The Opinion: Firms must be customer zealots, not technology zealots

24 Sep 2009

GARETH DUNLOP talks social media marketing.

I had cause to be with the marketing department of a major Irish exporter recently as we were pitching for some work. The people I met were frustrated because “Management don’t get Twitter and won’t let us tweet.”

I asked what they particularly wanted to tweet about. The response? “We’re not sure exactly what we’re going to say, but everyone’s doing it.”

Sound familiar?

It did to me. The previous day I had been asked to join a board meeting of a very vibrant and successful indigenous SME in the retail space, to give them a précis on the world of social media and online marketing.

“We use Twitter, Facebook and email marketing for our over-25market segment, and additionally Bebo for our 16–24 market segment,” their marketing director explained.

I asked her if she could tell me what targets she had set for any of these channels, or what her expectations of customer engagement were for them all. She could give me “brand enhancement and recognition” and “greater loyalty” and “increased footfall”, but that’s what I’d have said too if I didn’t know the answer.

Worst of all, though, her answer confirmed my worst fear – that she was using these channels not to engage and empathise with a community of customers, but to continue to preach, shout and sell.

The Twitter account was following 3,000+ and had just over 100 followers. The followers comprised mainly spam, contra followers, employees and suppliers. A new offer was Tweeted at least twice a week to entice this motley crew of non-customers to buy their stuff and visit their shops.

The Facebook page was a mirror image of the Twitter account. It had no personality, was diluted by family and friends, and its content was dominated by twee-sounding sales pitches.

They had 8,000 names on the email marketing list. I went to their website to discover most of them had been tricked into signing up through an ambiguous tick box – was it opt in or opt out? In short, there was no asset value in those 8,000 people, and it was unclear whether or not they had really opted in.

Let’s set aside the friend and family element of the email, Facebook and Twitter campaigns for a moment. Think seriously about how actual leads and prospects feel when they sign up, or follow, or tag as a friend.

They feel like I did last week when I received a phone call from a guy I used to be at school with. “Hey Gareth, how’s the form? Yeah, not bad, thanks, what about you? Yeah, in London now, sales director for X, can you believe it’s been 12 years since we last met, how’s the family, still playing rugby, etc? Yes, thanks, all good, family great, hung up the boots etc. Hey, just while I’m on, I was wondering could I come and show you my new product next time I’m in Belfast?”

“No, you can’t, you slimer! I’m having a shower that day as my skin is starting to crawl!”

Everyone involved in social media marketing needs to start uttering a mantra every morning before they make any decisions:

“Our customers are not stupid, our customers are not stupid”.

We’ve got to get past the obsession with numbers and big figures and impressive statistics that dominate interruption marketing.

Permission marketing is about integrity (yes, real, genuine, proper integrity, not faked integrity), sincerity, empathy, engagement and honesty. Those are hard words for marketers to embrace but they are the future. Your online customers are too savvy, too connected, too informed, too knowledgeable and have access to too much information to be sucked into cosy press releases and trite sales patter that the author barely believes.

In social media the best asset you can build is a set of engaged, opted in, loyal advocates who you motivate to buy from you and recommend you to their contacts.

Social media is not another advertising channel. It is a communications channel where your first priority is to listen rather than talk.

Gareth Dunlop is managing director of the Belfast- and Dublin-based internet agency Tibus. Its customers include Hilton Hotel Group, Lidl, Irish Internet Association, Irwin’s Bakery, Bank of Ireland, DHL Ireland and Post Office UK.

Photo: Gareth Dunlop

Read more by Gareth Dunlop:

The real reason the recession is good for marketing

The class of 2009 wants your job!

Firms need to put aside their fears and embrace the web

Online advertising overtakes TV advertising

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.