It’s unfortunately rare I learn of people who, in my opinion, speak the truth in a way that makes me never want to stop learning from them. Debra Ellis is the newest member of my unofficial Truth Club.
I’m not exactly sure how I found Debra’s blog, but upon reading a post for the first time, I was hooked. Not only was it well written, it made me say out loud, “I love this lady!” It was direct and clearly rooted in years of experience. It was unwavering and far from theoretical. It’s tough to describe, but there is a difference between experience talking and talk that uses all the right buzzwords and jargon. Debra is the former.
Like talk radio show host and best-selling author Dave Ramsey does for me for finances and business management, Debra gives me comfort and a true North to follow when it comes to marketing. Here’s my e-chat with her about social media and marketing in all its candor and richness.
1. Business owners are busy people. How do you help them fold in sustainable marketing programs?
Most of the marketing programs that fail do so because they weren’t properly executed. A great strategy won’t work without implementation. Once the best strategy has been determined, we work with our clients to create systems and processes that fit with their technology infrastructure and work schedules. Integrating the strategy into the existing structure is the key to sustainability. We provide a systematic approach that evaluates each stage by cost and return before recommending change.
The two most challenging areas are social media and the integration of departments so customers have a seamless experience from the initial marketing touch to satisfactory completion of the sale. Social media participation is time-consuming and can easily derail the best planned day. We help people implement a schedule that includes regular updates and tools to notify them when their community has responded. This is especially important when the community is being built. There is no reason to dedicate full-time staff to an inactive network. Our approach allows the company to grow their network without a heavy upfront investment.
Maximizing the return from customer acquisition investment is critical to a company’s long-term success. Historically, marketing and customer care don’t work together. We help bridge the gaps by removing bottlenecks and improving communication between the departments. The process can be challenging because you are often dealing with historical issues that foster distrust. The rewards are worth the effort. Once information, successes, and failures are shared universally, everything becomes easier. Customers are more receptive to marketing and happier with the service. Revenue is increased and costs are decreased. It is a win-win for everyone involved.
2. How do you help businesses cut through the mixed messages surrounding incorporating social media into their marketing?
Running every idea through a three question litmus test helps filter the mixed messages:
a. Does this make sense for my company and our customers?
b. What does success look like if it works? (More sales, less costs, or better relationships? If none of these benefits is present, it isn’t right for your company.)
c. What does failure look like if it doesn’t work? (Does the worst case scenario leave a permanent impression? If so, don’t do it.)
Social media works differently for every business. Each company has a unique corporate culture that defines customer expectations. For example, Apple can be creative and fun because their target market expects them to be hip. The same approach wouldn’t work as well for IBM. The mixed messages come from two different sources. The first source is people who have theories about how social should work but don’t have practical experience to prove effectiveness. They tend to be very passionate and absolute in their messaging. And, they are usually wrong because their theories are based on the premise that conversations drive sales.
The second source is people who have implemented a successful strategy and believe that their approach is the answer for all companies. They are equally passionate and absolute in their messaging. And, they are usually wrong because what works in social for one company will fail another. Both sources miss the facts that social media is a marketing enhancer and that people are a wild card. Social media makes traditional marketing better by opening the door to one-on-one relationships between company and customer. Anticipating how customers, prospects, and others will respond is close to impossible. Something that one person finds funny is offensive to another. Every business has to find the voice that works best for the company and customers.
3. What do you say to those who say “traditional marketing” is dying?
Stop wasting time with false claims that show you don’t understand how marketing is changing. Traditional marketing is evolving into micro-marketing where multiple channels and platforms are used to reach smaller segments of people. Social media is part of a bigger marketing strategy. Instead of trying to make social king of everything, invest your time in finding ways to efficiently and effectively integrate it with other channels. The integration of new and traditional marketing provides a better customer experience that can be leveraged into increased revenue and profitability.
Continuing to call for the death of traditional marketing hurts the credibility of social media. Successful marketers use social to improve relationships with their customers. They know a social marketing strategy doesn’t drive sales. It barely drives website traffic. The traffic numbers are increasing but they are weak when compared to direct and search. Tools work best when they are used for the right purpose. When the right marketing tools are used at the right time, great things happen.
4. Do you think social media, as it evolves over time, will drive more business sales or do you see it remaining more of a relationship tool?
Social will always be a relationship tool but the amount of sales attributed to it will increase over time as the tools for targeting and measuring improve. How big it will become is impossible to predict. We don’t even know how big it is right now. The platforms release information about the number of users but it is misleading. How many of the users have abandoned their accounts? How many have multiple accounts? Privacy concerns are also a huge issue that may cause participants to leave the platforms. The best thing marketers can do is find what works for their company in today’s environment and change as needed when the market evolves.
5. There’s no doubt, the lines are blurring between PR and marketing due to increased web reliance. That said, both camps have their specialties. What are your thoughts on leveraging PR as a marketing tool?
The company’s voice has to be consistent across channels and departments. Before the online world turned everyone into a citizen journalist, the PR department could focus on traditional press members and not worry if there were some minor disconnects between the image they were selling and reality. Today everything is different. Perceptions created by the messages generated from PR, marketing, customer care, employees, vendors, customers, and bystanders must match reality or there will be a price to pay. One-off stunts designed to generate viral buzz are risky when they aren’t consistent with corporate policies and should be prohibited.
Leveraging PR as a marketing tool is a three-step process. The first step is planning. It includes defining the message, developing the strategy, and identifying the participants. The next step is education and evaluation. Everyone involved needs to know what the message is and how it can be communicated. Control the areas that can be controlled and be ready to respond when necessary. If there are any activities or policies that create a disconnect between the message and reality, eliminate them or change the message. The final step is implementation. Run with it, document everything, and correct as needed.
6. Where’s the best place to eat in Asheville, N.C. and why?
Asheville is filled with wonderful restaurants. Choosing the best place to eat from so many top choices is an impossible task. Comparison is challenging because the offerings are so diverse. My favorite place to eat tends to change with the seasons and my mood, but there are two that regularly appear on my radar. The first is Beluga Bistro. It is located in North Asheville and serves Italian Greek cuisine. The food is great and the prices are reasonable. My favorite meal is the Greek pizza with a side of Greek salad. The second is 12 Bones Steakhouse. It has two locations – the flagship restaurant on the river in the Arts District and a smaller one in South Asheville – and the best barbecue anywhere. Their ribs are fall-off-the-bone-mouth-watering-good.
Do you think Debra is right about where social media fits into marketing strategies? Have a thought about anything else she said? Comment below! And thanks for reading.