Marketing to the consumer ‘participant’

A significant shift has happened in the relationship between “consumers” and brands. For marketers, the transformation and the speed of change caused by the evolution of technology and information have made our jobs profoundly more complex. It’s remarkable how little the marketing terminology, tools and processes, which have guided the profession for the last 60 years, have changed. The need for change is driven primarily by a shift in “consumer” expectations. We prefer “participants,” because it reflects how they expect to interact with brands. 

Performics recently sponsored S-Net, an ROI Research study of 3,000 social network users. The study examined general behaviors and preferences for social sites as well as how social sites affect friend and family relationships, including attitudes toward brands and products. The study further reinforces how social networkers wish to connect with brands.

Thirty-two percent have recommended a product, service or brand to friends via a social networking site, and on Twitter, 32% of users retweet content provided by a company or product. As I detailed in a recent blog post, customers no longer care to sit back and “consume.” They want to have a dialogue, participate and interact. Starting a social campaign that invites participation becomes more important than a “big idea,” no matter how creative or unique. The new expectations require brands to directly communicate with individuals on their own terms – and on their preferred platforms.

Although subtle nuances highlight differences in user behavior from one network to the next, we saw many similarities across social platforms. Entertainment and food brands are favorites for engagement through Facebook and Twitter. Restaurants, sports-related products, electronics, apparel and magazines/newspapers also made both top 10 lists of company types. Printable coupons, notifications of sales or special deals, and offers to win points or online currency are the top user requests for both leading social networks. These requests further prove that implementing marketing relationships with individuals who have sets of sophisticated tools at their disposal is inherently different than marketing campaigns of the past. Further, tactics like these are highly measureable, a win-win for marketers looking to understand social media ROI.

The best answer to increased participation may not be as simple as the proverbial motto “if you build it, they will come,” though an expansive opportunity exists for marketers to do more. Most social networkers follow only six or fewer companies, and less than half say most or all companies they follow do a good job of engaging them. Direct marketers looking for fans and followers should create interactions that grant the new “participant” access to the information they want at the right time and in every stage of the relationship. Then, assess what worked and continually adjust. This is the future of marketing as we know it.

Daina Middleton is CEO at Performics, a Publicis Groupe search engine specialist agency.

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