Marketing and Operations Take Another Step Closer

Blog Council’s announcement last week caught my attention: Bob Pearson, Dell’s head of social media, is taking over as president of Blog Council.

First, a bit about Pearson and why this new role matters. As the architect and leader of Dell’s social media program, his work has contributed to the model that other global enterprises have followed when adding social media-based marketing practices and techniques to their overall mix. Pearson believes strongly in the emerging social Web as a place for marketers choosing to follow the basic principals of customer orientation, disclosure, transparency, and meaningful participation. GasPedal CEO Andy Sernovitz has published an in-depth interview here with Pearson. (The Blog Council, a community of senior executives in charge of social media, is a project of GasPedal, a consultancy.)

In the move to the Blog Council, Pearson brings insight and tactical skill. What’s more, his appointment underscores the growing recognition among enterprise-class businesses, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and home-based businesses that invest time and money in understanding how social media drives success. Being on the leading edge can be risky and lonely. As established professionals begin to appear in high-profile roles built around social disciplines, those working in relative anonymity will welcome the momentum and support.

In my column “How Individuals Can Build a Robust Social Presence,” I talked about the development of a professional brand via the application of social media techniques. Pearson’s appointment raises the stakes for those pursuing social media-based marketing, whether as a profession in its own right or as an adjunct discipline to a current skill set. Simply put, the designation of social media expert is quickly being recast in terms of actual standards rather than self-proclamation. This is another forward movement for social media as it applies to business. Dan Schawbel’s new book, “Me 2.0,” provides a great treatment of the essential elements in building a professional brand. Applying the basic tenets of branding to the creation of contemporary social presence is a great move for those seeking to increase influence inside organizations of any type.

Finally, and most important, Pearson’s new role with the Blog Council signals a basic fact that is simultaneously exciting and seriously challenging to the status quo: social media is way more than a marketing tool. Social media and the social Web are transforming the entire enterprise right along with the marketplace, bringing authenticity and openness to every department, just as it does across the conversations between consumers that impact the efforts of the marketers wanting to serve them. Readers of my book will no doubt recognize the significance of the social Web and its importance well beyond marketing. Part two of my book is devoted to the now-merged roles of operations, the organization under the chief operating officer (COO) or its equivalent, and marketing, typically headed by the CMO. Current CMOs have an average job tenure measured in tens of months. For COOs, the average job tenure is measured in tens of years.

Why the difference in average tenure? For the past 5 to 10 years, it could be explained by what’s now called social media. Consumers have been steadily chipping away at a marketer’s ability to influence a mass audience. First, it was fragmentation: Jim Stengel, former Proctor & Gamble CMO, noted that in the mid-’60s, 80 percent of all U.S. adults could be reached with three :60 spots. By 2002, it required over 100 ads to do the same thing. Next, as now-common digital tools first emerged, we saw the rise of ad avoidance — whether passive (e.g., the casual use of DVRs, or “millennial multitasking”) or active (e.g., sign up for Do Not Call and similar). Beginning with the advent of Web 2.0 about five years ago, it’s now the full-on press of digitally connected, technologically savvy consumers motivated by a challenging economic environment to seek out the absolute highest value in any purchase, from a new car to a tube of toothpaste.

CMOs, perhaps more than anyone else in the organization, have been caught in this two-sided attack on traditional media. The CMO is often on the receiving end of the product or service: Departmental silos have largely walled-off marketing-driven innovation outside of the small portion of companies actually set up to directly tap customer sentiment. At the same time, the CMO is also on the receiving end of social media: Most firms say they are still evaluating their response as it applies to social media.

And conversations are proceeding regardless. So the CMO is tasked with selling something she didn’t create to an audience that is skeptical of what she has to say, with little ability to do anything about either one. How long would anyone last in that job?

The social Web — and in particular, the application of its principals inside the organization — is forcing a change. It is forcing the realignment of operations and marketing in ways that tap the valuable marketplace insights of seasoned CMOs and connecting them to the executional skills of COOs, all around customers’ wishes. As executives like Bob Pearson step into increasingly visible and influential roles, this change, this fusion of marketing and operations driven by the social Web, will become more pronounced. That’s good news for all of us.

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