior user experiences will need to be made available seamlessly. Technology facilitating M:M communication will drive this user experience. The convergence of web, mobile and social media will enable rich user experience.
While engaging content and rich user experience are generally created and delivered with advanced technology, satisfying fundamental customer requirements will allow organizations to create meaningful engagements. It’s well documented that only engaged consumers can be converted into paying customers. Attentive customers are primed for potential cross-selling and up-selling opportunities based on their rich profiles gleaned from M:M interactions across the multiple touch points that consumers chooses to engage.
The focus of all communications, marketing, and consumer interaction should be driven by that focal point which will help attract and retain a consumer – attention. Consumer attention should be front and center to the organization’s decision making process, especially as it evolves towards a more transparent value chain. Transparent value chains are “likable” and therefore will engage consumers – who previously offered consumers personalized experiences based on their profile – a more involved experience by dynamically tailoring adaptive engagement models, proactive as well as reactive. This will enhance brand value and garner further attention in the future interactions. Attention will not only lead to deep, rich, long-term relationships with individual customers, but to long-term sustainable sales growth for enterprises.