Social Business Impact on Marketing takes you behind the scenes in social services, event planning, investments, and professional services to see how social business and social media are changing marketing and business.
Digital social technologies and behaviors are changing marketing practices, organizations, economies, and politics because they are transforming how people discover, build, and manage relationships. According to the sociologists and anthropologists I’ve read, “sociality” is probably human beings’ most differentiating trait, so digitizing sociality is so profound that it’s difficult for us to grasp fully.
As a management consultant specializing in social business since 2006, I’ve been on the front lines, helping CMOs of B2C and B2B brands tread the fine line between vision and practicality. It is easy for anyone to talk about innovation or transformation, but conjuring their optimal business impact is like pulling rabbits out of hats. I’ve asked five CMOs to share how digital social has affected their marketing practices—or not, in some cases—before adding my insights.
My first experience with social media was when I launched my first Facebook ad campaign for a large, nationwide florist client in 2008. The campaign was a mixed success from a direct response perspective but a really efficient way to get in front of a very large audience. We also gained some great audience insights from the work.
As Director of Digital Strategy at Feeding America, I’ve overseen the entirety of our social media program for nearly four years now. This includes establishing KPIs and goals, listening, community management, influencer outreach, discrete and integrated campaigns, fan acquisition, content strategy and planning, consumer research, and the beginnings of organizational design to support the program.
…even more interesting and strategic is how we’re using social listening data to develop and refine all communication.
Our primary goal has been to drive brand awareness for Feeding America—and social media has helped. In 2010, Feeding America’s aided awareness stood at 32%; today in 2014 we’re at 40%. While donated media, especially television, has been the primary driver, social media has been the second greatest influencer on this metric. We achieved this through a combination of three types of campaigns tuned specifically and individually for fan acquisition, reach, and engagement. We’ve primarily focused on Facebook, but also Twitter and other social embassies—and ongoing content optimization has played a role in moving these metrics, too.
As useful as awareness is, even more interesting and strategic is how we’re using social listening data to develop and refine all communication. In one instance, I convinced a large cross functional team here to mine our social listening data on SNAP benefits (formerly “food stamps”) before conducting much more expensive and time consuming focus group work. We learned quickly that the majority of negative sentiment around SNAP revolved around its affordability. This led us to pivot our messaging toward the economic benefits of SNAP as every SNAP dollar spent drives nearly $2 in economic benefit in communities across the country.
In speaking with counterparts in anti-hunger organizations, using social and digital data to make brands and clients smarter is really resonating; however, very few seem to have figured out how to truly weave digital and social into strategy, creative, or operations—these insights are still tribally communicated—so there is lots of potential.
Feeding America does great work in so many ways of which people are unaware—from innovative food sourcing programs that reduce waste to logistics programs that move food around the country through our food bank network, to advocacy on Capitol Hill, to client programs that deliver food directly to neighborhoods via mobile pantries…Social media enables us to communicate about all of them through our brand messaging framework.
In terms of our “customer” relationships, we are increasingly seeing our social advocates speak out on our behalf both proactively and responsively to “defend” us when needed. I’m happy to say the social media “hunger” conversation has more than tripled over the last three years. We’re really proud to have played a key role in driving this conversation.
I have witnessed digital/social’s impact on marketing. For example, they are having a cataclysmic impact on the careers of baby boomers that are oriented to traditional (“analog”) media. I’m seeing digital and social experience as a must-have now. I’ve had the pleasure of educating a number of those my senior in the art and science of digital, and everyone has been absolutely captivated by these disciplines. They’re working even harder to become better versed in digital.
When I started at Feeding America, digital and social experience was often not considered in analog marketing roles. Now, we look for—and practically require—digital experience when considering analog and digital marketers.
Finally, we are evolving to a more distributed model for social support in content development and some community management. Therefore, I see even people who are not primarily in marketing roles becoming more socially and digitally focused. For me, having lived fully in the digital space since the late 90s, digital and social hasn’t affected my career plan—it has been my plan! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, “Thank God for the Internet!”
I’m currently the Chief Marketing Officer of Evite and BuySeasons, which are both leaders in party/event planning and management. We use social media to engage partygoers and hosts with relevant content and conversation. For example, we used social media to augment our 2014 Evite Oscars Viewing party, which enabled us to engage far more people than those who physically attended our event on Hollywood Boulevard. We also harness the power of our Evite community, which consists of content contributors, a network of party planners, and our Evite Insiders, who are our most passionate Evite hosts. Through our community, we gain constant insight into emerging trends, and we test party or product ideas.
BuySeasons, which operates ecommerce properties such as buycostumes.com and birthdayexpress.com, uses social to help create resources for celebrating seasonal occasions like Halloween but also encourage year-round dress up (Life’s Better in Costume you know). It encourages the idea that every day can be a party (think tips for sleepover, playdate, pizza, and outdoor parties, not just birthdays). By using digital social, we enable “the crowd” to share and curate ideas that benefit everyone.
… social media has yielded more direct revenues by joining social and analytics together in meaningful ways.. [it] has to be planned into the fabric of every campaign.
My career in social amped up when I joined Sears Holdings as a Divisional Vice President for Social Media and Analytics in 2009. This role was custom created to reflect to the team the growing importance of social media. When I took on the CMO role for the Seasonal, Outdoor and then Fitness, Sporting Goods, and Toys businesses at Sears/Kmart, digital marketing was key to our business. At SHC, I was a key part of the team that created Fitstudio.com, a free online fitness community backed by Sears, the nation’s leading fitness retailer. I also spearheaded the creation of our Grilling is Happiness digital campaign, rooted in the insight that grilling—an inherently social event—makes people happy.
Social media is a key tool in my marketing toolbox, and it’s no longer an “afterthought” in any of the campaigns that I design and execute. It is fully integrated into the marketing mix as it enables my brands to engage more authentically with consumers, both current and potential. It’s also critical in gathering meaningful insights and encouraging the co-creation of content. In addition, social media has yielded more direct revenues by joining social and analytics together in meaningful ways. I believe social has to be planned into the fabric of every campaign and sustained in an authentic way. Social media isn’t a tweet, a blog post, or a Facebook poll. All of these are viable tactics, of course, but social needs to be holistic, strategic, and connected to the overall mix.
Every marketer should directly understand social media; no one should just delegate it to the social media team. Social touches almost every group in my organization. PR and social are blending together and almost every traditional form of marketing today has social media attached to it (think about how many people tweet during the Super Bowl, or watch the second screen while watching TV.) Some of the best ideas that cross my desk related to social don’t come from social media experts but from people who use social media in their own lives and recognize how powerful it can be to drive business. Social media can’t be a push out a message tool—it needs to be about dialog and authentic engagement. At the end of the day, social media is a relationship tool, and good marketing is all about creating and sustaining meaningful relationships with customers, partners, and influencers. The other thing I tell my teams is that social media without strategy is not good social media.
I have driven global market and product strategy throughout the life cycle at two global telecoms and many consulting firms, so this gives me a different perspective. My teams have explicitly aimed to empower clients (brands) and their customers. My view on marketing is colored by deep and broad experience in delivering digital content.
To me, being a CMO is about finding new ways to differentiate brands in creative ways. In essence, CMOs also need to be Chief Creative Officers and look for blends of traditional and emerging messaging platforms to drive differentiation.
“Front ending” is where the traditional and emerging are smashing together to create new beautiful opportunities for branding—via that mobile app, that cool portal, that ecommerce site. Astute executives are watching, reading, and listening to these front ends, and “social” is playing a growing role.
Brands’ audio assets can create customizable digital impressions via their telecom assets (mobile and fixed phones voice mails, call waiting, call centers, IVR).
Audio is an overlooked touchpoint whose time has come as part of the front end experience. Think music, celebrity voices, movie tracks, radio, ad jingles, etc. Brands have audio branding assets that they’ve long underestimated. They can now deploy audio to realize a new synergy of traditional and emerging marketing. Brands’ audio assets can create customizable digital impressions via their telecom assets (mobile and fixed phones voice mails, call waiting, call centers, IVR, etc.). With new, SaaS-like services, brands can manage, change and optimize digital-audio touch points. Brands like Volvo, Adidas and Audi have realized the potential and are acting on it. They’re deploying harmonized and consistent audio presence via their telecom infrastructure, mostly in Europe. Audi has plans to also deploy audio assets into their global dealer network.
Integrating this technology into the social graph is already happening. Content producers are recognizing the power of audio clips enabled via apps to market movies and TV Shows. Think Walking Dead clips produced from every weekly episode and downloaded to an app for fans to do mashups on their devices and push to their voice mail greetings. Fun? Heck yeah, according to fifteen-year-old digital natives.
As CMO, I’ve driven both top and bottom lines of the P&L, launching record-setting brands, reversing business decline, and delivering critical revenue and profit gains. I am one of the rare species who has served in private, nonprofit and public sectors of the economy, strengthening organizations, and improving brand equity in multiple consumer oriented categories as well as professional services. I grow the business by taking a holistic, enterprise-wide approach to managing and improving customer experience.
The first time I actively became engaged in social business was at Lions Clubs when I initiated an ecosystem audit with CSRA in order to better understand how volunteers behave in the social media landscape. The outcome significantly impacted how we viewed social business in our organization. We formally launched an Online Communications department, and we ran several pilots at different levels of our global organization. These initiatives radically improved both quantitatively and qualitatively how we engaged with our members. The core of our strategy was to validate the members’ affiliation with the organization and the positive impact they had in their communities.
Social media has been the most efficient way to showcase our vast global network and its impact on our members every day. We [use] social media for internal marketing to improve member satisfaction.
Social media has been the most efficient way to showcase our vast global network and its impact on our members every day. We have become much more conscious of using social media for the purpose of internal marketing in order to improve member satisfaction. Other than allocating more people to it, we did not significantly increase budget or shift the spending mix towards social media; it was more a shift in mindset. We also are now using social media to actively solicit ideas, feedback, and stories from members.
As powerful as social business is, I am not sure if it has fundamentally affected the marketing profession. Marketing is the process of creating and retaining customers, so “change” has to be built into the mindset of a marketer. For example, social business has the potential to touch so many aspects of our communication with our members that it cannot be seen as “just another channel” in our toolkit. Almost everything we do has the ability to be part of our social media mix, so instead of trying to manage social media vertically from an organizational perspective (i.e., set up a department and have them do “it”), we have to think horizontally. All departments have to think about how their product can be spread through the medium and also receive member input through the channel.
There is significant hype around social business. The notion that things didn’t change much in the past is just a myth, and the notion that “everything has changed” is just hyperbole. Having said that, the significant impact of social business is the fact that customers’ voices can travel very quickly to a very large audience which has stripped away the illusion of control marketers have had for a long time. It can really test the organization’s authenticity both with its customers and other stakeholders (which includes prospective employees). It is not as easy as it was to hide. The noise level has increased so it is also much more difficult to discern what is relevant and what is just junk.
Over the last four years we have woven social aspects into all of our major marketing initiatives. This includes supporting our “Globalize Your Thinking” and “Growth. Income. Protection.” advertising campaigns with dedicated social content across all of our platforms, as well as powering the campaign microsites with socially sharable content. We recently sponsored and engaged in our first Twitter chat with investors, which was hosted by NBC Business News. We’ve also developed an exclusive community for financial advisors on our advisor website to share best practices, as part of our CEO Advisor Institute for advisor development.
While these more visible initiatives gather the limelight, we’ve been recognized in the industry for using our social channels, particularly Twitter, to share our analysis of markets and the economy as developments unfold. Financial advisors and investors are constantly looking for new perspectives, and our goal has been to share our perspective with them on the channels they use the most.
…while we don’t necessarily expect to abandon the traditional parts of our marketing mix, we have realigned internally around a digital-first mindset that underpins all of our marketing efforts.
Digital social is having an increasing impact on our stakeholder relationships and marketing. In a world in which almost 60% of the interaction between your brand and your customers happens before the customer even reaches the face-to-face channel, no brand can afford not to use all the channels available. Social and digital marketing has gone from an experimental channel to a cornerstone of our marketing campaigns. As such, we have increased our support of social with paid media over time.
Digital and social technologies are changing our business in several ways. They empower investors and advisors with timely and relevant analysis that affect their investment decisions. They also disrupt the face-to-face sales process. Interacting live with tablet based content has become the centerpiece of many advisor-investor meetings. As a content provider to advisors, we look at ways to help make these meetings more powerful.
Certain parts of our business—prospectus offerings, for example—are inherently print-based, for a variety of historical and regulatory reasons, so the creation and distribution of certain printed material will be necessary for the foreseeable future. In the long run, while we don’t necessarily expect to abandon the traditional parts of our marketing mix, we have realigned internally around a digital first mindset that underpins all of our marketing efforts.
I anticipate that digital social will have a significant impact on marketing. As marketing becomes populated by “digital natives” (people who grew up using these technologies), some aspects of social media marketing will become a core capability of the next generation of marketers. Over the long run, this will certainly impact staffing structures and hiring practices. Digital- and social-first thinking has already influenced how we go to market, how we manage crisis communications, and how we present ourselves graphically. If anything, we’re seeing the average skill level in social media rise with each new hire of digital natives. However, it’s important to recognize that merely using a technology as a consumer does not make one a marketer. We’re always looking for marketers with the ability to use the channels available to help our customers become advocates for our brand. Social media, and digital marketing as a whole, fit that model just as previous channels did.
We have a dedicated in-house team working on setting the firm’s social strategy and creating social content. We rely on agencies for a measure of support in paid social, and we work with key vendors when necessary. There will always be a place for an in-house team leading our social initiatives. While agencies and vendors are important partners, only an in-house team can truly provide the level of stewardship for the brand that we require.
Since the 1980s, I have been working digital transformation from both sides of the desk. As a chief marketer, I’ve led three firms’ marketing strategy and execution, and I’ve advised global brands on using digital technologies to transform communication and accelerate business growth as a management consultant. I’ve focused on social business since 2006.
It is difficult for me to fully describe the enormous social business opportunity for brands to increase their competitiveness and profit—once they perceive that digital social changes the cost of relationship, and relationship builds profit. As a consultant, I show brands the power of relating to people online: when brands listen to and serve people while being observed by scores of other people, they transform their relationships. Of course, these “people” are heavy users of their products and services, so the deepened relationship impacts profit.
Few CMOs or brands grasp how critical trust building is if they want to grow sustainable profits. IBM is one of the few that does: it subtitled its 2012 global study, “Winning over the empowered consumer: Why trust matters” (italics mine). The net-net is that, across eight mature and seven emerging economies, customers are cutting the number of brands from whom they buy; they spend more at the few brands they trust.
It is difficult to fully describe the social business opportunity to increase competitiveness and profit—once [CMOs] perceive that digital social changes the cost of relationship, and relationship builds profit.
Conventional marketing is imbued with outdated assumptions. Mass communications with big numbers is one example: because digital social allows groups to self-organize around causes and use cases, interacting with niche groups that correlate strongly with brand or product value propositions is a new way to engage and sell more at higher margins. But here’s the thing: customers have moved away from the product focus to emphasizing their own experiences of using products to create personally meaningful outcomes. CMOs need to move with them, and that requires them to help customers to attain their outcomes, while being observed by many more customers and prospects. Over time, this shows brands’ relevance and care. Customers want to buy from them because they show they care. It’s a delightfully efficient way to build sustainable profits. To drill down, see Digital Transformation’s Personal Issue: It’s the Key to Customer Experience.
The shift from brand/product to customer experience/outcome has a profound impact on marketing practices and careers. At most brands, traditional marketing spend line items have been shrinking because they have seen less results. Email and social media have grown. Social media is largely practiced as marketing, so until practitioners use its interactive features to empower customer outcomes, it will underperform its potential. Most of traditional marketing is being disrupted.
The great news is marketers have native skills in understanding customers, so once they understand the shift to experience/outcome; they will produce unprecedented profit and have more organizational authority than ever. There is no longer a true barrier between customers and marketers, but most marketers haven’t discovered that yet. Any CMO will tell you that her key struggle is “breaking through,” but consistently listening and responding to relevant customer outcomes is irresistible to customers and prospects. Before digital social, information on customer outcomes was practically impossible to get, and now it’s free. Carpe diem.
- Digital social fuses brand communication with individuals’ conversations, seamlessly, so it has changed the agenda. Even though large organizations have vast resources, individuals are more numerous, they talk as “volunteers” and they are often more trusted than organizations.
- This is a classic opportunity-threat scenario. CMOs can lead in two key areas: first, they can study and predict most of what stakeholders want, and they can pressure internal operations to get more explicit about capabilities that underpin how the organization can accommodate stakeholders. Second, they can be more transparent and manage stakeholder expectations in digital public. This will go a long way in increasing trust.
- Tony, Jennifer, Ken and Stephen showed that digital and social technologies are having an increasing impact on marketing, while Andres emphasized significant reuse potential in digital artifacts. The potential for touching stakeholders in meaningful ways seems unlimited.
- The glue that holds everything together is showing stakeholders that you care, that you are listening, and that you are advocating for them. This is how relationship works. Care first, and constantly, and visibly. The 20th century way was to say you cared. The 21st century way is to show people you care by supporting them, and people like them, in digital public, consistently. It’s the new way to build a sustainable business .
Learn more — Apply for Membership