Four Tips to Put the Social Feedback Cycle to Work

E-marketing sits at the crossroads of the essential conversations inside and outside of most businesses. Outside, it’s the social Web and all that gets talked about. Inside, it’s the internal workings between the marketing and operations disciplines.

E-marketing simultaneously drives awareness — think about any online awareness campaign or e-mail effort — and sits at, or very near, the point of purchase. I received an e-mail from Amazon today based on a visit yesterday to its automotive section. Likewise, e-marketing is often part of the intelligence process that’s used to collect post-purchase data, either directly (e.g., through a survey), or indirectly (through the measurement of conversational artifacts). These are the conversation that do (or should) drive operations.

Linking these types of e-marketing programs with the internal disciplines of the firm — marketing, human resources, operations, and product development and management — is the social feedback cycle, the flow of conversational information that begins after an experience (e.g., a purchase) and then circulates around the social Web. This feedback finds its way back into the purchase funnel at the point of consideration where it becomes part of the next cycle and the next purchase evaluation process.

Simply, the social feedback cycle is a conversational loop that connects the experience of the past customer with the thought process of the next one. Bob buys it and talks about it: Diane, who finds and considers Bob’s conversation relevant, thinks about what Bob has to say before she buys. Mixed into this is your marketing message.

That’s the issue facing marketers now: their message is only part of what drives the sale. Conversations circulating on the social Web — often through some form of social media — are the other part. If you’ve ever watched waves ripple across the surface of a pond, you know how these two sources of information affect each other: when the positive crests coincide — when your promise is validated by your customer’s actual experience — the two waves amplify each other. When the waves are out of sync, they cancel each other out.

How do you keep the waves in sync? You can’t force them to line up because once they start, they travel until they dissipate completely. Your only real chance is to focus your influence on what generates these waves in the first place. Fortunately, you have almost complete control over this aspect of e-marketing in a social context.

First, you have control over your promise. Set an expectation that you can deliver on, and concentrate on bringing out the aspects of your brand, product or service that your customers will notice and appreciate. Pretty basic stuff, but a lot of what gets pushed — online and on late night TV, in particular — fails this basic test.

Don’t make this mistake: your customers and potential customers — especially if any significant component of your target market is under age 35 — are way too connected. Instead, under promise, then over deliver. “Wow” your customers. Delight them. They’ll reward you by talking, sending positive waves through the marketplace.

This brings out the second element of e-marketing over which you have control: the product or service itself.

The best way to influence your customer’s conversation is to deliver a superior experience. To do that requires a superior product. Fortunately, the social Web will deliver to your doorstep the precise specification for exactly how to build it.

What’s your role in this? Listening on the social Web and tapping the information it contains to do whatever you’re doing now, only better. Tools like Via BlogPulse, Techrigy, Cymfony, and similar platforms can help you collect, analyze, and use this information to drive operations, help HR find and hire the people you need, and influence your product developers to create blow-them-away customer experiences.

While much of this is easier said than done, here are four practical tips for e-marketers:

Take a Holistic View

Awareness drives purchase intention, and the post purchase experience drives word of mouth. Add to this the reality that word of mouth re-enters the purchase process at the point of consideration, where it combines in the mind of the next potential customer along with your original awareness message. Don’t approach it as if it were a straight line that starts with an ad and ends with a cash register. Instead, treat it as a loop and use it to build and sustain relationships.

Manage the Process, Not the Attack

Don’t shout louder than the next guy. Instead, speak softly through the experiences you create. Let your customers do the shouting because, as study after study shows, they’ll do it, and they’re more convincing anyway.

Build Feedback Into Your Marketing

Do you have ratings and reviews on your commerce Web site? Take a tip from Bazaarvoice and go one step further: use this information across your marketing efforts. Place product reviews on end-aisle displays and use recommendations in circulars. Create audio versions and use them on your hold messages. Place this information — ratings, reviews, and recommendations are social media, after all — any place your customers are likely to seek information.

Tap Existing Social Applications

Specifically, use those that are driven by feedback and participation. When BMW launched its “1” series, it supported the campaign in part with a Facebook Graffiti Wall. Enthusiasts spent an average of between three and four hours creating skins for their virtual cars. Divide 30 seconds into four hours and calculate the number of TV spots someone would have to pay 100 percent attention to in order to generate the equivalent involvement in your brand.

ProductPulse, a social application that rides on both MySpace and Facebook and generates millions of social impressions for its clients, is built around the genuine conversations and thoughts of people with something to say about the brands featured.

Ultimately, based on the conversations you uncover — along with the ones you start — market in a way that allows the natural amplification of the social Web to push your campaigns to a new game. Follow the conversations and then respond: take up residence in your organization’s operations and together change the product, refine the offer, and then push it out to the people who requested it. Close the loop, and put the social feedback cycle to work.

What’s your favorite marketing tool or service? Which one made your campaign a success? We want to know! Nominate your choice in the 2008 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards. Nominations are open until August 14. Nominate now!

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