Don’t Advertise, Just Deliver

That advice, taken from colleague Andy Sernovitz’ latest book, “Word of Mouth Marketing,” is at the heart of the most effective social media-based marketing programs. Simply put, given the highly connected nature of consumers and the high degree of control that they have over their individual media streams, the actual experience with your brand, product, or service has more to do with successful social media marketing than anything you push onto your Facebook page.

If you take this thinking to its logical end, it says “focus on the things that drive positive conversations” rather than the conversations themselves. In other words, rather than fretting about what someone might say about you in a review, pay attention to the experiences your customers actually have. Measuring satisfaction with those experiences – instead of tangential metrics like sentiment or influence – will give you precisely the information you need to succeed on the social web.

By paying attention to the experiences you create rather than attempting (in vain) to manage the conversation after the fact, you gain in three ways:

  1. Understanding the experience you create gives you the information you need to design that experience for “maximum delight” and satisfaction.
  2. By focusing on the multiple places where experiences are delivered, you can choose the context where a conversation is most likely to occur.
  3. With the experiences themselves and the context for those experiences optimized, you can go on offense through your brand outposts – Facebook and Twitter among them – with the confidence that what is posted to or through those channels will be helpful in driving sales.

Understanding experiences as they are perceived by your customers is core to maintaining a healthy brand. My favorite approach is the Net Promoter. You can use the Net Promoter methodology and the tools available from Satmetrix to quantify results given a single, very simple question: “As a result of this experience, how likely are you to recommend me?” Anything trending below seven is a candidate for immediate review as Net Promoter scores of six or less are an indication of potential detractors. The last thing you need to do is create more negative reviews, so getting your own house in order should be one of the first things on your “social media marketing” to-do list.

Next up, consider which experiences are likely to be talked about most. When Starbucks famously closed its doors for three hours to refocus its baristas on the craft of coffee-making, the immediate press concerned how significant the act itself was. But the real proof came days, months, years later…as the actual experience in the stores was again anchored in the core experience of delivering an excellent cup of coffee in a uniquely “Starbucks” context. The recovery of the brand – look at the share price since 2008 versus the DJIA, Dunkin’ Donuts, and McDonald’s as proof – speaks for itself.


This focus on experience rather than conversation deserves a deeper look: to be clear, it’s not an “either/or” any more than promoting your brand is best done on “either this channel or that one.” The smart marketer will always favor a portfolio approach, and this certainly applies here. An active listening and response program provides the intelligence needed to know which experiences generate the most conversation and which are most in need of corrective attention. On a larger scale, social media is but one channel for outbound communication: it is best used as part of an integrated whole.

But there are limits too: in a recent Economist article, columnist Schumpeter made the point that businesses should worry less about their reputation and more about their actual output. An entire reputation-management industry has emerged with a specialty around the social web. The central promise is as suspect as the practice itself: maximize the search value of positive content (often created solely for this purpose) while burying negative content (that is itself often relevant to a consumer’s decision-making process). Schumpeter put it this way: “The biggest problem with the reputation industry is its central conceit: that the way to deal with potential threats to your reputation is to work harder at managing your reputation. The opposite is more likely: the best strategy may be to think less about managing your reputation and concentrate more on producing the best products and services you can.” Well said.

Think hard about that last line: it essentially underscores the importance of getting the experience right as the key to an effective social presence. If customers are moved to say the things you’d like to see said, you win in two ways. First, you’ve got the momentum of the market pushing you toward your goals. Second, the money you save on trying to clean up after the fact can be spent further improving your market position: lowering your cost to consumers while preserving margins or returning value to shareholders, thereby raising your market value. What’s not to like about any of those outcomes?

Getting the experience right and focusing on the most talk-worthy touch points – the points of direct interaction between your brand, product, or service and your customer – sets you up for taking maximum advantage of your social presence. Sure, people can and will say what they want about on you on Twitter. They’ll post negative comments to your Facebook page. That’s life on the social web. Beyond hate speech, clearly off-topic, or other posts that can and should be moderated (for example, removed) are best left in place. Why? Because they indicate authenticity and transparency. They build trust. If you’ve built your “reputation” on great experiences, the occasional hickey, far from causing harm, will actually help you. So leave them there. It’s in the best interest of everyone.

Back to Andy’s opening premise: “Don’t Advertise. Just Deliver.” Turn first to creating a truly delightful experience and your own customers will stand up for you. Schumpeter finished his column with an apt point of view from John Stuart Mill: “The best way to attain happiness is not to make happiness your ‘direct end,’ but to fix your mind on something else. Happiness is the incidental by-product of pursuing some other worthy goal.” It’s the same with winning the vocal advocacy of your customers: focus not on what you want, but instead on what they want. For they will in turn deliver what you really wanted all along.

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