I have been privileged to take part in the 10th Anniversary of the Cluetrain Manifesto. I was made aware of and signed up for a blogging event in which 95 bloggers each write a post on the same agreed date, April 28th, about one of the “95 theses” from the Manifesto. Details about this event and Cluetrain’s history are found here. I will provide viewpoint on thesis number #89.
For years marketers like me have believed that advertising had the strength to influence consumer attitudes and behaviour. Advertising had more power when ad vehicles were few. As consumers, we were easy to get a hold of – we read the same papers, listened to the same radio programs, and watched the same television shows as everyone we knew. Marketers had it easy…but it was rare for consumers to see an ad that was relevant to them. That was ok for marketers because 2% response rate or a break-even ROI was all they required to deem a campaign successful.
These days, technology has made it increasingly difficult to reach consumers. Media has become fragmented. Access profileration has allowed the consumer to be in multiple devices simultaneously including: access from radio, TV, mobile, MP3s, search, print, billboards, videogames, IM, email, video consoles etc. Overlay the incredible explosion of the number of radio and TV channels, magazines, newspapers. This pace of change is making it increasingly difficult to pin target consumers down with a relevant message at the right place and right time.
It’s become increasingly apparent that the difficulty in reaching the consumer has been compounded over time. Access proliferation has put the consumer in control of how, when and what media they consume. At the same time these same channels are giving the tools to communicate to many people at a much faster pace. Universal McCann’s Worldwide Comparative Study on Social Media Trends, April 2008 indicates the growth of social media since 2006. Some highlights include:
- 73% of active online users have read a blog
- 45% have started their own blog
- there are over 184 million bloggers worldwide, with approx. 1/4 from China
- 57% have joined a social network
- 34% post opinions about products/brands on their site/blog
People are talking about brands to each other and surprisingly many brands are oblivious to this; or if they are aware, they don’t realize the enormous impact it has to their reputation as a company. The power shift from the corporation to the consumer is apparent. Advertising messages do not influence as effectively as marketers have always believed.
The very medium that divides the brand from the consumer also has the ability to bring them together. Consider this stat from the Universal McCann Study: 36% of active online consumers think more positively about companies that have a blog. Start-ups have easily figured this out and from day one are leveraging the conversation with the consumers to help shape and evolve their businesses. They have figured out that unless they listen and respond to the market needs, there will be no market for their product or service offering. Coming from a start-up, the lack of big marketing budgets forced me as a marketer to really understand social media if I was to effectively drive reach:
- Use the networks to bring awareness of your offering.
- Engage with relevant target groups to help you fix the current bugs and improve your product over time.
- Take it on the chin and be willing to accept the good with the bad.
- Continually engage your consumers for feedback. Develop relationships and nurture them over time. Do NOT bail on your community.
Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” provides the best illustration of the power of conversation. He points out, ” I’m convinced that ideas …. move through a population very much like a disease does….Ideas can be contagious in exactly the same way that a virus is.” It doesn’t take much effort to pass along a cool idea but the very nature of one idea being passed along from person to person can result in an epidemic. “The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread very, very quickly.” In this way, the effectiveness of word of mouth begins to produce a clear picture of the power of the individual:
Dell found out the hard way how consumer opinion could negatively impact their business. Now, the emergence of Ideastorm, and Twitter engagement has catapulted the company into social media success and has effectively put their Dell Hell days behind them.
Customers talking about brands are making it clear what they want, how they want to be serviced, and what they consider good value for their dollar. The great thing for marketers is that engaging in these discussions limits the guessing game. Companies can now provide a product or service that the customer wants….what a concept!
Other top brands are getting on the band wagon and they are capitalizing as early adopters:
- Starbucks Coffee created a site that allows users to submit suggestions to be voted on by Starbucks consumers, and the most popular suggestions are highlighted and reviewed. Their heavy presence on Twitter has also helped the company to disseminate information and gauge consumer opinion in real time.
- Zappos and CEO Tony Hsieh have become known for embracing Twitter as an essential tool for exceptional customer service. Tony, himself, through his Twitter account has become accessible and has helped personify Zappos as a company who is friendly, trustworthy and helpful. Twitter is ingrained in the company culture..so much so in fact that the Zappos site aggregates the Twitter streams.
- Ford Motor Company and its head of social media, Scott Monty have used the channel as a way to inform the public in real time of company happenings especially during periods of volatility. It was this kind of transparency in communication that helped quell much negative public opinion and, in my view, has helped elevate Ford’s brand presence above GM and Chrysler during the government bailout period.
So, for those brands that are afraid to dip their toe in this new conversation, who are afraid to engage with consumers, it will only be to their detriment. Consumers will continue to speak about your company and your brand(s) with or without you. Social media is not a fad. It will continue to grow and evolve and as new devices are invented, conversation will multiply at alarming rates. The opportunity for big brands and businesses is enormous. Begin to engage in discussions at a peer level…listen and understand…develop important relationships…and build strong brand advocacy and a sustainable model in the meantime.
Credits for this thesis go to P Furey and A Wong for some really cool slides I used from their presentations.