Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Changing the Marketing Social Compact With Our Best Customers

In the traditional media model, there was essentially an agreement that in exchange for free or very low cost information and entertainment, the consumer would see and process ads. That arrangement is evolving, of course. One of the most interesting aspects of that evolution is the need to deliver more value for a given amount of consumer attention.

That value can be an overt exchange, like Solve Media’s Captcha replacements that let consumers “pay attention” instead of money for premium content. Or it can be a bit more indirect, as with Red Bull’s TV programming in Austria. In that case, the brand has entered the media business in order to “deserve” the respect and loyalty of its youthful, hip target.

But one of the most interesting changes is in brands recognizing that individual experience and attention are becoming an increasing important part of the equation. We’ve gone from the world of my childhood, where most people would accept service shortcomings as a part of life, to one in which millions of people expect to be able to post a complaint or a kudo on Twitter and get an immediate response.

Promotions and how they are targeted and structured are another interesting area of change. I’m going to make a generalization here – that in the past, most promotional activity was designed to get a new or lapsed user to connect or reconnect with a brand. We hoped, for example, that a trial size or FSI coupon would attract new people or foster an incremental purchase.

There was something about that that always smelled fishy to me – that brands were far less likely to focus efforts on their best customers, choosing instead to concentrate on getting brand switchers to buy today. Think about all the times you’ve heard “Offer for new customers only” and simply accepted it as a standard marketing tactic.

It’s clear that the socialization of media is bringing with it the need to focus on loyalists. Because:

· They are driving so much of the discussion and brand perception out there about our brands.

· They have great transparency into how and where we spend our money.

· They have the power to evangelize (or not) our offerings to potentially HUGE audiences – so much so that the actions of a single individual can ripple into movement of our business needles.

· They EXPECT to be rewarded for loyalty with more than just the basic product experience.

That’s the real importance of social in my view – the shift it requires in our thinking to caring about consumers as individuals, and about ensuring a great product experience every time. And when we don’t provide one, the willingness to admit our mistakes and try to make good on our product pledge.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because so many of the next generation of digital media and promotional vehicles are focused on being better to users. Like mobile platforms that deliver coupons to consumers in store for brands they were planning to buy anyway. In the old days, we used to call that “subsidizing our users” and it was considered about as bad as things got in marketing. But the reality is that all promotional activities were subsidizing users -- it’s just that the benefits went to the fickle instead of the loyal.

From a media perspective, I think it means focusing a lot more advertising and marketing dollars on loyalists instead of irregular or lapsed users. Not bombarding them with bad 728s, but rather creating marketing experiences that add value to their lives. One interesting example of this is Nearbuy Systems, which helps retailers better please people already in their stores by offering hyperlocal services through their mobile phones. Want to know where the Nutella is? The platform can give you indoor turn by turn instructions to get you to within three feet of the jars of chocolaty goodness. How cool is that. It also lets users get immediate attention from real employees, right where they are standing.

I’ve never spoken to the people at Nearbuy, but I use this as an example because it offers the contrast. Of a retailer creating better brand experiences for people already in the aisles, versus mailing a big splashy offer to fill transferred prescriptions for less money. Or similar trial builder ploy.

I’m not suggesting that we forget trial as a marketing task, but rather that we must place our best consumers at the head of the line for marketing largesse, not at the foot. They expect to be first in our minds. And they deserve to be as well.

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