Your boss bursts into the meeting “I want us on twitter! We need to update Facebook! Show me the digital strategy!”
Unfortunately, over the last 10 years, this has been all too common. The cry has gone out for organisations to ‘get digital’ for fear of missing out. There are great reasons to include digital and social media approaches into your marketing, but unless it is done thoughtfully and strategically, they often end up expensive and damaging to the organisation and its brand. In many instances, these channels are used a megaphones to yell messages at people with no interest in what is being offered.
The shift to digital
There has been a massive shift to digital technology. We often hear of the ‘digital natives’ – the generations who have grown up intimately connected to digital devices, who have deep confidence or trust in these channels, and who are extremely comfortable (and have a preference for) using online services for most of their needs.
Older generations have adopted some elements of the digital world, often ‘dragged’ into the use of digital technologies by lack of choice. For example, I have seen older sales reps adamantly refuse to shift to CRM systems from paper based customer records. Often older generations will find a few elements of the digital landscape with which they are comfortable and familiar – and progress only slowly from there. They often have a lot of fear and little understanding of the systems that they see younger generations immersed in.
The problem with social media and digital implementation into business is the people who ‘demand’ that the organisation shift to digital are often not the digital natives. They know they have to get into digital, but hope like hell that someone else can make it happen for them.
There are some important things for someone considering digital and social media marketing and sales as a strategic choice needs to understand.
If your customers are under 40, they are using digital and social channels.
The uptake of digital technologies and comfort with social media in the under 40’s is incredibly high. This group, who are almost all ‘digital natives’ – do not see digital or social as anything other than normal. It is just one way that they interact with others, including businesses. They trust and appreciate digital and social methods of communication.
Even more, customers in this age group will expect businesses to have a social or digital presence. To even be on their radar a company they work with needs at least a website, if not full e-commerce. They will also want to be able to connect socially with not only the organisations, but often with the key personnel within them. If you do not have the ability to meet your customers in the digital space, they will often just go elsewhere. If your website and digital presence screams ‘1990’, then they will also go elsewhere. Your brand presence in the digital and social media spaces is as important (often MORE important) than your storefront or face to face branding as a first impression to people who are comfortable in the digital world.
If you are considering digital presence as a strategy, then don’t forget that M is for ‘mobile’. More than half of all digital interactions are now done on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets – if you have not optimised your digital approach to suit mobile devices, your customers will simply go somewhere else.
Digital as a channel, rather than a strategy
Digital and Social Media are only channels to your customer, not a ‘strategy’. Like advertising in newspapers, sending your customers an email or calling them on the telephone, it what you do in that channel which is important. If you are not adding value or enhancing their experience, they will rapidly be turned off from your messages. For digital or social marketing and sales, the channel needs to be selected for the specific customer segment on two specific criteria:
• They use the channel to gain information on topics relating to what you do
• They trust the channel and are prepared to take action within the channel, or as a result of being in the channel.
For example, if you were advertising your business for 80 year old females who are retired on Linkedin, and wanted them to input their credit card details, you may be missing the mark. Linkedin may not be the channel that they use or trust. They may not seek information of take action there – or even be present there in any significant number (I have not received many connection requests on LinkedIn from 80 year olds!)
Channel selection is absolutely critical in social and digital marketing – you have to work out where your target customers are, what channels they use and trust, and how they take action. You can then use this to build the strategy which accommodates their preferences and drives the behaviours you desire.
You are marketing to people
Regardless if you use digital channels or not, you are still marketing and selling to people. Your customers are people, and in the end the person makes the decision (based upon wholly human needs, wants and processes) and acts or responds in the digital space. Everything you do in the digital world is about connecting more deeply with people, not less. It is not about increasing distance from customer (hiding behind technology), but instead using the digital and social media channels to more deeply engage with your customer base and help them make great decisions, take actions and change behaviours.
In the end, marketing is simply a process of changing behaviour in a specified cohort of people. Anything else you spend marketing or sales money on is wasted. If you are implementing social media or digital strategies, it is critical to keep checking what behaviour will you change, what action do you want your target customers to make? It is interesting to think about the customer’s journey when considering what you use social media and digital marketing for.
A customer’s journey – AIDA
Consider that every customer has to pass along a journey from naivety to being a loyal customer. This process can be mapped out in detail in a customer flow diagram, but can be simply summarised by AIDA – Awareness (they become aware of what you offer), Interest (what you offer becomes of interest to them), Desire (they have a desire to use your product or service) and Action (they take a specific action, such as make a purchase).
Too often in digital and non-digital marketing, organisations are not thinking about the customer journey. They simply use their social media and digital channels as ‘megaphones’ to yell at their customers. If you think about most digital marketing and sales approaches, where are they targeted? A,I,D or A? What is missing?
Understanding the role of digital at each point
Your digital and social media channels can serve your customers differently at each point. How do people become aware of what you offer? How do you create interest in your product or service? In what way do you create desire to use? What do you have to do (including what do you have to stop them doing) to take action such as making a purchase?
Your actions in the digital landscape and through social media can address and support each of these points. For example, the way you build your network, the information you provide, the way you respond to other customers, the testimonials people read about you to enhance trust and social proof, the special offer or compelling need you target, the call to action, the ease of use of your website…are all critical parts of the overall experience in helping the customer on their buying journey. Each chosen interaction serving a different function and supporting their transition through different steps.
Getting it wrong can mean having a brilliant website that no-one can find. It can mean having 10,000 followers for your twitter feed, all purchased from India that will never buy your local product. It can mean having exactly the wrong set of adwords or SEO strategy in place. Getting it wrong is about wasting lots of time and money.
Information versus insight
In a world that is full of information – put any topic into Google and see exactly how many hits you get – the true value of social and digital communication is creating value for your customers through insights that speak to them. This means you remove the uncertainty of overwhelm and information and make it easy for them to engage – and value that engagement – with you. By becoming a source of valued insight, collating information and making it relevant to your target market, you build expert status and gain important commitment, engagement and trust. To do this, it is critical to find exactly the right customer to focus on.
Segmentation – finding the right customer
You cannot be all things to all people. Understanding who is perfectly served by what you offer allows you to tailor your message as well as your channel selection to match them. Digital and social media provides companies with massively improved abilities to find and activate their perfect customers.
For example, many companies want to be on Facebook and LinkedIn – but the truth is these are two channels that really speak to two completely distinct audiences. If you know which channel is preferred by your ideal customer, you can save your time and money investing in both, and focus on what makes more sense (to your customer, and therefore to you!).
Knowing your customer means you also understand their language, what else is important to them and what their key issues may be. You can then start to connect and communicate more deeply and authentically with them.
Integrating digital and non-digital approaches
Although there has been a revolution to digital, not all customers want ‘completely’ digital experiences. Often digital serves as a search and refinement tool, and they still want to talk directly to a person to answer questions or conclude a transaction. It may be that your audience would also value other communications that are non-digital (the idea of hand written thank-you cards had a massive impact in one small business – it was unexpected and the customers felt really special!), so be prepared to match their wants and needs in both the digital and non-digital realms.
Digital and social media are therefore critical parts of your overall marketing strategy, not something separate. They are fundamental marketing and sales choices and part of your overall marketing budget and effort
Metrics and big data.
Big data provides a unique way to understand our target customer, and hopefully predict their behaviour. It may be, for example, that when a target customer has a significant life event (a graduation or a wedding) that they are more likely to buy certain items, or be more interested in certain causes or ideas. New graduates might buy more business suits, for example, whilst newlyweds may be more interested in topics about preparing to start a family, for example.
Knowing who the target customers are, and understanding that significant consumer behaviour data exists, may mean that you can more accurately predict what to offer to your customers, when. This makes your marketing efforts more qualified for the customer, and more efficient and effective for you.
Equally, keeping a track on how your digital marketing and sales results are working for you is critical. It may mean that over time you change your channel or content mix to better target your customers, be more efficient and effective. Too many organisations do not monitor their digital and social media performance, and simply fail to take advantage of these insights to rapidly improve their business performance.
The digital revolution has happened. If you are not a digital native and need to catch up, then every day you wait is a day you lose customers. Remember that it is a channel strategy – digital offers a powerful new channel to connect with and engage with you r ideal customer, to establish a trusted relationship and provide them with exactly what they need to progress on their journey along their individual buying process.