Always About Engagement

We get in our own grooves. We do. Because we know what we’ve experienced and what we like. And that makes it easier and more natural to do those “traditional” things and do them well. While each of us marketers who have been around the block also have some sense there are a few things we don’t know. So, we experiment with new ideas our agencies bring us to try, we test them a bit and learn. We think that’s sufficient. But I’m thinking there’s something most of us are missing.

Today in the online marketing arena, even agencies are lacking an overall view. They, too, are experimenting with online tools to understand what is possible. So over the past six months, my team and I has been doing a bunch of fact-finding and discovery to figure out what has changed in the field of go-to-market. During that time, we’ve studied online web marketing as one big source of innovation. Our purpose was to take off the blinders about what was cool, and think about what it can mean as a source of market power and business strategy.

What I see is that there is something we can do online–something not broadly known by anyone (yet–and I want to share that here. I’m convinced that when we know what is possible to accomplish online, we’ll grow in our ability to address our customers better and create a deeper connection. And thus grow our revenues and own the market. (After all, it is all about winning!)

Two important questions: Whether and Why
While we know that online marketing (viral videos, Second Life participation, user-generated content) are “way cool,” what we don’t know is whether it’s worth doing and why. There’s absolutely no data to go on. After all, who hasn’t read the Fortune article about Second Life that catalogs companies like Sun, IBM, and Cisco retreating from the site. [] I can’t imagine a hotter article in recent history on the marketing crowd circuit.

Making investment decisions is an art. It’s knowing what works, for what purpose. A great marketer needs to know what to do to drive awareness, consideration, preference and purchase as part of a mix of knowledge about what is relevant to the audience, what works, what is cost effective, and ultimately what delivers results. But what if we don’t know what results we’re looking for? If we don’t know what the new online tools can achieve, then it’s definitely hard to measure it, right?

While almost every company is at least experimenting with Internet marketing, many are frustrated because they don’t have a strategic framework for understanding what can be accomplished when marketing online, when to use which online marketing tools, and what rules drive success. In the absence of such a framework, too many online programs are driven by coolness or enthusiasm rather than rational market planning. And perhaps that’s why so many folks are doing some “experimentation” with online marketing but not really clear about whether to jump in with both feet (and bring their marketing budget with them). There’s several statistics about marketing folks leaving their dollars in print and traditional advertising vehicles, even while their target audience lives more online.

From an AMA survey of senior-level marketers:

  • About half intend to keep spending in magazines and newspapers at current levels
  • 26% plan to shift dollars away from magazines to other media
  • 21% are doing the same with their newspaper budgets
  • 54% said they’re only “somewhat satisfied” with current (traditional) measurement
  • 45% say it’s very important to improve the accuracy of their reporting
  • 51% want more detailed information about user engagement and interaction
  • 74% are redirecting print budgets to the Internet

So we know that 74% are moving print budgets, but the fundamental truth behind the AMA statistics is that most don’t know what metric measures their new success. People don’t know what they’re now aiming for. Once we understand what new things we can achieve, we can find the metrics to measure them. Measurement follows strategy.

We are learning what’s changing against our old models
There’s a lot of guidance available in conferences and seminars, but most of it is either too high level or too tactical. We’ve all heard keynote speakers declare things like “marketing is dead” or “traditional mass media is over,” but that doesn’t really tell a marketing executive what to do (other than to prep their resume). At the same time, most of what’s discussed in online marketing workshops is extremely tactical–things like guidelines for CEO blogging, search engine optimization, and our current favorite, viral video campaigns. There’s a hole between high level vision and in-the-dirt implementation. You need a bridge that gets you from one to the other.

Maybe a good way to look at it is to compare it to what we’ve traditionally done for to develop awareness, consideration, preference and purchase, which new tools are often applied and the differences:

This is not the whole story
What does and doesn’t change when you market online? What I’ve just suggested in the table above is that the traditional a/c/p/p mix of stuff can be driven more effectively. The new world of Internet marketing is both an extension and a redefinition of traditional marketing. The move from one-way mass marketing to two-way individualized marketing challenges us all to rethink not just how we market, but what we’re trying to accomplish when we market. When used correctly, the new Internet marketing helps companies build dramatically deeper bonds with customers, define markets much more precisely, and develop new ways of generating value.

So that much is worth figuring out.

But wait, there’s more
Here’s the mistake I see most companies making: they use new online marketing tools to pursue traditional marketing goals such as driving awareness, consideration, etc.

It’s a mistake because the rules of traditional marketing were shaped by what could be accomplished using one-way mass media. Frankly, it was the only tool we had available–even just a few years ago. Now that Internet media enables two-way communication, the whole idea of moving customers through a structured consideration process needs to be revised.

Its about engagement
The central goal of online marketing isn’t awareness, it’s engagement. And the five key tools to produce engagement are affinity, personality, community, co-creation, and advocacy. Engagement is getting the customer involved with your company, with your products and often, with your people. You want your customers to get to know your organization, its values and services. When customers like what they see and experience, the relationship deepens and it leads to affinity.

Affinity–say what?
Affinity is leveraging the depth and interactivity of the Web to create a memorable relationship with the customer. Some of the best techniques for building affinity include being useful when a customer’s not buying, sharing obsessions, extending the product online, and creating cool experiences.

Personality replaces traditional brand marketing
Personality is how your company interacts with the world, both emotionally and rationally. The company’s personality must be both distinctive and genuine. Unlike a brand image, it can’t be faked. Your company’s culture constrains the personality you can build online. For example, a company that tells its employees, customers, partners and the public that it’s green then doesn’t recycle its tech waste is going against its personality. This behavior is inconsistent–and it can also harm your firm’s ability to develop a community.

The big C word actually does matter
Community as a marketing tool challenges almost every expectation of traditional marketing. Instead of controlling the marketing process, the company hosts a social interaction in which customers develop most of the content. But good communities don’t generally grow on their own–most effective ones are carefully cultivated and subtly supervised. A company that takes the wrong steps can easily kill a community before it even gets started. Communities at their optimum foster sharing, involve influencers and fans, and lead to involved customers who may even want to be co-creators with your company.

And then there’s the “C-C” term that also matters
Co-creators enjoy your product or services so much that they want to build on top of something you’ve already done–or create something new that could be used with your product line. A fan who decides they want to make shoe laces with a school name woven in to match the basketball shoes you’ve manufactured is one example. It’s the process of engaging customers online to help design the product. When done right, this can be very powerful and provide real revenue benefits. It can also be very intimidating to an existing company that’s used to doing all the thinking for its customers. It really requires a change in mind set. This goes back to interaction, which I mentioned when we spoke about personality.

Preference in an entirely new form–advocacy
Advocacy is a new way to describe customers who used to be considered hobbyists. But these folks go far beyond what we’ve known. They’re users of a product or service who like tinkering with it beyond what the normal user might do. Whatever camera, software or appliance they’re using, the customer advocate, or influencer, is working on the cutting edge. They may take apart, then reconstruct, your product. They may develop companion services. They may mashup your product or services with something they developed. Working with “influencers” is a very hot topic in online marketing, but it assumes that there’s a small group of people in the population who drive purchases of all products. The reality is much more complicated. A company’s goal should be identifying, caring for, and training advocates–customers who are willing to help market your products to others. That’s very different from sending press releases to a few influential bloggers.

Change can be good
In a good way, yes. Marketing done right is about more than just communicating to customers–it’s about shaping your company’s offerings to match the needs of the marketplace. The Internet enables new business models, including one-to-many communication that we could have only dreamed about previously. It provides us with tools we can use to guard against competitors, and lets us explore new possibilities. There’s tremendous opportunity here for CEOs and marketing folk.
Internet marketing is a competitive weapon that can be used to underscore our leadership. Let’s think about what we can achieve with these new approaches and whether that matters to our company goals and then we’ll know what we want to harness to lead.

I look forward to seeing this notion of what matters online evolve. Let me know what you think.

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