Integrate to Look Out and Over Social Media Silos
Unlike most industries, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) manufacturing exists in an unusual business-to-business-to-consumer world where we buy their branded products -- not from them -- but retailers. It’s always been retail that held the keys to end-consumer relationships, while suppliers stood at arm’s length from the customer experience. Influence and insights were functions of mass media advertising to anonymous masses and focus groups as proxies for millions of consumers. No more.
Social media has brought the consumer right to the front doorsteps of CPG companies, whether they like it or not. CPG makers have responded by investing in all manner of “social extensions” to their businesses -- namely branded social network accounts, social marketing campaigns and promotions, social command centers and social customer support.
The Social “Bolt-On”
CPG organizations are notorious for adopting new technology without a plan for leveraging the investment across the company. Social media capabilities are no exception. Yet unlike most other technologies employed for internal use, social media invites consumers to become active participants in determining a company’s value. The stakes are higher, the silos are becoming deeper and executives are starting to wonder if they are prepared to deal with the fluid – and potentially volatile nature – of social media.
Anxious executives should be able to see beyond the ways social media impacts their area of responsibility. Consider some common ways social media is employed in CPG organizations today and the functions typically associated with them:
- As a brand sentiment or brand health monitor – brand marketing or consumer/shopper insights.
- A customer service (for consumers) or consumer affairs channel – contact center, consumer affairs.
- A marketing or engagement channel – marketing, shopper marketing, category management.
- A consumer, competitor or market research tool – brand marketing, consumer/shopper insights, research & development.
Of the four, the only one that implies an obligatory two-way interaction is customer service, an activity most brands are reluctant to support beyond cherry picking the loudest comments to respond to, good or bad. Fact is, consumers see any brand participation in social media as tacit agreement to participate in a dynamic and conversational medium. It’s no wonder many brands still fall victim to the out of control social media firestorm that harms brand value and sales.
Placing the “social cart” before the “consumer data horse” places CPG companies at a disadvantage, but it’s not too late to course correct. The key is to step back and develop a plan for creating an integrated view of the identifiable consumer interactions that includes those within social media.
Doing so serves two purposes:
- One, it bridges the gap between all social activities and other digital marketing channels (mainly brand websites and email). It’s been proven that brand website visitors spend more money and buy more often than consumers who do not. Just like shoppers this audience can be segmented according to less profitable coupon seekers who contribute to volume, versus brand champions who are more profitable because they buy based on value. So using social channels to build and maintain direct connections with identifiable consumers drives volume and profit.
- Two, it serves to stitch together consumer interaction data from social media and direct communication channels, such as brand websites and email subscription lists. This standardized, integrated and living source of consumer insight then serves the role as a “consumer interaction master.” It also supports better brand website content development and curation – key to attracting, maintaining and growing an audience of consumers who spend more on your brands.
Brands struggle with the concept of “social customer support,” given the many thousands of conversations that happen daily in social media. Even if an agency monitors conversations on behalf of brands, or commercial social media engagement software is employed, these align to silos associated with brand marketing or consumer affairs. The resulting insights are beyond the grasp of other roles and also lack context for the brand’s history with those consumers in other digital channels.
Possessing integrated consumer interaction data helps divine social media for the conversations, consumers, shoppers, competitors and influencers that matter. It helps address such questions as:
- Not all opinions in social media matter to your brands. Can you identify the ones that do? Can you discern actual consumers of your brands?
- Whether someone is a consumer or your brands or not, can you identify especially influential people who can help or harm your brands?
- Can you resolve people in social channels to those you have a pre-existing interaction history with to inform a response?
- Should your loyalty program integrate with social channels?
- How do you engage? Are interactions handled personally or can some be automated? Should this be assigned to your call center, consumer affairs group, or an agency?
- Social media can act as a sort of crowd sourcing proxy to test ideas: marketing messages or product concepts. It can likewise act as a competitor and marketplace monitor to a similar end (for ideas based on competitor moves, consumer comments, competitor vulnerabilities). Some opinions are more valuable than others – how do you know the difference?
- In the high tech industry, social media data is being employed to make supply chain decisions – not about product supply to better meet demand, but product creation input decisions based on consumer sentiment and which impact engineering, sourcing and production costs. Again, how do you know which consumer sentiments are most reliable?
Social media silos cannot support these varied decisions, which impact all areas of the CPG organization. An integrated approach to social media interaction data that includes all consumer touch points can. Although retailers continue to own the last mile of the purchase journey, CPG direct to consumer sales are coming online every day. Without such a rich source of interactive consumer data to springboard off of, it will be challenging to execute those strategies successfully.
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