Here We Go Again ...

Relationship marketing is about quality, not quantity. This is not to say that numbers aren't important; they are. Marketing programs need critical mass to succeed. However, the numbers follow quality. Why did the Old Spice Guy attract such large numbers? Because the content was really, really good.

Take a step back. For the past 20-plus years we have heard about the need to establish one-to-one relationships with our consumers. Go back 11 years to Seth Godin's Permission Marketing and you'll find one of the ways he thought we could build these relationships was through email.

But guess what? Most companies messed that up because they started sending out email that was self-serving instead of serving their customers. Somewhere along the line the idea of delivering personalized messages to loyal and engaged customers turned into a need to get permission from the most people possible, which eventually turned into simply getting the biggest list possible.

This hit home when working with a client several years ago. We walked into the annual planning meeting to discuss the goals for the coming year. After all of the plans were presented, the person heading up the marketing organization said, "Our primary goal for the year is to add 10 million names to our email list." No financial targets. No engagement metrics. Testing and optimizing content were to be put on hold until that objective was reached. All of the energy and resources were directed toward the goal of building the biggest possible list.

Not surprisingly, the year was largely wasted. We met the goal, but other areas of the program suffered. Creativity on the content side suffered. The messages that were going out weren't personal. Revenue did not increase in proportion to the size of the list because a lot of the names being added simply never became engaged in the program. We'd shifted away from the core concepts of permission marketing (and relationship marketing) to mass marketing through a personal channel.

The same risk exists in social media. As we read about the "Social Media Revolution," about two-way dialogues, authenticity, transparency, and customer empowerment there is a specter looming beneath the surface. More and more we are hearing things like, "we need to get to 10 million Facebook Fans" and "we need to get 1,000,000 Followers on Twitter." It's like déjà vu all over again.

It's a wrong-headed approach and here's why:

1) The disconnect between "likes" and impressions: there is an underlying assumption that once a person "likes" your brand that your posts will show up in their news feed. That's not necessarily true for two reasons. First, Facebook EdgeRank determines your placement in each users newsfeed (if at all). Second, many users will hide your posts from their news feed. Click the "X" once and your posts disappear. A parallel can be drawn back to email deliverability. Simply said, not all of Facebook posts get delivered.

2) Social Media Fans don't represent new customers: another assumption of "big numbers" marketing objectives is that new fans (or followers or subscribers) represent new customers. In some cases this may be true, but as Jay Baer recently wrote in "Ra Ra Wrong. How Facebook's Cheerleaders Are Blowing Smoke", "the people that 'like' your company on Facebook already like you in the real world. Consequently, your Facebook fan page is just another way to identify, corral, and (hopefully) activate them."

3) The "relationship" is over-valued: social media seems like the ideal channel to establish a relationship with our customers. We post something to Facebook and people respond. That's good. But there is a good reason that Facebook allows us to "like" brands instead of becoming "friends." When is the last time you heard someone say, "My best friend is Diet Coke?" Or "I wish I could have a better relationship with Toyota?" You don't because consumers don't talk about brands that way. The fact is that consumers, and especially Gen Y consumers, are not interested in having a "relationship" with your brand.

Just to make the point, we recently asked a group of consumers about the "relationship" they have with different brands. Most respond that they have no interest in a "relationship," they just "like" stuff. A small percentage of consumers do want two-way dialogue and want to interact with brands. It's an important minority because of their willingness to endorse your brand to their friends, but it is a minority nonetheless, which doesn't give much credence to the idea of simply building a big list of fans.

Building a social media strategy is an imperative for any brand in today's world, but building the biggest social media list possible is a recipe for disaster. Sure, it may all simply be semantics, but we've been down this road before and there is no reason to make the same mistakes. Take your eye off of building a quality audience and the audience you end up building will be less impactful (and thus less profitable) than if you had simply focused the same resources on generating better content. Interact with your customers. Thank them when they do nice things. But most of all, engage consumers by injecting fresh and engaging content into the community.

Do these things and the numbers will come. Focus on the numbers first and your efforts will end up being wasted.

4 comments about "Here We Go Again ... ".
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  1. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, November 19, 2010 at 10:25 a.m.

    Great post. But I wish to correct you on Old Spice. That campaign was a big splash for the Ad and Social Media Industry. Not for Consumers. In fact I asked a lot of friends not in the Industry if they knew about the Old Spice Twitter Campaign. None had. Of course most of them are not on Twitter (only 6m-9m in the US are each day). And their common response? Old Spice? I liked their man on a horse commercial but I am not buying it. Even P&G stated they will have no idea if the campaign increased sales.

    The rest of this post is dead on. 90% of our Twitter and Facebook feeds are never seen just because of sheer volume. Fan Pages are pitiful for performance. And Facebook is never going to move any sales needles unless their is a major bribe which will just sink margins anyway. Nothing beats seeing something in a store or on the street anyway.

  2. Jamie Tedford from Brand Networks Inc., November 19, 2010 at 10:29 a.m.

    Seems a whole lot like an email marketing consultancy defending the dwindling relevance of the market they serve. I'll take the bait! Compare your industry "open rate" with the delivery rate of status updates to fans, and there is no comparison. Now compound that with the share-ablility of messages and content served in the newsfeed vs. email and I'm afraid the math supports investment in social over email every time. Finally, asserting Gen Y doesn't want a relationship (on Facebook) with brands would be more accurately represented with a relative comparison of their interest in receiving email from a brand. This of course would reveal Gen Y doesn't use email any longer, instead they use....wait for channels of communication. Dohh.

  3. Morgan Stewart from Trendline Interactive, November 19, 2010 at 11:36 a.m.

    Thanks for the clarification. Great points all around.

    @ Jamie
    Where in this post did we assert email is better than social media? Our point is simply that there are historical lessons social media marketers can learn from the sins of email marketers' past.

    Let me clarify: the minute you start placing more value on the SIZE of the audience over the QUALITY of the interaction with that audience you move away from what really drives VALUE in the first place. If you focus on QUALITY over QUANTITY, then the numbers will come. The growth will be slower, but it will be more sustainable than juicing the numbers through cleaver acquisition tactics.

    That said, I understand that imploring marketers to focus on quality over quantity may be offensive to agencies that focus on building big social media lists (or “communities” if you insist). Oh well.

  4. Tommy Toy from PBT Consulting, November 20, 2010 at 2:58 p.m.

    Excellent article. May help explain why location-based check-in services like Foursquare and FB Places have not made much traction. Gen-Y's simply don't want to be that "close" to a brand. They already know that brand, like it a lot or just trying to find out if they are going to like it.

    Gen-Y's are social animals. It's in their DNA. Online brand engagement and relationships are nothing to Gen-Y's. Communications is between one FB member to another. It's not with the brand. The communications is usually through chat. Offline is a whole different matter. Gen-Y's maintain close knit groups. Seth Godin called them "tribes", and he's right on.
    Commercial messages go right over their heads most of the time. If you sell them features and benefits you will lose them. They are not interested in details or being sold. What works with Gen-Xers doesn't work with Gen-Y's. With Gen-Xer's its "less hype more facts".

    Forget lengthy copy, too. Keep it simple with an attitude, like Nike's "Just do it" and Apple's "Think outside the box", McD's "I'm loving it" and Wendy's "Where's the beef?"

    With Gen-Y's your message has to be sensory, not wordy. What do I mean by this? Bombard them with exciting imagery, graphics, special effects (3D is hot), colors, sounds, slick and high-tech, smells, aromas and tastes to die for. That's how you reach this demographic.

    Your brand must have an attitude, a certain swagger and most importantly the product must be cool. I have been hammering these points from the beginning. Boomer's invented "cool". Remember how it was when you were a teen? Remember that famous image of James Dean sporting a pair of blue jeans and smoking a Camel? Or how about the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger doing that tongue thing?

    With social media brands should build relationships through their friends and followers who already "like:" their brand, are brand loyalists, or even better, brand evangelists. The original premise of social media was to create a movement, spread the word virally through word-of-mouth, remember? Brands seem to have forgotten this, and resorted to commercial offers and gimmicks like prizes.

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