How Philips Turns Social Listening Into Sales

Interesting to see Philips talking about its new media strategy in Marketing Week today. If I were to pick out Philips and hold it as an example, though, it wouldn't be bringing data in-house and getting its agencies involved as early on in a campaign as possible. It would be social media listening.

Now, don't get me wrong -- the way it is transforming its approach to digital advertising is highly interesting and worth a read. However, I recently talked with Blake Cahill, the brand's global head of digital marketing, and the thing that stood out for me was its social listening. There is a lot said and written about this, but Philips is actually doing something -- and because it is actually doing something and not just talking about it, it has some fascinating examples of real-world action.

So forget empty conference speeches packed with hints and tips but no substance. Instead, consider this, for starters. Philips has a digital mission control room in The Netherlands packed with screens that tell its executives what is going on in its marketing and in the wider World Wide Web, particularly how people are talking about the brand and rivals. Perhaps even more interesting, the brand is tuned in to listen for trends.

It noticed that there was pent-up demand among men for a grooming product that fitted in between a shaver and a beard trimmer. For people who do not want either the cleanly shaven or the trimmed beard look, there was little or nothing available for smart-looking stubble. Now, this is where you need to know that Philips doesn't have marketers in the room when it analyses the World Wide Web -- the product guys are there too.

It seemed an obvious lead for a new product, not just coming from a gut feeling, but one where the company could be backed up. The product guys loved it and the social team even knew who would be good to use as a testers, not just because they were perfect for the product but they also had good reach in social. In this case, the perfect person was named Ryan and the social team went out identifying a core group of "Ryans" to test and then launch the product through. The result is the OneBlade, which keeps stubble at the user's preferred length.

It was exactly the same for women. Philips had an expensive light-based alternative to shaving or waxing called the Lumea, which was not selling quite as well as the product and sales guys were hoping. The digital command centre team looked into it and the answer was obvious -- price. However, the solution, I think, was particularly smart. Execs from different backgrounds hammered out a new way to own the product. Rather like a car, a Lumea can now be leased on a monthly basis. There's less of a risk in purchasing it, because it can always be returned, and there's less of a hole in an owner's bank balance if it is paid for monthly. The result? Sales went up and up.

Interestingly, because Philips spends so much time looking for trends through social, it has become adept at picking out audiences for each product in social which is helping with early test projects and then establishing whom to advertise final products to. It's like a virtuous circle. 

So if you ever need to convince an organisation that social listening is a great idea with implications way beyond the marketing team, Philips could well be the brand name to bring up. Not for a discussion about the potential -- but instead, the actual experience -- of a huge global company that is already reaping the rewards of making the leap in to active listening.

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