With 140 Characters Comes Great Responsibility

With the introduction of social media came the birth of many new marketing channels, which businesses have fallen over each other trying to leverage and master. But, are they doing so effectively and responsibly?

Social media light bulbHistorically, when a business person speaks “off the cuff,” his or her PR staff quickly steps in to minimize any fall-out. Today, Twitter is the new “off the cuff” megaphone — but in most businesses, tweets are carefully controlled; crafted by someone in PR or marketing and often passed by legal. Despite that structure, there are plenty of instances of irresponsible business messaging (for example, Home Depot’s racist photo) and their typically instant consequences — like the loss of a job.

The world has already been exposed to President-elect Trump’s unfiltered “off-the-cuff” tweets, and his most recent slam of Boeing had an immediate impact on Boeing’s stock price — which leads me to my point.

With the introduction of social media came the birth of many new marketing channels, which businesses have fallen over each other trying to leverage and master. But, are they doing so effectively and responsibly?

Our agency posts daily tweets on behalf of several of our B-to-B clients. To keep them on topic and relevant to their brand and their followers, we are very thoughtful and selective about what we tweet and retweet under their brand name. But this does not seem to be the norm.

When looking at the tweets of those they follow, there are thousands of messages unrelated to the business at hand. During this divisive election year, there were plenty of tweets about one candidate or the other — a topic I would recommend any business shy away from unless they are looking to alienate part of their customer base. Sometimes, they share a cartoon or other form of humor; one business posts the latest stats on the chances of winning the lottery.

Are these important, responsible and relevant posts? Do they help their stakeholders feel more engaged with their brand? Or are they merely checking the box that they’ve tweeted each day?

As our email inboxes continue to fill with unwanted email solicitations, and our personal Facebook pages become overrun with commentary from our friends or family that require us to scroll by and eventually unfriend, I’d like to suggest that any business using Twitter — as a channel to promote and build relationships with their fans and future brand evangelists — should use a filter before they hit the “Tweet” button.

Tweeting is not about volume. It’s about maintaining a dialogue with your followers on relevant topics of mutual interest that serve to enhance your brand. And without applying any sort of personal filter on your efforts, there will be consequences. Just ask the guy who used to work for Home Depot.

New Ways of Thinking About Marketing in 2016

What are you to your customers? A vendor? A catalog? A funny commercial mascot? For many brands today, there’s a chance to be so much more. The key is in how you think of what you are to them.

What are you to your customers? A vendor? A catalog? A funny commercial mascot? There’s a school of thought that says that’s all you should be; that customers will say “I don’t want a relationship with my cough drops, I just want them to fix my cough.”

GrumpyCatParadigmFor many brands, new ways of thinking about marketing offer the chance to be much more. With today’s tools (social media, websites, apps, etc.), your brand has the chance not just to sell products and services, but to entertain your target market, help them make friends, or even reach their goals. The key is in how you think of what you are to your customers.

Here are four new ways of thinking about your marketing that could open a whole new world of customer connection. I’ll go into one in depth, and hit the others briefly. If you’re interested, let me know in the comments and we’ll explore them in more detail.

The Undiscovered Country
The biggest difference between online media and offline is space. Your marketing content is not constrained by air time, page counts or the budgets to get them. When a new prospect finds your company, your entire online presence is a vast new space to explore. Give them something to discover!

The Undiscovered Country is really about content, and it works best when your products or services have interesting nuances and details to talk about and stories to tell, because your goal is to get the audience to spend a lot of time exploring it. Content marketing does a lot of great things, but usually we focus on it as a way to improve SEO, or to generate leads. Here you’re using content as a way to earn prospect and customer mindshare and become an online destination.

By creating a deep content destination with articles, videos and other content that defines your space, you give fans a place to come and hang out. A place to spend time thinking about the hobby, job or task your products are used in. You become like Disney: The first brand that comes to mind and one that’s associated with entertainment and good times.

In the B-to-B space, you can see this done well by the marketing automation companies like HubSpot and Marketo. They educated marketers about lead generation, nurturing and the other marketing tactics their tools enabled through extensive blogs, downloads, webinars, studies and other content. Those things gave their audience new ideas, and exploring those ideas paid off by making that audience better at their jobs. And all of it promised there’d be more to discover if they bought into the products.

In the consumer space, think of what Red Bull does with its content marketing, completely owning certain areas of extreme sports and providing hours of discoverable, bingeable content on Red Bull TV. Or what Maybeline does with makeup tips. Or what Home Depot does with home improvement project ideas.

People spend an unbelievable amount of time looking at content online, they might as well be looking at that content with you.

What Are Some Other Ways of Thinking?
I’ve seen marketers using other strategies that I think qualify as “new ways of thinking.” And I’d be very interested to hear of ones you’ve spotted, too.

One I’ll call The Tribe is when companies use social media and the reach of online marketing to create branded communities (on their own websites, as well as on the relevant social networks) where their prospects and customers can meet like-minded individuals and discuss things related to that market. Like The Undiscovered Country, the goal is to become a destination for your target audience and earn mindshare. But it’s access to like minded individuals that brings them and keep them coming back. This works well when your product is in a niche with strong enthusiasts, especially if they’re geographically dispersed. The social sharing enabled by companies like Nike, which uses online tracking to allow runners to connect and compare their achievements, is a good example.

When I look at companies like Salesforce, or Apple when Steve Jobs was alive, I really see them leveraging what i would call The Movement. They’re not just selling a product, they’re selling a new way of approaching the world and getting adopters to evangelize it to other users. They hold huge events to build devoted fanbases that really believe (perhaps correctly, I don’t mean to be cynical about any brand using these tactics) that they’re using better tools in better ways than everyone else. Unlike The Tribe, The Movement uses live events and spaces (conventions, Apple Stores) to bring followers together to celebrate The Movement, its new products, and to have a good time with like-minded individuals. It’s a powerful tactic, and you can probably think of someone in your life who’s been swept up in one.

Finally, it’s not hard to look at what a company like Tom’s Shoes is doing and see The Mission. The Mission is about taking the focus off of the transnational aspect of your relationship with customers, and proving to them that by doing business with you they’re making the world a better place. Tom’s famously donates a pair of shoes to children for each one you buy. Jessica Alba’s Honest Company isn’t giving anything away, but they are spearheading a movement to have open, honest, simple ingredients in cleaning and beauty products people use. You could look at what Ben & Jerry’s has done for years as an example of exactly this kind of strategy (not all of these ways of thinking grew on the Internet). All of them put the focus on selling their mission, and sell products almost as an afterthought.

Take a look around at the companies that grab your attention and the potential they may or may not be cashing in on. What are some other ways of thinking to add to this list?