The emergence of online or digital marketing has seen the traditional marketing landscape undergo a drastic change, some might even call it a marketing revolution. It seems like only yesterday marketers talked about above and below the line marketing – now it’s referred to as digital and non-digital communications. The rise of social media in particular, has bought significant changes in terms of how companies communicate with their customer base. Today, more than 74% of Marketers use Facebook to generate leads for their business, so if you haven’t yet embraced digital marketing, you may as well be operating an ice cube shop in the middle of the North Pole.
Whilst every Tammy, Dee and Harriet has been quick to jump on the online bandwagon (website – tick, Facebook – tick, twitter – tick), many have been caught out by a lack of forethought and planning. Regardless of how schmick the website, how popular the Facebook page and despite the number of twitter followers you have, if you muck up, you can be crucified. Communication is no longer a one way street. Customers can, and do, talk back with the days of communicating via mass media in the hope of increasing sales or brand awareness, long gone. The revolution is here, but it isn’t necessarily in the marketers favour. Customers now have a mechanism to share and rally together if disgruntled, create trends and form class actions. The catalyst for a viral communication pandemic can be bought to life by the simple addition of the innocuous # symbol. The power lies firmly in the hands of the consumer so if you think you own your own brand, think again. Smart marketers know that it pays to view your brand as being owned by your customer base.
If you think this isn’t so, cast your mind back to the iconic Australian brand Vegemite’s woefully thought out re-branding exercise which was launched via social media. The good folks at Vegemite HQ came up with a new cheesy product which needed a name. With “Cheesymite” being too, well, obvious, they decided to run a competition and ask their customer base. Not a bad idea really, but then someone approved the “i snack 2.0” (more irritating than a yeast infection…). It tanked spectacularly and had social media go into overdrive. The name lasted a total of 5 days before being re-branded “cheeseybite”… and Kraft became a laughing stock.
The new generation of Marketing graduates will only ever work in a post digital world. They are the “i” generation that consider typography “fonts” and ensure that every image has been “instagrammed”. Whist there is no doubt that this generation will be highly effective digital marketers, there should be cause for concern that this within this ‘instant’ environment, ricocheting around at the speed of light, is a generation of social media marketing gurus. (Think ‘the whole pantry’ as just one example)…. If you are going to invest in human resources to fulfil a digital marketing role in-house, then you should at the very least ensure that they are operating within a broader marketing framework.
So in this environment, how do you protect your brand? How do you insure that social media in particular, works for you and not against you? For a start, you must go back to basics. What remains as a constant and enduring truism, at the heart of every successful business or brand is a solid brand image. One that can’t be faked or “treated’ with a light filter. If you are not continually assessing your branding and company code of conduct, if you don’t have this down pat, then you are really a ticking time bomb. This is not the glamorous end of the marketing equation. This is the grunt work that has to go into any business, service or product. You need a strong core set of values that is communicated throughout every piece of communication you send out. You need to be constantly measuring and assessing that what you are doing is aligned with your values statement. This is where the traditional marketing strategy is vital. Your online activity is really just another aspect to the traditional marketing mix and does not exist on its own. And finally, you have to be totally transparent. If you can develop a sense of ‘partnering’ with your customer base and treat them with respect, you will be rewarded. After all, those customers are the reason you have business in the first place.
Bev Strickland is a Brisbane based Marketing Trouble shooter and runs her own company Strictlymarketing. Bev specialises in the revitalisation of previously troubled ventures. (I.e. she wants your marketing problems). Strictlymarketing, we can help!