Community or Commodity

There has been something that’s been bugging me for the past few years. This is the word “community.” It has quickly become one of the most overused and improperly utilized words in the business buzz word dictionary. Why? Self-proclaimed “social media gurus” have diminished the absolute power of what a community is by associating anyone who “likes” a brand to get a coupon as being someone who is part of a brand culture, a subsection of a larger society, a group of individuals who align with specific characteristics and values, a community. But, as we all know, this is utter bullshit. Where is the loyalty on behalf of the coupon hound customer who is “liking” my page because I have a coupon, even if they are nowhere close to my target demographic? There is none. Once a competitor offers a better coupon they’re gone. Sayonara. Not someone whom I’d personally put stake in within my own communities. This level of engagement leads to a commoditized community based on commoditized offerings with no end goal of something deeper… “Communities” then just become another stat to communicate the success of a Facebook page.

Commoditizing a conversation forces engagement around features and benefits, not emotion.

But, for sake of communicating the valuable importance of this post, I will be using the term community (against my will) for what it truly is, as defined below.

So what is a community? defines it as “[a] group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.

Facebook defines these as “Groups.” Google+ defines them as “Circles.” Twitter even defines them as “Lists.” It seems as though the social space has really latched on to the idea of communities, but are we really setting our brands and companies up for success? Or are we approaching commoditized conversations with the real value exchange as being a coupon or an entry into a sweepstakes?

My personal thoughts, is that the end goal with any social venture is to develop and grow strong relationships with individuals whose values align with ours; whose ideals are shared among others; whose passions and affinities are aligned with those of our brand. Achieving this goal helps us create a place where like-minded individuals whose interests, values, and passions are shared; to develop a “community” around the core, emotionally driven differentiating factors of our brand. Doing so allows us to better understand and engage with those we serve. It provides us with the opportunity to learn and grow; make our products better; communicate them more effectively; identify opportunities for growth and expansion; and most of all, allows us to come together and accomplish the same goal, make our lives better.

So are you building a community or a commodity?

Consumer Cartography (aka Integrated Marketing)

Ever since business school, I have heard of this new thing called “Integrated Marketing” where all messages, brand attributes, and channels will all work together in joyous harmony and delight the consumer to a purchase-minded bliss. But the deeper I’ve evolved in my career and having my blissful visions completely crashed by the cold hard facts I’ve found that there is no such thing as “Integrated Marketing” as we sit today; just a bunch of silos working independently from other touch points. Why?

From where I see it, as advertisers and agencies both work in these disparate silos the internal communication between groups is very little or almost nonexistent.  So how can we expect an integrated messaging output to come from that?

This is what I currently see happening:

As new channels and communication disciplines come about, both the advertiser and agency mindset is to create a new division or build a new agency to handle that particular channel. Done.

We don’t have to worry about it. We’ll build a “Social Media Task Force” and a hire a Social Media agency and everything will be perfect. We can keep doing what we’re doing while the social people (whatever that is anyway) will give us the presence we need to tap into that discipline. Now I’ll go back to my TV advertising.

I’m sure you have all been a part of a similar thought or have seen a similar thought happen in your organization (advertiser or agency). Huge disconnect here. No strategy, no communication, no thought of elaboration, or collaboration, or collective brainstorming… no integration.

So what have we learned about integrated marketing communications? Companies and agencies work in silos; HOWEVER, consumers do not. These silos don’t produce optimized results because of inconsistent messaging, false promises not held up by another touch point, confusion in action steps; frankly a disconnect between the needs of the consumer and what we’re providing as value through communication.

We all know this is a major issue facing everyone in the industry, so I guess the question becomes, “Why do we still act this way?” Just because it “worked” in the past doesn’t necessarily mean it will work in the future. Adding divisions and new roster agencies every time a new communication channel comes around will continue the siloed effect and quickly tear the beauty of expert messaging apart. Why not break down walls and focus on core messaging and definitive objectives for that messaging (regardless of the platform)? Why not start with a strategic view to satisfy consumer needs and strive to reach those needs.

Being completely platform agnostic and starting with the objectives and consumer needs in mind will allow for a literal strategic mapping of sorts of how communication and engagement should unfold for the consumer, not the other way around; not from the brand. Then, with this map to guide us, we can begin to develop a robust messaging strategy that is consistent across the touch points that are the most relevant to each consumer, effectively breaking down the silos and putting up a unified, dare I say it, Integrated front, continuously supporting the consumer to produce the blissful, purchase-minded results we all want.

All in all, consumers are constantly changing; their messaging platforms are constantly changing; their needs, desires, and behaviors are constantly changing… Why are we so reluctant to change?

Learn and Grow

While on a panel about “Time” at the NYU Graduate Marketing Association Conference on Friday, one of the questions asked was “What technology are marketers underutilizing right now?” With the plethora of answers at my fingertips, a thought popped in my head that I think, needs a bit of exploration…

My answer? Not necessarily a technology but more of a rough idea or underpinning thought…

The idea of “convergence” or “integration.”

As marketers, we continue to discuss tactics and strategies as it relates to the silos that we manage (what’s my digital strategy, what am I going to do on Facebook, is my TVC on brand, etc). By thinking this way, we are limiting our creativity and missing huge opportunities to converge, learn and grow with our consumers. While social and mobile communications continue to emerge and natural enhancements to traditional communications elevate in the marketplace, there will be a tremendous amount of focus and energy put towards the “conversation” or interaction with the consumer.

While this happens, we must figure out away to create conversations that not only happen in “real time” but also conversations that learn and grow.  Having disparate conversations in silos we are losing the opportunity to continue relationships and increase chances of consumers dropping off or becoming confused over time.

The opportunity and technology is here to connect conversations that grow over time; relationships that spawn into amazing assets; and advocates that will shout from the mountain tops. As strategists we can now begin to take a holistic view of our communication strategies to form a managed asset of relationships.