A Grain of Salt – Social Media: Do you Converse, or Convert?

I’m exceptionally happy to have chosen the career path of a marketer (even though I may not have necessarily achieved all I wanted to… yet!), because we have the chance to be exposed to some great knowledge of how new technologies can influence consumer behaviour. Unfortunately, as with every other person ever, marketers tend to get a little excited about these new things. If it’s shiny and new and everyone’s using it, then don’t we want to be one of those people? The “innovators” using new ways and techniques to stand out from the crowd, doing what we, as marketers do to cut through the static? Sure we do… But is that really our job? And do we get caught up in that excitement so much we lose sight of what we do it for? Our true purpose as marketers…?

Everything is Awesome… Isn’t It?

I recently went to a panel discussion held at UTS, a University in Sydney (Australia, for any Canadian geography knowitalls!) with three industry experts. One, a motion capture technician/electronics engineer, a medical technology expert and an urban planner. They’re currently contributing to something which I, personally, feel is going to completely change the way we interact with data in the real world (for anything! not just business, but everything, everywhere). And the things that were being discussed, ranging from thought controlled wheel-chairs and patches which track insulin levels through heart rate levels, to a visualisation of 36 million (seemingly) different Stars and the design of culturally and emotionally stimulating architecture. It was enough to make any futurist/technologist/Marketer go a little gooey legged! If you think big data is great, this will allow you do actually use it!

But, as we get excited about how technology allows us to pursue these sort of things, we need to stop and have a bit of a think about the best use and desired outcomes of such advancements. We tend to take things that are shiny and new and use them in a way which might not genuinely benefit us, or best utilise their true purpose. As the great Dr Ian Malcolm (also fictional character played by the truly great Jeff Goldblum) said:


And that was the caveat these three experts mentioned at every possible opportunity during this forum. There is so much to gain from technological advancements, but the greatest benefit doesn’t come from asking “What can we do with this?”, it comes from asking “Why are we doing this? What do we want to achieve” and questions of the like. It’s the approach of less is more and for marketers, there is no more important consideration.

Now that… is the right question

The big issue going on in the world of marketing at the moment is that of the best way to use social media to connect with consumers. The logic behind the explosion in business’s use of social media has been to facilitate a two-way conversation between themselves and consumers. Which to an extent, is the right thing to do… Think of the case of Burberry. This company used to be totally fragmented and had no real cohesive brand strategy… CEOs Chris Bailey and Angela Ahrendts took this company with no real direction, compressed it into a unified entity, drew on its historical legacy with the trench coat and then allowed Burberry consumers to participate in and drive the conversation through the “Art of the trench” campaign.

the many faces and many stories of the Burberry Trench Coat
The many faces and many stories of the Burberry Trench Coat

The great thing about this was that it built the brand under a cohesive story, it targeted its core customers and leveraged the legacy of its historic trench coat through the stories of the old coats consumers owned or, in some cases, had inherited. This was probably the best brand building exercise utilising social media in a long time, doubling their revenues to $3bn in 2012-13. This was a great strategy… For a luxury brand…Unfortunately, not everyone is Chris Bailey, not every company is Burberry… So why would many think that social media strategies for one could necessarily work for them?

Branded (Dis)Content

For many marketers, chasing meaningful, two-way conversation is a dream outcome… Unfortunately, it’s not quite the best benefit from social media… While it works well, can’t it work better? Is what we’re doing achieving the whole objective? My argument is that, in chasing great content and “buzz”, you could be forgoing the chance to fulfill the marketer’s true purpose… Driving the sale!

While there are people who want to have a conversation with your brand, who are they? Are they loyal followers of your brand? Do they already use your products? If yes, then, statistically speaking (click here for said statistics) these people don’t want to have a two-way conversation… They want to buy the brand as they always have and be rewarded for their loyalty. These people aren’t your brand advocates… If you want to have a conversation with people about the product, then advocates are your best bet, even though they might not actually buy at the time. And that’s the main point! Marketing dollars/efforts demand one outcome… return on investment. You should always communicate to consumers with the primary goal that they will end up buying your product.

And so that begs the question…

Do you Converse? Or Convert?

And, of course, the answer is… Both! There’s no fallacy in using social media as a brand building tool to ensure a unified brand identity and consistent messaging. But in doing so, remember, the people that follow/like/retweet/pin you are already doing so because of the brand building you’ve already done. The purpose of “conversation” should always aim towards making it easier for those people to buy your product more easily.

These people are interested, engaged and willing… If you were looking to hook up during a night out, then you wouldn’t think twice about getting to that particular best outcome with someone interested, engaged and willing. So when it comes to social media, why would you not make it easier for those same people to buy from you? So, yes, create a two-way dialogue, but make the rewards for doing so obvious. If you don’t you’ll find you’ll have less satisfied, less engaged customers and, in the end, less sales….

All things in moderation

The general question around how to best use social media today is definitely a timely one. We got a little carried away with wanting to be those guys who stood out the most and had the best user experiences. But in doing so, the main job of marketing, driving sales, became secondary. As marketers, we can’t forget to ask the all important questions like, even though we can do all the cool, fun stuff, why are we doing it? And, to what end?

It’s all good to have great content, but people can’t wear, drive, use or eat your content… and they certainly won’t pay for it either!


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