Marketing: Redefining What It Means

If you’re feeling some angst around issues relating to content related to your brand that you may have found on the social Web, or read about regarding someone else’s brand, look no further than your own business card. The problem may be that somewhere on it, under your name perhaps, it says “Marketing.” Unlike traditional media, social media doesn’t originate with you, so you can’t control it. It originates instead in operations, where the experiences being talked about and shared on the social Web are created. Makes you feel a bit behind the eight ball, doesn’t it?

Compared with the ordered world of traditional media, social media turns a lot of what you do on its head. It isn’t that tried-and-true marketing programs, skills, disciplines, measurements, and techniques don’t matter. They do. It’s as important as ever to make potential customers aware of what you offer and to continuously reengage your current customers in your evolving offering. It’s still important to continuously reevaluate your products and services in light of competitive challenges and the changing tastes and preferences of your customers. BCG’s growth-share matrix is indeed alive and well.

What the rise of the social Web does mean is that you may need to redefine your relationship with the people, places, and processes within your enterprise and its supply chain that actually create your product or service and deliver it to your marketplace. Case in point: MySpace. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick described last week’s status change of everyone’s first MySpace friend, Tom, along with the site’s CEO like this: “It’s not a business problem that MySpace has, it’s a core user experience problem.” This is exactly the way your customers are increasingly likely to see things. They respond and talk about the product or service experience, and this in turn impacts your marketing results in ways that offline word of mouth only hinted at.

Dealing with this requires a distinctly different focus than the extreme attention most of us are used to, as we study the response to our advertising and brand positioning. The new CMO challenge is to reach past the development of the messages themselves, of what is stated or claimed, and instead go deep into what is actually delivered, taking ownership for that experience and building that into the brand messaging.

In practical terms, this means redefining your role as a marketer in terms of creating an experience and engineering that experience so that it predictably results in beneficial, vibrant conversations about your product or service instead of your ad. Going one step further, it means explicitly giving your customers the tools they need to share their experiences with others in their networks.

This is the “new old” marketing: “New” because in an age of hyper-connectivity and point-and-shoot digital media, it’s essential that the post-purchase experience be considered part of the marketing program. It’s “old” because, well, that’s way great brands, including those that have stood at the top of their competitive set for decades, have always been built.

If you’re thinking that this applies mostly to online experiences like MySpace or to a younger audience, some mainstream offline examples that drive online content and conversations are in order here:

  • Tide laundry detergent is poked at by its competitors for being overengineered, but it’s heralded by moms worldwide because it actually does get whites whiter (and does so without the need for Billy Mays and OxyClean).
  • Zappos and its internal policies guide customer service agents toward creating joy rather than meeting talk-time standards. I had the opportunity to speak to the University of Texas’ “Introduction to Advertising” students recently. I asked the class, “Has Zappos ever surprised you by sending your shoe order next-day air rather than via the ordinary ground service you’d requested and paid for?” More than a few hands were raised in response to my question.
  • Progress, a coffee shop in Austin, has little timers it clips on the side of its French presses that ensure each customer gets both an intimate, personal coffee experience and a consistently great cup of coffee.
  • Freshbooks, a Quickbooks competitor, has an intelligent listening program that allows it to delight customers stood up on blind dates with flowers, just “because.”
  • Home Depot and its in-store clinics help customers understand how to do more, the right way, with the products it sells, something I was asked about this during a video interview following ClickZ’s Social Media session at SES New York. After all, the first thing most people do after adding an outdoor deck or creating a walkable garden in the backyard is invite some friends over. In such situations, invariably, the question arises: “Wow. This looks great. How’d you do it?” Two words: Home Depot.

In each of these situations there is a distinct convergence of conventional marketing — defining a product or service, making an audience aware of the value proposition, then setting an expectation regarding the post-purchase experience — and operations. Operations is responsible for actually delivering on (or exceeding, as in the cases of Tide, Zappos, and Freshbooks) the expectations set. It’s this fundamental dependency of marketing on operations that drives successful brands. The payoff now is the favorable conversation that ensues on the social Web, a conversation that goes on to favorably impact the considered purchases of the next wave of customers as they look for content, created by people like themselves, that persuades or dissuades them as they head toward the ultimate actions: “Add to Cart” and “Check Out.”

The next time you find yourself frustrated by something you see (or fail to see) about your brand, product, or service on the social Web, take a walk over to Ops and develop a holistic solution that changes the conversation. As for your business cards and “marketing,” take heart: it’s not the word; it’s the meaning. Redefine what it means within your organization and move your brand forward, faster than you ever thought possible.

Join us for a one-day Online Marketing Summit in a city near you from May 5, 2009, to July 1, 2009. Choose from one of 11 one-day events designed to help interactive marketers do their jobs more effectively. All sessions are new this year and cover such topics as social media, e-mail marketing, search, and integrated marketing. Register 30 days in advance and get a $40 discount!

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