In a digital and connected world that’s filled with information and opinions, consumers have more choices than ever before. They are smarter about the way they buy and are better educated since they have more ways of informing themselves, including what they can find by tapping into social conversations. People want to control their buying journey. They want to voice their opinions on social networks. They want to find information themselves and connect to do so. Even worse, they use more channels than ever before and, they are less responsive to our messages. Most businesses still fear these evolutions and social media marketing along with them. It’s a fact. Businesses really fear the loss of control and don’t know how to reconnect. They feel powerless. Is it really that bad?
Does marketing make sense? I mean, if the consumer is in control: why do we even bother? The shift from selling to buying, the distrust regarding businesses and their messages and the evolution towards a more empowered and educated consumer has been going on for years. Just think about how people used to walk into a computer store and ask the sales rep to tell them which computer would be best suited for their needs.
Today they often know more about the computer they want than the sales rep does and step into the shop, exactly knowing what they will buy (if they don’t buy it online to start with). The proliferation of channels and rise of social media have speeded up these phenomena. However, can we still connect with consumers in these circumstances or are we disconnected and alienated forever?
A connected consumer leaves traces
People want us to listen and respond, and in many cases have become allergic to overtly promotional messages and corporate speak. They want us to speak their language, understand their pains and intent, focus on them and interact in a personal way. It benefits everyone to do so, and listening is the first and crucial step in every social media program, as it should be in all marketing and even business processes. So, is that all we can do? Listen and learn? Should we be afraid? Can’t we do anything more? Is the consumer untouchable, unreachable and even invisible? Is total alienation a fact?
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The truth is that we can do much more and that today’s connected and integrated reality, with multiple channels, social media and empowered consumers, offers unprecedented possibilities. In fact, people are more visible than ever and the number of touchpoints has multiplied, making touchpoint marketing ever so important. When voicing their opinions, interacting on social networks, commenting on blog posts or clicking a – tracked – link, people show what they are interested in and leave digital footprints than can be used in multiple ways. The footprints of the active seeking, empowered, multichannel and connected consumer can improve your business and provide you with data that offer more control than you can imagine. There is power in the powerlessness we often feel.
Some examples of what you can do, based on digital and social signals:
- Identify trends and interests of your ‘audiences’ so you can focus on creating relevant content regarding these topics.
- Improve and even adapt your solutions and product marketing.
- When properly integrated and using the right tools, enrich customer and prospect profiles, leading to a single customer view.
- Identify hot topics in the market place where you can base your PR efforts on.
- Understand what makes people decide when looking for information.
- Gain insights into the reputation of competitors and detect opportunities.
- Start personal relationships with people who clearly look for solutions and answers you can help them with.
- Map your own strengths and weaknesses in order to improve efficiency.
- This list of possibilities is really endless and depends on the smart ways you come up with, using the proper tools and processes, to turn these insights and digital footprints into action.
Turning consumer actions into data, insights and actions
Using these data and public signals, whether they happen indirectly (e.g. when someone voices a general opinion or shares content) or directly (e.g. when someone leaves a comment on a blog post or a social network page you “own”), you can proactively adapt strategies and reach out to interesting contacts.
Combining the monitoring of the never-ending conversations going on in social media and specific feedback, you basically dispose of different focus groups and panels, sometimes broad and sometimes narrowed by using smaller communities or discussion forums, for instance.
This ongoing chance to listen, monitor, understand and act is one of the key advantages of the changes I have been describing and of social media.
This time it’s personal (and integrated)
Note that reading what your ‘target groups’ or individuals say on social networks such as blogs, comment sections on sites or social platforms, review sites and discussion forums can teach you a lot too, it’s not only about digital footprints and metrics.
And, yes, it’s OK to use the telephone, face-to-face interactions and other means to learn more about your customers. Just integrate it all around the individual consumer as much as possible, forget the discussions about inbound versus outbound or this versus that, it’s nonsense and your customer doesn’t care at all. The online thing he wants is value.
While in a social and digital world, we can track so many digital footprints, probably one of the strongest ways to learn and to build valuable relationships is by connecting with individuals you have identified and actually reading what they say.
It might be harder to monitor but, certainly if you want to understand someone very well for whatever business purpose, it’s worth the while.
The more personal and personalized you can get, the better. It’s partially about data and automation but most of all about personality.
Since, sincerely, that’s what really matters: invest in more valuable and personal relationships, regardless of channels. Consumers want to talk with you. They just want to decide when, how and where. And this time they want it to be personal.