As an adjunct professor, I get to teach my students about marketing. One of the discussions we have is around the difference between marketing and sales. I take care to ensure that they understand that marketers obtain information about customers, competitors, and markets, and focus on delivering value.

They learn that sales people push out what organizations have, while marketers focus on what the market wants. Marketers identify customer wants and needs, integrate an organization’s activities to satisfy these wants and needs, understand the importance of overall business objectives, and focus on costs versus benefits.

But is this the reality of how marketing is practiced in the digital age? It appears that many marketers have become so enamored of sexy apps and gee whiz technologies that they have lost sight of the customer fulfillment part of their jobs as well as the concepts of integration and return on investment.

I hope that as the field of social and digital marketing matures, there is room for some reflection. I suggest we go back to the future and start incorporating more customer focus and ROI in our social media marketing programs. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Understand social media audiences and focus efforts on meeting their diverse needs – There is a lot of market fragmentation occurring, but there is also a great deal of customer and marketplace data out there. Use this information or create your own data gathering or listening mechanisms. There is no reason to use a one-size-fits-all approach, or to engage with folks who do not want to participate. You want to ensure that customer experiences with your brand are as positive as you can make them.
  2. Provide content that your audience wants to hear, understands, and appreciates – Remember: sales is about pushing existing content out; marketing is about engaging on things your audience actually cares about. Don’t just publish, get feedback and make the necessary adjustments. Your objective should be to add customer value. It should be about what they want, not what you have!
  3. Integrate social and digital marketing with the rest of marketing and the organization – In order to get a holistic view of your target audience, it is helpful to connect social media marketing data with other enterprise data. It is also helpful to have internal folks on-board and participating in social media programs.
  4. Measure your return on investment – Have you set objectives? Did you meet them? If not, do you understand why? How do the objectives you set tie in with the goals of the larger organization from a strategic and financial perspective? If you do not know how to answer these questions, you should find out.
  5. Recognize channel preferences and fit – Not everyone likes to use social media, so use the channels that are most appropriate for your target audience. Just because you can develop a social media property for a product or organization doesn’t mean you should. I recently told a retail client that Facebook would not be the best channel for her specific business and suggested a more high touch approach. She was surprised, but gratified and in complete agreement.
  6. Test market before you go all-in – Before you invest a great deal of time and effort in launching something large, see if it works on a smaller scale. Do not be afraid to experiment, fail, and retry.
  7. Understand the importance of visual memory and generating interest – Make your communications as appealing and visual as possible and consider using Pinterest, Instagram and Vine to help convey your messages. But, per point 5, if your specific target audiences are not familiar with these platforms, don’t use them just because they are the latest thing.

At the end of the day, if you satisfy the needs of your clients, they will return. If your marketing programs meet their objectives, your organizations will most likely continue to support them. New and exciting will get you noticed. But even in the digital age tried, true, and on target still works!