Reaching a More Connected Customer Requires a More Connected Company

by Mack Collier

Over the Holidays I was reading an issue of the Wall-Street Journal about how companies are leveraging Twitter to improve its marketing.  Companies that sell cold medicines and items, especially those related to treating the flu, are closely monitoring Twitter.  They are tracking instances of people complaining on Twitter about having flu symptoms such as body aches, coughing and colds.  Then they will track where these people live, and make sure that local retailers are have sufficient inventory of any cold treatment products or medicines that the company sells.  Clorox and Kimberly-Clark (makers of Kleenex brand tissues) both reported double-digit sales growth by utilizing Twitter and online chatter to drive shipments of cold products during the previous flu season.

While this type of conversation-mining might seem revolutionary to many companies, it can seem a bit underwhelming to the customers these companies are trying to reach.  This type of functionality has long been available even in basic and free versions.  The now-defunct site provided users location-based searching based on zip code.  Even Twitter now provides this functionality, and you can even factor in user sentiment.

community building, online community

We’ve been chattering on Twitter for several years now.  When companies first arrived their goal was to market and promote.  As the above examples illustrate, now they are beginning to understand the value of listening.  One of the great marketing benefits of social media for companies is word of mouth in digital form.  Before social media and the internet, if customers in Nashville began complaining about flu-like symptoms in December, they did so via analog tools that were largely inaccessible to companies that sold products that could have helped them relieve their flu symptoms.  Today, we are increasingly using digital and social media tools, and as such, our word of mouth is now in digital form so companies can access it and act on it.

But the key is that companies must make the effort to access that customer feedback.  If your company is consistently tracking and analyzing this digital word of mouth from your customers, you will begin to notice trends and patterns.  You will begin to develop a deeper understanding of your customers.

Which means you can market more efficiently to them.  By 2014, most companies that do any business online are at least experimenting with social media.  But few companies are truly utilizing social media efficiently to drive real business growth.

If you want to be in the minority of companies that are using social media marketing correctly, start by leveraging these tools to better understand your customers.  Too many companies start using social media to better sell to customers.  That should come later.  Use this simple format:

1 – Listen first, then take what you learn and apply it to…

2 – Engaging with your customers.  Interact with them, help them, and create value for them.  That leads to…

3 – Sales

Instead, too many companies put the cart before the horse and jump in immediately trying to sell to people they don’t understand via tools they don’t understand.

Don’t put the digital cart before the digital horse.  It’s not about understanding the tools, it’s about understanding how and why your customers are using the tools.  Then you can move forward.


Jake Parent January 7, 2014 at 10:40 am

So right. Taking a mass-market approach and putting it on a social media platform does not make your marketing social.

Mack Collier January 7, 2014 at 10:59 am

Right, mass communication doesn’t usually work when interacting with an individual.

Jerome Pineau January 7, 2014 at 10:43 am

“But the key is that companies must make the effort to access that customer feedback.” – True but often it’s both disruptive and not in line with existing “processes”. Hard enough for large brands to be reactive online. Fewer have figured out how to be pro-active. Although in many cases, quite honestly, it’s not rocket science.

Mack Collier January 7, 2014 at 10:58 am

Jerome that’s really a challenge, isn’t it? Companies have built marketing and communication processes over decades, and in the last decade social media and digital marketing has come along and pretty much turned those analog processes on their ear.

The companies that succeed are the ones that are brave enough to change and adapt. As you say this stuff isn’t rocket science, but it can be uncomfortable for brands to be vulnerable enough to realize the pot of gold on the other side.

Jerome Pineau January 7, 2014 at 11:10 am

There’s an art to learning exactly how (and how far) to open the Kimono is what I always tell em :)

cathy tibbles January 7, 2014 at 1:44 pm

I’ve been practicing and trying new things on my digital channels and run into puzzles: 1) it sounds as though the room is empty (it probably is) 2) HOW do I listen – what tools? It *is* rocket science to some of us!

Jerome Pineau January 7, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Cathy, what do you mean ‘the room is empty’?

cathy tibbles January 7, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Hi Jerome, I meant that there doesn’t seem to be any conversation that is relevant to my business that I can respond to. But as Mack put it – that is a great opportunity to be proactive instead of reactive. :)

Mack Collier January 7, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Cathy if you are a small business or a startup it can definitely seem like there’s nothing being said about your business online, because that might be the case. But that’s a great opportunity for you, because it means that you have a chance to CREATE the conversation that’s happening around your business, instead of REACTING to an existing one.

For example, let’s take a typical Fortune 500 brand. It might have 5000 new company mentions a day to cull through. In other words, the conversation about that brand is being driven by other people besides the brand.

Your brand would be in a position where YOU can create the conversation around your brand. Use social media channels as ways to build brand awareness to ‘get your name out there’, so to speak.

Try to find a balance between the tools you are proficient in using, and the tools that your potential customers are using.

cathy tibbles January 7, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Thank you Mack. The challenge is in having a conversation – say on twitter – without talking about my brand. But there is always lots of interesting information that I’m passionate about within my niche… juices are flowing. now :) Thank you again!

Mack Collier January 7, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Cathy the key is to focus on having a conversation RELATED to your brand, but not strictly ABOUT your brand.

For example, if you sell home decorating products, don’t talk about your products, talk about home decorating! By having a conversation related to your brand (but not about it) you are making the conversation interesting to your potential customers! Your potential customers don’t care about your home decorating products, they care about home decorating. if you can show them how to be better home decorators, the chances are that they will be far more open to buying YOUR PRODUCTS in their home decorating proects.

Think about how to have a more customer-centric conversation around your brand. What problem does your product solve for customers? Focus on that problem and solving it, for example.

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