Thursday, May 7, 2009

The customer-shaped hole in marketing

Been reading a lot about marketing cutbacks lately. Many analyst firms want to talk about how to maximize dollars in recessionary times, and about cool things like social media as a good investment. But there’s a huge hole in this conversation. That hole is in the shape of a customer.

Let’s call out two examples: Regardless of whether or not 50% of the 114 interactive marketers using social media that Forrester surveyed plan to increase social technology spending this year, and regardless of how little investment that takes, its customer metrics that will matter at the end of the day. Same for the IDC's marketing barometer study, which looked at b-to-b marketing trends for the first quarter of 2009, and found spending down 10% on average. Spending on marketing automation, it concluded, will remain stable. But until companies identify the results of marketing automation, all this recessionary strategy talk is bluster.

Marketing activity should result in stronger customer relationships. If a company can capitalize on a recession to build stronger relationships, that‘s a good strategy. If marketing is used as a budget cutting placeholder until good times return, it might as well throw that money away. Right now anyway, stronger customer relationships from social media are tough to prove. Yes, they’re cheap to execute. But if my company gets you as a follower or friend, that’s not enough. I need to know if you are going to be a new customer, a more valuable one, and/or one that will evangelize my company and its products.

There are some efforts that recognize budget constraints and keep the customer first. I like what Nissan has done with its campaign for the “mobile hub.” It gives owners and potential owners a reason to engage with the product and the brand. It uses new technology and it does so to enrich the customer experience. And it can be measured in terms of views, downloads, and unique visitors. Starbucks, even with their somewhat weak new positioning, has done a great job with “Starbucks ideas.” That website allows customers to suggest everything from more caffeine free ices drinks to more clocks in the store. Once again, it engages customers, and it’s measurable.

And both of them are a hell of a lot cheaper than a 30 second prime time TV spot. If you have thoughts or more customer-centric examples, I’d love to hear about them.

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