Does Your Marketing Reflect These 5 Social Media Inputs?

Do you use social media to enhance the customer intelligence of your target market? If not, your marketing is incomplete. Part of establishing a brand is to know what buyers are thinking. What better way to engage than to have a dialogue? Yet, many businesses only have monologues–they don’t listen to what the other party is saying and adjust their conversation accordingly.

When you embrace the power of social media, you tap into the competitive intelligence that enables you to minimize risks associated with media buys, new product development, and misguided sales efforts. As you gather insights into the thoughts of your prospective audience, you are able to make decisions in real time. Molly Gallatin reports an Association of National Advertisers survey which finds that 90% of companies are using social media as part of their digital marketing efforts, but 62% report they are concerned about measuring ROI—indicating at least some difficulty in deriving useful intelligence from their social media efforts.

Gallatin’s article illustrates how you can tie the kind of rich, actionable customer intelligence you can glean from social media into five overarching marketing decisions.

1. Retail Partner Valuation
At Compass Labs, we recently executed a campaign for a major consumer packaged goods brand, in the process unearthing a simple yet extremely significant fact: Its customers had more affinity for one mass market retailer than for others–in fact, much more affinity. The company used this information to drive more sales through that particular retailer by steering more overall advertising dollars its way.

But that’s not the only way that information could have been used. For example, the company could have used the information to build business at a secondary retailer, or it could have used the information to affect pricing and packaging. As it is, that little piece of information paid huge dividends and informed critical decisions.

2. Customer Acquisition Strategies

Especially now that social media networks are connected to ad exchanges and real-time bidding (RTB) technology, brands have access to real-time customer intelligence,  not just to what their fans and followers said about them yesterday. You can get a complete profile of users who are interested in your brand that tells you who they are, what they like, and the things they do. Social intelligence reveals what websites they visit, what events they attend, and their favorite fashion brand.

Use such information to establish a relationship and two-way dialogue with users and acquire them as customers. Rely on your most engaged “fans” as brand advocates and use the interactivity of social to acquire customers through word of mouth. Discover an entirely new segment of users ripe for conversion that extends the audience you initially sought.

Customer acquisition has reached a whole new depth and level of interconnectivity. When considering growth strategies in a tough economy, intelligence you gain from social media is crucial in driving customer segmentation, audience targeting, and even off-social marketing.

3. Brand Sentiment

We’ve been in the middle of the election, and it’s been especially easy to see how brand sentiment can be understood and effectively managed across social media. What’s played out before us is a head-to-head brand battle the likes of which we haven’t seen since Coke and Pepsi’s taste-test wars.

For example, one presidential candidate’s messaging focuses on job creation; the other candidate’s messaging is about lower taxes. Seeing a positive reaction to these different points of view, the candidates’ campaigns immediately positioned messaging around “tax reform” (Romney) and “no off-shoring” (Obama). Don’t think the candidates and their advisors don’t know how these messages play.

This kind of sentiment strategy is not limited to politics. Social media intelligence can feed brand sentiment analysis and enable you to quickly execute your corresponding marketing strategies. On the flip side, negative brand sentiment can also be quickly detected and remedied by harnessing social media as a CRM strategy.

4. Media Placement and Value

You don’t have to guess which media are most effective at engaging your customers. You can track the actions a user takes on Facebook after seeing or clicking on your ad, and attribute off-site conversions to ad views or clicks. This allows you to make creative ad placements and strategically optimize them.

Plus, knowing your engaged audience’s favorite TV shows and websites allows you to take this kind of optimization off-social.

5. Competitive Evaluations

Let’s go back to the retailing analysis that we did for the CPG company, but let’s flip it around and analyze the retailers. If a set of five retailers were in this competitive picture, the retailers themselves could use the natural-language processing technology that drives sophisticated social media intelligence to understand one another’s fan base and social standing.

At the most basic level, each brand’s number of Facebook “likes” serves as a measure of customer engagement. But the retailers could go further and look at actual engagement levels via Facebook’s People Talking About This (PTAT) metric. Comments and shares, different affinity markers, and common interests are some other good ways to measure and predict competitive success.

Market Your Way to the Top

Businesses who are ineffective in conveying their mission and product offering  to the marketplace simply cannot effective and efficient enough to wring profits out of insufficient revenues. Image may not be everything, but it can mean a great deal in terms of buyer perceptions that influence purchasing decisions. Clearly, not every business can be recognized as the “best in category.” However, you can continuously improve your market position by marketing and positioning your company as one that fulfills its mission and satisfies customers. The public must know your company and its offering!

Name Recognition

One goal for keeping a business strong in its marketing efforts is to increase name recognition. Keeping the company–and often one or more of its top executives–in front of the local “players” (centers of influence who will talk you up) can provide tremendous benefits; when these individuals refer or bring a client to you, it is because they:

  • know you,
  • know your reputation, and
  • trust you to do a good job for their friend(s).

Other means of getting the word out include building a thought leadership role through public speaking. If you are not the type who enjoys standing in front of a room and attempting to engage them in a conversation, you may be more comfortable as a panelist or panel facilitator. Through active participation in community groups, you are afforded a unique opportunity to discuss your company’s success and how your core values, product offerings, and service standards are opportune for the listener or someone they know. 

Customer Research

The customer must be researched continually, paying particular attention to discriminating tastes and preferences. Your sales team should be your best source of information as to what buyers seek. Research reports should compile information gathered from key figures in your community–those “centers of influence” who are gateways to networks of potential buyers for you. Study what you find out with an eye towards possible adjustments in product offerings as quickly as possible; the key here is to beat competitors to the punch. When you meet new prospects, ask them questions about what they like, try to keep a running tab of demographic trends about them, and find out what may be holding them back from purchasing from you.

Marketing Trends

Attend industry meetings for either your vertical market or the markets in which your customers are likely to hang out–better yet–do both! Stay abreast of trends in the market, listening carefully for changes in design, pricing, or delivery. This information can serve as a launching point for later team discussion back at the office of how to “up your game.” On at least a quarterly basis, someone should “shop” the competition, pay attention to how they operate and promote, so you can glean strategic insights. Chances are high that, armed with better information, you will make significantly better decisions!

Weighing the Competition

Ask your management team what they hear about competitors from suppliers, attorneys, CPAs, banks, and the like. It can be very helpful to keep spreadsheets listing others’ products, price points, features, and promotional incentives. By monitoring these over time, your team begins to get a feel for where the competition feels the market is moving–and you can adjust your own planning accordingly. Try to figure out how many employees your rivals have, as well as their real estate expenses, number of sales or distribution arrangements, and other key metrics. Watching these statistics from one measurement period to another can provide you with opportunities to win market share. When you have a feel for what obligations the other guy has, you can estimate their break even point, which translates into pricing policies, potential availability of financing, and many other factors critical to your success!

 

Create Competitive Advantage

Yesterday, we examined the role of research in growing small businesses. Today, let’s see how decisions about product are an outgrowth of good market knowledge. When you gain a better understanding of buyer preferences and the competitive offerings of other providers, you then have the right kind of information to make better decisions

In the context of home building, for instance, design, location and pricing considerations determine both the volume of homes that can be sold, as well as the margins at which they can be sold. Design attributes must be fairly consistent with the market–even more so in a mature industry such as construction. Minor details can reflect your brand or personal touch, but don’t overdo it! The location of home sites is very important to timely sales; if homes are attractive but in the wrong area, they will take longer to sell. Finally, pricing homes to reflect profitable sales is a science–often requiring that the building company learn to gauge what the buyer will pay through past experience, a trial and error process to be sure.

Design

Design features will vary somewhat from one part of the country to another, and may even vary greatly from one neighborhood to another. The important consideration is to maintain a theme throughout the home or series of homes. This is not unique to construction–branding is important to most every industry and consistent look and feel builds equity in your product or service offering because it represents a promise that is made and kept, thereby demonstrating credibility. Whether you are a builder who hires an interior designer or a public accountant with a secretary who types up a proposal, make sure that those charged with creativity do not proceed with their own view of what is needed rather than seeking to uphold your brand. Contemporary styled fixtures in one bathroom can throw off the traditional design scheme of the rest of the home, which may feature French provincial lighting fixtures everywhere else in the same house. In like manner, a different set of colors in every PowerPoint presentation, none of which matches your logo palette, dilutes your brand.

On the other hand, it is okay to evolve your brand image through minor and gradual design changes over time. Observing competitors’ design patterns can often provide ideas for introducing features (be they plan layout or choice of  tub styles) that are attractive to the buying public but have been previously unavailable. The decision to make such a move must be grounded in research–that’s the main point.

Location

Once you make an effort to create winning designs that the public loves, your next consideration should be location. In home building, this would be neighborhoods in school districts that are popular. In a business like high school athletic team paraphernalia, the equivalent would be going to the stadiums or booster clubs where fans congregate in the largest numbers with the most discretionary income. Using research results, you can hone in on where you want your product displayed, sold, etc. Demographic data must support your offering–make sure there are enough qualified buyers prior to making a commitment to a distribution channel that stakes out your territory. Try to maintain a mix that reaches different target buyers with different offerings at prices and features that they have said they want–available where they want

Pricing

Trying to undercut the market may work in the short-term but is a strategy that only works long-term for well-financed organizations with superior control over input prices, labor costs, and real estate (think of Wal-Mart as an exceptional competitor, not a normal one.) Make sure your prices cover all of your direct and indirect costs, plus an additional margin for profits. It is often better to sell fewer units at higher margins than greater units at lower ones. In general, if your pricing is within 10 percent of the market, you will be given a fair chance to compete. It is best to compete on factors other than price, but you have to be within a reasonable band of tolerance to get the opportunity. Again, to know what the price sensitivity via research data is a competitive advantage.

 

 

Growth Through Market Knowledge

Market positioning is won through a combination of market insights, product features, and delivery of “the promise.” Superior use of these three components makes for a winning strategy to outperform the competition. Market insights are critical to determining what to offer, in what way, and how to communicate one’s message effectively. There are two types of insights that should be studied in unison to drive your internal strategies an external tactics–competitor and buyer. 

Researching the Competition

Understanding where your product fits in the market is just good business sense. If you never take the time to study what others are doing, you will likely not be on target. When I was taking a strategy course in my MBA studies, we were treated to a semester long simulator assignment. The simulator was comprised of five teams of students who each organized to make decisions about their unique computer chip company. We were given freedom to make decisions about what size, durability, and other features different models in our product line would have. We also elected financing options, manufacturing capacities and human resources/training choices. Finally, we were able to allocate dollars between marketing and sales activities and each team received market data that showed what buyers were purchasing, along with trend reports showing products likely to be in demand in the future. Observing what changes others were making, and relatively what they were spending for parts of their businesses, then tracking both sales and profitability performance and plotting it against market share and stock price was a very instructional exercise.

What was most valuable for us was to see a glimpse into the decisions that our competitors were making. Much like a game of chess or a soccer match, the tactical maneuvers employed by others were not just to be noticed, but anticipated, planed for, and counter actions developed. Additionally, we would have strategy sessions to think through whether to do something unexpected, stay the course, expand/shrink products based on resource needs and profitability, plus make trade-offs between automation and personnel. 

In your own business environment, research data is compiled form three main sources:

  1. Primary: first-hand interaction with the market and reporting.
  2. Secondary: compiled reference materials outlining primary research others have done.
  3. Tertiary: facts and figures derived from someone else’s summary research statistics.

Surveys, focus groups, interviews, literature searches, online services, and personal observation are all legitimate ways to collect the above data, dependent on your desired level of confidence in the decisions you must make. Industry associations, through conferences and publications, provide a fair amount of secondary and tertiary research information about competitors and buyers.

Buyer Research

Though I have guided many companies in market research projects over the years, these days I try to guide clients to resources when someone is more dedicated to a discipline than I. Jay Nolfo, who writes the blog Pensare, and is a good friend of mine is one such  resource. (By the way, his company uses a rhino rather than a hippo, but at least we’re similar!) Here’s what he had to say in a blog post earlier this year:

  • Introduction of New Product or Service: Any new business, or introduction of a new product or service that the company is thinking of offering, needs market research.  By developing a good understanding of the product by developing a good business plan based on market research helps provide a solid foundation for your offering.
  • Customer Development: Next to understanding the product or service you are offering, understanding the customer who will be buying it is paramount.  In a consumer based business, understanding the demographics and psychographics of a target market can be determined by looking at previous purchase behavior or through a needs analysis.  In a business which sells to other businesses, understanding their needs can be a little more difficult.  However, this can be understood by doing surveys or focus groups.
  • Customer Satisfaction: After your customers have purchased your product or service, following up with them to understand their satisfaction of that purchase is key.  By understanding why they liked or disliked your offering and the reasons why the customer purchased your product or service over the competition can provide a basis of what could be your competitive advantage.

Take the matter to heart…consider how to improve your knowledge of what competitors are doing and what buyers want. You will then, as we did in our MBA class, be better prepared to develop winning business ideas!

 

Fail to Research; Fail to Secure Market Share

As companies seek to gain a competitive market position and execute on their business objectives, various problems can crop up. In the last post, we examined a case study on inventory control as one issue that needs addressing. In this installment, we will look at a case study involving loss of market share:

A company in the Northeast had always been able to sell enough product to secure a 15-20 percent local market share within the primary price range and portfolio of designs. As other competitors began to outsell this company in the local market, the owner commissioned some research to determine what percentage of the market share had been lost. Upon discovering that their share had dropped to 9-11 percent, the executive team became worried.

Why would this company’s–or any company’s–market share deteriorate to this point? Experience shows that one common reason for the decreased market share might be increased competition. As other competitors, whether established or new businesses, begin to offer viable or even more attractive alternatives, your business may begin to lose a percentage of share  in the local market. Another possible reason for declining market share could be perceived poorer quality in the products offered. Rumors of a company’s demise can fuel such a perception and scare buyers away, allowing other businesses to take advantage of this image problem.

The solution to declining market share varies according to the source of the problem. If bad image and rumors appear to be hurting the business, the owner must move quickly to dispel any rumors and improve company image through a bold and highly visible public relations campaign. For example, companies can generate goodwill by meeting with influential members of the local community to let them know that any perceived problems are being taken care of and that the company plans to be making products in the community for some time to come. This exposure can often be gained through attendance at chamber of commerce and other local business group meetings.

To overcome competitive advances, the executive team must aggressively outmarket and outproduce competitors in each niche market. By beating them in head-to-head competition, the problem is solved while the company’s reputation for high quality products is enhanced. In terms of quality initiatives, management should devise ways of improving quality in all projects, passing the word along to all employees, suppliers, and subcontractors that quality is becoming an issue and that only those who can produce quality work will remain a part of the team.

Stabilizing and regaining market share demands that the team know the local market inside and out. While calculated risks are allowed if the executive team feels confident that they can get product manufactured and sold quickly, the potential success of any such project must be measurable in terms of researched demand for the product line the company plans to produce. Clearly, companies must target opportunities that allow them to make their best products at competitive prices. By keeping abreast of new developments and new competitors attempting to make an entry into a particular market, the team can revise plans–and keep buyers from running to the competition.