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?

Related posts:

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Luke Brynley-Jones (@lbrynleyjones)

    Nice roundup Neville. I missed the event, but caught the tweets. A couple of thoughts on this…

    Firstly, all the statistics indicate that virtually ANY engagement with a brand (barring extremely negative experiences) leads to an increased likelihood to purchase. In that sense, engagement IS marketing.

    Secondly, I think brands need to learn from the world of dating, in which the best opening line is known to be “so, tell me about yourself”. I see very few marketing campaigns with this as the by-line.

    This begs the question whether Marketing is best placed to deliver this kind of engagement. The fact is, Customer Service – which is inherently more customer-centric – is always going to deliver more value for the customer, which will result in increased lifetime value and other positive sales-oriented metrics for the brand.

    • Neville Hobson

      A good perspective, Luke, thanks.What you say makes sense, although I do believe marketing has an important role in an enterprise becoming a social business. In my view, that’s the far more significant issue.

      On its own, I don’t believe marketing – or any other organization function – can deliver the engagement required to create a new bond with the customer. It’s a collaborative and collective effort, involving the entire organization. In which case, this really is all about social business.

      It’s about changing mindsets, attitudes and behaviours inside the organization so as to be effective in genuine engagement efforts outside the organization.

      Every time I look at the Havas study, I see the huge mountain marketers (in particular) have to climb.

      Where there’s the will, there’s the way.

    • richardstacy

      Luke – very much agree that engagement based around customer service is the way to go. However, rather uncomfortable with the “engagement leads to increased likelihood to purchase” assertion in so far as this can cause organisations to see creation of engagement as being an objective in, and of, itself (or using engagement as a substitute for reach). Engagement should never been seen as a volume or reach proposition – it is a value proposition. Value tends to be created when organisations generate very high levels of engagement, but with with very small groups of people (at any one time) – which is what is happening to an extent with customer service. Currently too many brands are creating luke-warm engagement with insufficient numbers to make this low level of return cost effective. Social media is basically a low reach / high engagement concept (whereas traditional media / marketing is a high reach / low engagement game).

      • Neville Hobson

        Different sides of the same coin, it seems to me, Brad and Richard. Isn’t everything about the experience these days? Whether it’s natural, driven by the consumer, or created by the brand team, does it matter?

        I think you’re right, Brad – people want immersive experiences (but not exclusively so). Likewise, Richard, and the Coldplay scenario is a good one.

        The trouble is, the people behind brands can’t seem to tell the difference much. To your point, Richard, in your post I linked to in mine.

  2. Brad Hess (@fresholdidea)

    Great rundown of the event, Neville. And an interesting discussion coming out of it….

    As one of those 20-25 year old university grads (I’m 24, 2 years out of school, & full disclosure, I work at Sprinklr), I’ve gotta say that the future transformation required for marketers to be successful is immense. That’s sentiment shared by my peers, though maybe not in that exact verbiage (I hear more, “that ad is garbage” than “that ad campaign did not provide me with value”).

    The greatest campaigns that I’ve seen, social or otherwise, allow the customer to immerse themselves in the brand. When Richard talks about the “low reach/high engagement” value proposition, I see that as immersion. When I’m educated, entertained, inspired … that’s when I’m immersed in your brand. And, hesitant as people are to “marketing,” they are begging for this type of brand engagement.

    Creating that sort of thing is very rare, and I don’t see it getting more common any time soon. I think the big reason behind that is because so few organizations choose to adopt social media across the enterprise. Conversely to what Luke suggested, I believe that social media shouldn’t be isolated to customer service, marketing, or any other departmental silo.

    As I see it, brands need to weave social throughout their organization to provide truly immersive experiences.

    Thanks for the great post, I’ll be sure to follow this blog.

    • Neville Hobson

      Thanks, Brad, good perspectives that add to this conversation.

      You’re on the right track when you said “brands need to weave social throughout their organization to provide truly immersive experiences.” Yet it goes beyond brands and campaigns, and into the very heart of organization culture, behaviours and vision. Yes, I know, that usually means “social business.”

      But that’s exactly what this is about. Marketing is purely one element – but if marketers can get it nailed, imagine the possibilities.

    • richardstacy

      Brad – I think we need to be careful with a term like immersion. I can see how brands would like to believe it is possible for a consumer to become immersed in their brand – but consumers don’t think like this. There are times when a brand may become relevant to them – but not in a way that demands immersion (or education, inspiration or entertainment as you define it). I am not at all convinced that people are begging for this type of engagement.

      If we take the time to listen to what consumers really want from brands, I hear them saying “I want you to sit down, shut-up and pay attention to me – as an individual, not as a member of a audience or segment – precisely when I ask you to. At all other times I want you to get out of my face.” Hence the reactions in the the report Neville quoted and also, I guess, the reaction you get from your peers. People in marketing don’t want to hear this though. They want to hear that the consumer is “begging for it”.

      • Brad Hess (@fresholdidea)

        You’re definitely right – people aren’t begging for more ads. They don’t want more “marketing” and rightfully so (I know I sure don’t). But humans all have needs to fulfill. If a business is a utility, meeting human need and providing value, who wouldn’t want that?

        It’s true that people want to be heard, and they want to have interactions in their own time, on their own terms. Yet I’ll stand by my assertion that people want immersive experience. Many don’t know it, won’t admit it or will flat out deny it because of their past experience with “marketing,” but I think the desire for amazing experiences is alive and growing. Those types of experiences are just very rare because so few businesses have adopted a social infrastructure.

        • richardstacy

          True – brands shouldn’t necessary retreat from the ambition to create amazing experiences but, as I mentioned at the event, there is a time and a place (or space) for that – and the social space is not it. If I am a Coldplay fan, I want to go to a Coldplay concert and be part of the audience enjoying ‘the experience’. But if I was the only person in the audience – I wouldn’t want the band (brand) to sing, I would want them to talk to me. There is a difference between being part of a Coldplay audience versus having an audience with Coldplay. World of the audience (traditional marketing) versus world of the individual (social ‘marketing’).

          • Brad Hess (@fresholdidea)

            Interesting analogy…

            While it holds up in comparing the potential of social marketing to traditional marketing, I think it actually reinforces my belief that social IS the space for an amazing brand experience.

            That one-on-one with Coldplay would be pretty awesome. Essentially, that’s the promise of social – the chance to be heard by a band, celebrity, or brand that you could only dream of speaking to in-person before. But then again, social isn’t just one-to-one – that neglects the biggest aspect of social media. Community.

            So I can take that amazing experience at the concert with thousands of people, and expand on it with discussion. I can find other concert-goers’ YouTube videos, Tweets and Instagram pictures. Maybe I’ll post my own.

            For example, I follow Nike Running on Instagram. The discussion and interaction they create is powerful, and just one example of that concert experience blending with one-to-one interaction. The brand has become centric to the running community’s discussions, adding value and driving demand for what runners would consider to be some really cool stuff. To me, those runners donned in Nike gear, taking photos, commenting on Nike Running Instagram – that is passionately being immersed in a brand, the result of social relationship building and one brand’s strong value proposition.

            I’m curious – why can’t amazing experiences happen on social? I’ve certainly been frustrated/annoyed/fatigued by brands on social more often than I’ve been amazed, but it’s still possible. Thanks for igniting my fire, Richard … I may have to consider writing a blog post around this “immersion” idea and would love a detractor’s opinion.

            • richardstacy

              Amazing experiences can happen on social – but they are very hard to create and happen infrequently. The best experiences usually happen when a brand responds to a consumer – not a brand creating an experience for a consumer. Also, take care with community – effective communities are usually just a framework to facilitate one-to-one and when they start to more away from this, they often start to fail. A community is not an audience.

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