Can marketing become an enabler for genuine engagement?

Social in the Enterprise Today

A key underlying theme of the Social@Scale Summit in London last week was what I might call “social marketing” – the use of social media as a means unto achieving a marketing end.

Organized by Sprinklr, an enterprise social media management system vendor, the by-invitation-only Social@Scale Summit on December 10 was hosted by Microsoft and attracted some 70+ participants by my estimation. Sprinklr said it was their first such event outside the US.

What is ‘social at scale’? Sprinklr defines it thus:

Combining cutting-edge technology, corporate governance and a disciplined operational framework, social at scale enables brands to engage in a timely and relevant manner with their global audience from a single platform across multiple corporate functions and multiple social channels.

We heard from Microsoft, Dell, Intel and Medidata Solutions with case studies and presentations as well as from Spring Creek Group and Sprinklr, And there was a lively panel discussion on social media marketing campaign management best practices.

You can get a very good sense of the day from the tweets, images and other content that connected conversations via the #SocialAtScale hashtag, as this Storify timeline illustrates.

On answering the big question – can social scale? – the presentation by Georgina Lewis at Microsoft in particular showed that, yes, you really can when you align the planets, as it were, to create a framework and organization environment to enable it to happen, as suggested in the modern marketing manifesto by eConsultancy (a good model).

Foundational aspects of social business, it seems to me.

The panel discussion on social media marketing campaign management best illustrated a dilemma that confronts marketers when they talk about social media in the context of marketing.

While not everyone agreed on the role and how social media is used in the marketing mix, there was little doubt in anyone’s mind on the overall purpose of marketing that, very broadly speaking, is about delighting the customer. Or, as Wikipedia drily has it, “the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling that product or service.” (I couldn’t find a definition of marketing  on the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s website.)

And here’s the dilemma – what if  ‘the customer’ is no longer interested in being delighted in your  brand? And if marketers don’t see that shift in attitude – or just don’t believe it – and continue pumping out messaging in the brochure-speak ways of yore that the customer continues to lose faith, belief and trust in, and lacks desire in listening any more? Worse, if the pumping now also takes place across social channels, sometimes masquerading as ‘engagement’?

And worse still, the customer listens to others in his or her trusted peer group for messages about you and your brand, rather than listen to you, and makes recommendation and purchasing decisions based on that engagement activity?

If that’s the situation, then no amount  of ‘social at scale’ will make any difference to changing customer attitudes or behaviours. If anything, the picture will get uglier.

I tossed this damp squib into the discussion by mentioning the 2013 Meaningful Brands study from French marketing and communications group Havas, published in June 2013.

The underlying finding from the firm’s study is bleak and stark:

[...] Most people worldwide would not care if more than 73% of brands disappeared tomorrow.

Think about all the money spent globally on marketing, communication and public relations. Then think that for more than 73% of the companies who are spending it, their brands wouldn’t be missed if they disappeared entirely.

Only one in five brands are perceived as making a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

We see a wide difference in attachment among markets with a strong polarisation between developed and developing markets. In Europe and the US, people would not care if 92% of brands disappeared. In Latam it’s 58% and in Asia it’s 49%. In Latam and Asia people are attached six times more to brands than Western markets.

Expectations in the West are largely unmet, fueling growing lack of trust and indifference towards brands.

And also see what 20- to 25-year-old university graduates in Europe – all studying communication-related subjects – think about marketing and marcomms in a survey earlier this year.

When I wrote about Havas’ study, I mentioned three foundational steps marketers can take to convert customer indifference into curiosity and interest:

  1. Think and act more like people.
  2. It’s about other people; it’s not about you.
  3. Be honest, open, genuine and imperfect, like everyone else (aspires to be). No one is perfect.

Simple, I know – but I saw much of that on display in London last week.

As Brian Solis would say, though, social channels do not represent a means, they are enablers for engagement across every aspect of the business.

That’s the mindset required in much more than just a handful of large companies (Richard Stacy, one of the panellists in Social@Scale, has a clear message for marketers: understand and respect the difference).

Who’s going to knit it all together?

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