Wednesday, May 21

Real Marketing Strategies Aren't Built On Search Or Social

The most common explanation for pushback related to changes to social and search platform changes is that people are resistant to change. Some companies have even mapped out classic reactions to it.

It follows a cycle. People deny the change will happen and then become upset when it actually occurs. This is sometimes followed by confusion, depression, and crisis. We're seeing it today.

Companies were laying people off after Google made changes to Panda. Companies used teams like reachpocalypse after Facebook became more like paid media. Both platform changes have been highly publicized as if they are unique, but it happens all the time — tweaks, adaptions, and deaths.

The Internet is in a constant state of change. Some people like to equate it to a world map, but it plays out much more like the chaos of a new cosmos. Every day, major players use their gravitational juice to expand, contract, and buy out other solar systems. It's a billion dollar game being played by titans who largely ignore the little people who worship or try to exploit them, except for the occasional swat.

"We're playing in their backyard but don't want to play by their rules - conundrum." — Shawn Elledge, Integrated Marketing Summit

My response? There are plenty of backyards. Problem solved. 

This isn't a new idea (and it doesn't mean that you abandon Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. outright). All it means is that anybody who has been deep in the social space for any length of time has learned a lesson or two about playing in other people's backyards with other people's sand. Just not en masse.

Sure, social and search can work wonders for some companies. But it doesn't work that way for all companies. It largely depends on who they are, what they do, and the kind of customer they reach.

For example, it makes sense for search and social to play a prominent role in the outreach efforts of an Asian restaurant in Las Vegas that derived most of its business from hotel deliveries. While the restaurant has a loyal customer base, its primary revenue was derived from hotel staff referrals and visitors searching for Asian takeout. It made sense because there are two primary search drivers.

1. People search for things because they have no idea what exists.

2. People search for things because they know they exist somewhere.

Content marketing and social media were mostly built to help capture the first kind of searchers while simultaneously engaging a few of those people enough to make them second kind searchers or, better yet, direct referrers who bypass searching all together. Ergo, sharing is an expression of gratitude that sometimes creates second kind searchers — people who have heard of you, your product, your service, your idea, your company. For a restaurant, it might mean someone saying "make sure you eat at >place< when you are in >city<" or it could manifest on any number of review and travel sites.

Conversely, a speciality commercial contractor may have have a presence on social networks and earn reasonable placement on search engines, but search and social are not primary drivers. Generally speaking, this kind of business isn't driven by first kind searchers. They rely on second kind searchers and direct referrers. As a result, the social and search portion of a marketing plan differ.

Instead of popularity, the company needed to engage decision makers within their space — designers, architects, and general contractors who would have a specific need for the specialty provided. And the best way to accomplish that as a new company (but veteran owners) not to load up on search and social, but to create content that featured the designers, architects, and general contractors they were trying to reach and thereby giving their target audience an opportunity to become direct referrers.

In both cases, while the restaurant clearly has some reliance on search (which was still eclipsed by hotel staff recommendations), neither company was overtly reliant on fleeting tips and tricks to gain temporary boosts from a search or social networks that are all too often treated as marketing channels. There are better ways to invest a marketing budget than website traffic or social network likes alone.

Put the power of choice in the hands of customers not the platforms. 

The point is that all marketing plans ought to revolve around your own backyard, where it can be much more effectively managed. This is accomplished not by understanding platforms so much as understanding your customers, what they need, and when and how to deliver on that need.

The more you understand about your existing customer, the more likely you will be able to expand that base by delivering on the value proposition and/or other closely content they will value. And this approach makes much more sense than what many companies do to inflate the appearance of success.

1. Companies spend money to rank higher across accidental and unrelated search queries.

2. Companies spend money to send people to social networks instead of their backyard.

3. Companies spend money to interrupt consumers at the wrong time and place.

The most important takeaway for any organization is that all platforms change and they change so often that marketing professionals ought to be weary about any ticks and trips related to those three tactics because today's boost will be tomorrow's penalty and today's best investment will be tomorrow's waste of time. Stay focused on the constants of your company and customers first.
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