I've been working on social media marketing campaigns now for close to 15 years. My fascination with the large paradigm shift that was occurring in marketing as a whole - from traditional print and broadcast to the digital medium - drove me to invest all of my thought and energy into understanding social media marketing. Ask anyone today and they'll tell you that that boat has sailed: digital media is the new paradigm, and yet, one would be hard pressed to find any fortune 500 company that has had a full conversion from traditional media to digital media.
The true believers predicted that the new marketing experience would be an active interaction with an evolving online community. Creating content that matters and leveraging real relationships to earn customers, combined with predictive analytics and real-time customer feedback, would be the new way of doing business. Certainly they were right as far as the expectations for brands from the online community, but the interesting thing is that many marketers have underestimated how hard it will be to move strategy and methodology on the company side.
The rational thought process would be that the difficulty in true digital marketing adoption comes from moving out of a marketing methodology that has proven results to a new frontier with less proven benefits. We know that email campaigns convert. We know that print converts. We know that TV builds awareness. And yet those conversions are inefficient and expensive, both in terms of physical cost and potential damage to brand. We know that alone, these traditional ways of looking at marketing are not matching the self-serve nature of our customers' access to our information - we're still broadcasting and not communicating. The true challenge is not a comparative measure of success between old and new methodology, but rather the issue of taking on a systematic change in the way we measure success as a whole.
Think of it this way: I'm the VP of sales at an enterprise company - what do I look for as a measurement of success? I look for actions. Email opens, call conversions from print, website traffic or foot traffic from television ads. Hard, tangible leads. And why wouldn't I?
To ask the question another way, would I be happier with a guaranteed 10 email leads on 1000 emails sent or a community that is interactive and thriving? Which would I be more likely to put budget behind?
The obvious answer (of course) is why not track digital media efforts and produce the same hard numbers? And so we are. Companies are adopting "paradigm shift light" in the form of online ads, paid promotion, and native content promotion. This is the middle ground of community management, with the levers of a lead gen campaign. I personally think this is a critical step in the evolution of digital marketing and I'm fully invested in proving out the true value of our efforts. I'm extremely pragmatic and have spoken many times on how as a marketer you must answer the ROI question - but it leaves this problem hanging out there: The inherent ability of our audience to immediately see through polished marketing messages.
Just like everything else, this skill is evolving. Contrary to the words of WC Fields, there is not a sucker born every minute. In fact, every minute a genius is born when it comes to agility of movement and discernment of real and actionable information across the digital landscape.
The next step will be from "paradigm-shift light" to "true paradigm shift". I don't believe this will mean no more TV, print, online ads, email marketing etc; I believe these current (mostly siloed) activities will all have a part to play in a broader collaborative digital marketing execution. But it will be the way they will be tied into a comprehensive and customer-focused strategy that determines the impact they will have.
When people ask me for advice as a marketer, I tell them one simple thing: "You are a consumer". The way you act is pretty much how everyone acts. Do you enjoy email spam? Do you believe sponsored content is the same as unsponsored content? How many Facebook ads do you click on?
So why would you think everyone else is any different?
And yet, you'll open an email and you'll click on an ad, provided that the marketing has given you useful information at the right time, and is coordinated with a broader collaborative message from a brand you trust.
Online lead gen as we know it will continue to have decreased viability as a standalone execution. If I am that VP watching those tried and true methodologies continue to produce less return on investment quarter over quarter, maybe I hire more people, spend more on promotion, look for more robust tools - whatever I can do to chase those past rates of return that will never materialize.
However, at some point I'm going to take another look at this idea of pure community marketing and think about how I modify my idea of success to it and not the other way around. I'll have no choice. I evolve or I die.
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