I attended an American Marketing Association session on “Tribal Voices – Marketing To and Through our Most Loyal Customers” on May 12 in Toronto.
It was a good session, although social network marketing received much more attention that it possibly deserved for this topic (as seems to occur every time marketers gather nowadays). It took up about 70% of the session. It’s inevitable: if marketers are at lunch mulling over the menu, we suddenly start talking FaceBook and Twitter. Perhaps, it’s just sexier than what has been working well for decades. Or, perhaps, we’re not so sure about the whole thing, so it’s more of a brag and moan, or perhaps fishing, session than a solid marketing discussion.
I was hoping there would have been more discussion concerning, as the session title suggested, utilizing a company’s most loyal customers to sell to new customers, rather than just nurturing the relationship with them. Marketers got together at 8:00 AM, and social media marketing again became the arguably undeserved centerpiece of conversation, when in fact most companies are stabbing in the dark with a dull stick when attempting social media marketing. Douglas Karr of the Marketing Tech Blog wrote an excellent piece on why Social Media Marketing is Failing.
As Karr points out, companies must already be social before entering social network marketing, which was not emphasized at the session. Inviting a conversation can do more harm than good if the company does not respond, hides, or tries to spin. Relevant cases:
- Microsoft with their new Mac Office 2011. The company has an official forum, but no Microsoft company employee ever says anything. There are apparently freelancers that semi-moderate, but their technical knowledge is lacking. Compared to what I heard from Microsoft about Xbox marketing at the session, there is obviously is a huge difference in underwhelming social marketing efforts for the Mac business crowd compared to Microsoft’s major investment in the XBox community.
- Skype, prior to being gobbled up by Redmond, recently launched a new version for Mac, which is simply awful. The company forums were full of disgruntled users, and it took the company forever to respond with anything concrete (as in restoring the old version download). To this day, it has not been forthcoming with plans on how to placate Mac users, although it has posted some wonderful “corporatespeak” on the forum.
Too many tech companies have social forums (Skype, QNAP, Roxio, Apple, Microsoft, etc. in my recent experience), but have pretty much abandoned them to users and with no corporate input, or (ouch!) they just delete threads they don’t like. Users even point this out, as in “does the company even read this stuff??” when a major problem or bug is discussed.
I heard a lot on May 12 about “we ask our customers if they’d recommend us.” Frankly, that means next to nothing, as has been proven when a better mousetrap is invented and (to mix metaphors) customers jump ship to the surprise of company execs who thought these surveyed customers were “loyal.” The real question, from my experience, is “would you recommend us and remain with us if something else came along that was very similar in price and benefits?”
Many marketers are guilty of thinking social networking is some sort of magic pill. Email had the same cachet a few years ago. No panelist at the Tribal Voices session said that social media and email are likely of value mostly in retention/loyalty, and much less so for acquisition, which is the reality. In fact, social media marketing is failing more than succeeding, and is costing companies a lot of money and resources, mainly because most companies never embraced a 2-way conversation with customers to begin with. Without doing that, the effort is likely doomed to fail. Social media is an amplifier of your company culture and customer centricity (or lack of it), not a panacea.
Some of the biggest, best ways to get current customers to bring in dollars from new customers are boring, long in the tooth, and much less sexy than social media (and often much more measurable for ROI):
- taking better care of the best 80/20 customers via special phone numbers, websites, etc., without dropping quality care of “typical customers.”
- loyalty programs that the bean counters can’t control, diminish or change… And that customers value unlike many of the programs out there currently.
- providing real value.
- delivering excellence at every customer touch point.
- old-fashioned ‘word-of-mouth’.
Unfortunately, these still-effective less-sexy traditional efforts really were not talked about much at the Verity Club that morning, and hardly ever are anymore. Anywhere. Even though these methods remain as the bread and butter of customer loyalty.