Back in the day, Michael Fisher saw companies spend millions understanding consumer opinions, hoping to position brands for mass appeal. But in today’s interactive social environment, one-way broadcasts won’t cut it.
“Today, I have a whole new way of collecting that feedback,” says Fisher, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the American operations of Alterian Inc., which has 130 employees and accounts for 40 percent of worldwide revenue. “The company doesn’t have to ask the consumer what they think; they’re quite active in telling you. You just have to be in the position to listen.”
Consumers are already discussing their experiences on Twitter and Facebook. Brands just need to be there to engage personally. Alterian, an integrated marketing firm, helps clients do just that.
Do more than listen. Social media monitoring applications allow you to go out and understand what people are saying across many social networks. Organizations can listen. The real challenge is that today’s consumer expects you to be doing more than listening.
Today’s consumer expects the kind of personalization and the kind of precision that they’re used to seeing, that may have manifested as a personalized direct mail component or a very structured and personalized e-mail or a phone call. Consumers are expecting that precision in the social communities.
Organizations should think long and hard about moving beyond listening and develop a way to respond to what it is they’re hearing — but in a way that is very analytical and very disciplined and very open and transparent.
If you want to engage the consumer, it can’t only be about stimulation. You have to take the monologue and turn it into a dialogue. You have to not only speak, but you have to respond and talk back. It’s a send-and-receive world that we live in today, and consumers expect it. When they don’t get it, they transact elsewhere.
Know when to engage. If a consumer says on Twitter that they don’t like this company or they don’t like this product, the onus then falls to that brand to respond appropriately. You should engage.
In some instances, somebody may say, ‘I don’t like Payless Shoes,’ and you may find the people that love Payless Shoes will come on and say, ‘Shut up, because we do.’ So there’s the whole notion of self-correction. Then you don’t need to respond because your fan base will do it.
You’ve got to have the analytical chops to measure this and to allow it to happen and to respond to it when appropriate and to allow for self-correction when appropriate.
Open the dialogue. Look at Vail Resorts. They’re not out telling you, ‘Come spend your money.’ They’re out telling you, ‘Track your improvement,’ or, ‘Measure how much fun you’ve had at one resort over another. Track how well you do against people that are skiing in the areas that you’re skiing. Build competitive communities. Engage with us.’ It’s a pretty powerful message.
Encourage people to give feedback not just on what they’ve bought from me but what other things are they doing with other products.
The consumer responds to not being sold when you just open the dialogue. Don’t promote when the consumer is looking for you to engage. Consumers sometimes will tell you, ‘Sell me this. I’m ready to buy this.’ And then you do, because they’re looking to make that transaction. But in the social world, make sure that you’re taking advantage of engagement as your strategy, not strictly selling. There’s a time and a place for it.
Integrate social strategy. If you listen to the conversation and people are completely agitated with you and you’re British Petroleum, it might not be a good time to try to sell them (gasoline). It might be a great time to tell them [about] the Save the Whales donations that you’re giving.
The data will tell you that. That data can come from all of the channels you choose to interact with consumers in. Don’t only look at what you’re hearing socially, but look at it in terms of people buying at the pump, the transaction volume decreases, people not going into your convenience mart. There’s all kinds of ways for you to see how the consumer feels — beyond social — that should indicate what you should or should not say, what you should or should not be selling (and) when you should or should not be doing it.
How to reach: Alterian Inc., (312) 704-1700 or www.alterian.com.