Digital and social media hold enormous potential for capturing data on customer behaviour and preferences, but how can marketers untangle and make best use of the key information?
Shellie Karabell, writing for Strategy+Business, seeks advice from David Dubois, an assistant professor of marketing at international business school INSEAD.
Dubois specialises in studying the dynamics of social influence, to reveal what makes people spread news or adopt trends – whether offline or online. He teaches future marketing managers how to distinguish important trends and opportunities from the background noise.
Insights can be drawn from various digital data sources, including social media activity, online searches and even geolocation. The comments, criticisms and understanding derived from it are most powerful when they are fed into the development of products and services – creating a ‘value loop’.
Pushing messages and pulling feedback
Dubois stresses that marketing is no longer just about pushing information out to the market. There must be a dynamic, conversational, push-pull approach, in which responses from customers and stakeholders are pulled in and used strategically.
Integration of digital insights to transform your business requires the involvement of a variety of functions – not just marketing. Dubois highlights the French hotel group AccorHotels, which broke down its old marketing, strategy, finance and HR silos so that feedback from customers could be handled effectively. Its changes included introducing company e-reputation as a factor in determining employee bonuses.
Asked how leaders can maximise the benefit of digital information, Dubois proposes a three-stage approach:
1) Social listening. Constant monitoring of social media, and use of simple analytics tools, helps your marketing team keep in tune with customers, see their conversations and experiences, and react quickly to opportunities. Oreo marketers, for instance, responded quickly to a power cut during the 2013 Super Bowl by tweeting: “You can still dunk in the dark.”
2) Digital insights. Your operational decision-making can be improved by linking digital data from social media with web data and research capabilities. At L’Oréal Paris, marketers spotted and monitored the trend for a particular hair colouring style. Acting on insights gained, it ultimately formulated, branded and positioned a new dye product.
3) Digital foresight. Integration of consumer, competitor and media digital footprints into your strategy and business model can yield new insights into your brand. Dubois points to the work of digital marketing analytics specialist Tsquared, whose intelligence enables businesses to expand their brands confidently in the right directions.
Planning to go digital
A common error is to leap into digital technology without considering it strategically. Having an app or a viral campaign may be very fashionable but they should have a strategic objective too. Another mistake is to outsource your digital work. To gain full advantage of digital marketing you must work with it and understand it yourself. You should retain control of your data and use it to the maximum.
Dubois suggests a three-point plan for in-house digital transformation of your company:
1) Create a digital memory. Keep records of your digital initiatives and the resources expended on them in each department, and compare results with expectations.
2) Acquire digital and social media analytics. This will let you see what customers and the wider population think of what you are doing. From this you can assess your public e-reputation.
3) Become digitally autonomous. To do this, incorporate points 1 and 2 into your day-to-day activities. You can then track customer and process data, and develop a culture of using it in your operations. Dubois gives the example of a sports shoe maker whose products contained electronic chips which reported where and when they were used.
Many consumers now view high-profile bloggers and tweeters as trusted advisers. Focus groups have had their day, as you can now go directly to your customers for opinions and turn that interaction into a continued conversation.
The best influencers to cultivate will depend on your brand. L’Oréal, for instance, has helped influencers set up YouTube channels in which they demonstrate their home experiments with colour and style. Meanwhile, shipping giant Maersk engages more than a million people via its Facebook community.
A changed marketing landscape
In today’s marketing landscape, consumers share marketing messages and become part of a brand’s story. Dubois contrasts the old “Procterian” marketing practices, as typified by Procter and Gamble, with a new “Potterian” approach.
Procterian marketing aims at a single cross-section of the buying public. As the brand is continually rejuvenated, marketers leave older customers behind and recruit new ones. In Potterian marketing – a term which references the Harry Potter stories – the brand grows up with its consumers. Digital marketing, with its community bonding, tends to be Potterian.
In the digital marketing age, Dubois stresses the importance of delivering and managing content and of building a narrative. He concludes by advising that you must unpack the mechanics of how people share information, and how they are influenced, if you are to make digital and social media work.
To the four Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion and place) he adds four Cs: culture, content community and connect.