Social media has changed the way marketers look at things, according to Felix Velarde, managing director for customer engagement agency Underwired, who explains here why social shouldn't be seen as a channel in its own right, but it has shown brands that the consumer has a powerful voice.
The voice of the customer has been given weight, and in fact the advent of social media has brought into sharp relief the fact that what the customer says can propagate rapidly, sometimes changing the course of brand perception.
The customer could even be said to have power over a brand's destiny that is out of the marketer's hands. The notion that brands may have to react to the preponderance of opinion, gathered in the social sphere in plain public view (as opposed to hidden in one to one correspondence or at the dinner table or in the checkout queue), is novel and for some quite startling.
Digital has delivered a real shift in power, and we as marketers are having to react to - and not drive - this. Marketing is no longer about telling, it's about listening. As, of course, it should be.
Listening is enabled by digital channels and these are of course not constrained to the social channels like Facebook, Twitter and the others. Listening is facilitated at every touch point, from B2B's cornerstone of reverse IP lookups to Google's AdWords, from the landing page to the shopping basket, through eCRM and the email or mobile-driven comms we use to engender loyalty and ultimately advocacy (back to social). Digital has empowered us by giving us the ability to understand how customers behave throughout their digital life, and map that to touch points and moments of truth as they apply to the intersection between their lives and our brand stories.
But marketing is much more than just digital. Consumers' lives are not wholly lived online. Some of the critical touch points happen out there in real life, in store, at venues, walking down the street. So it is imperative that as marketers we understand that we need to meet our customers, create those intersections, wherever and whenever they are most appropriate.
This idea of Total Customer Engagement requires "joined-up thinking". It requires an understanding not only that customers have behaviour, but that they have behaviour that shifts over time and according to venue, digital or not. And this plays back to the central power shift.
As marketers we must recognise that the customer journey is not a journey we put our customers into (though of course this thinking does stem from the more perceptive eCRM agencies), it is a journey we need to identify - that the customers are on in their own right. Our job is to understand their needs states, their attitudes and their paths, so we can meet them. Our role as planners is to map them, and to target our comms cleverly, both in terms of venue or channel and the appropriateness of message type given their mind state at the moment we engage.
A shift of power
The power has shifted from the brand to the customer, so we can no longer simply broadcast and hope for the best. We now have to be more precise, and this requires two things: the ability to gather and interpret data (whether digital or otherwise), and the ability to serve a coherent brand story through whichever channel is most able to serve the purpose of each interaction. In turn, this requires us to be able to manage multiple marketing disciplines - and that may indicate where the real shift in thinking lies.
As marketers we can no longer afford to think in terms of social, or digital or traditional marketing. We have got to think about customer marketing. We need agencies and suppliers who are happy to work together, not as specialists with specialist strategic offerings, but as coherent deliverers of a unified customer journey, one which matches the customer's pace and place.
Total Customer Engagement is a new way of thinking about marketing, and it is one that Forrester identified as "mediation rather than execution". In other words, it's the way of the customer - and it's the way of the future.