If you’re reading this blog, odds are you’re very familiar with the sales funnel concept for turning prospects into customers. The funnel is tried and true, and about as marketing 101 as it gets. It’s helped countless businesses to identify opportunities to refine their marketing processes and build their customer base.
However, recently the sales funnel has been failing to account for the nuances of the modern purchase decision process. Consumers are more empowered than ever thanks to the social nature of the internet, and the funnel’s one-way nature neglects existing customers’ abilities to give feedback and interact with brands and other potential customers.
Last year, McKinzie developed a new marketing model that effectively illustrates the added dynamics of consumer feedback and the socialization of the buying process. They call it the Consumer Decision Journey, and it’s already beginning to pay big dividends to businesses that are embracing it.
It’s a bit more complicated than the sales funnel, but it elegantly describes an admittedly complex process involving a variety of forces.
I highly recommend developing an intimate understanding of the consumer decision journey’s key concepts, but if you’ve only got a few minutes, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better illustration of those concepts at work than this video:
Your customers might be more effective than your best salespeople. How are you creating passionate advocates? What are you doing to empower your happy customers?
Earlier today, I had the pleasure of watching a fantastic debate between San Francisco writer and self-described "New Media Whore" Paul Carr and Internet wine guru and podcasting pioneer Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV about the true significance of social media.
Regardless of my thoughts on the issue, the video brought up some very good points for and against the importance of social media, both as a business tool and for its impact on society at large. I highly recommend viewing the video at Tech Crunch or YouTube to get involved in the conversation, or below if you're short on time.
What started as a response to omar of vleek.com's comment on Tech Crunch about social media being a simple digital extension of familiar social interactions quickly turned into a full-blown essay, so I decided to post it to the M.Y. Edge blog for posterity's sake (and, of course, your reading pleasure). For reference, I've pasted Omar's comment below:
I think social media is the translation of social interactions into the digital world. You want to share photos with friends so now you share them digitally on facebook.
You want to ask a friend a question s you text or facebook them.
It's a pretty simple concept.
I do think the only extremely dangerous or extremely beneficial thing about social media is ONE THING:
How fast information travels. A single online video can be watched by half the world at any given time.
That's dangerous and very powerful at he same time.
In the end it's a tool like everything else; its how you use it that makes the difference.
Kudos to Omar for pointing out just how simple social media really is. While at first glance, that’s pretty obvious, it's also one of the easiest things to forget when addressing social media as a new phenomenon.
From a communication technology perspective, this is an unprecedented way to mediate communication on a grand scale. Clearly individuals and organizations haven't made perfect sense of it. That's why we can enjoy great debates such as this and why so many people are cynical about its practical use in business.
From a social perspective, however, social media isn't really all that new. People are having the same kinds of interactions they've always had with family, friends, and co-workers. With social media, they're simply doing it online instead of at the dinner table or the water cooler.
My point is this. I agree with Paul that social media is being billed as the cure for all marketing ills, and this perception is misleading individuals and organizations every day. But there are too many success stories to discount it's power, and too many people interacting with facebook, twitter and the like to ignore. Would-be entrepreneurs hear stories like Gary Vaynerchuk's and read about average Joe's using social media to realize their dreams, and are inspired to try it themselves. At the end of the day though, it's the individuals with the creativity, smarts, and work ethic who are driving the productive conversations online that should be getting credit for the success stories, not the tools they used to get there. If you're counting on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook to create revenue without bringing anything unique or useful to the table, you're doomed to fail.
This seems to be the major roadblock for most businesses struggling to make sense of social media. They've heard that hard sell techniques die hard on social media, but they haven't found a way to connect whatever content they do post to a meaningful conversation about their offerings down the road. Success with social happens when a business creates harmony between its unique selling proposition, its brand image, and its content. Social media, when properly implemented, should be a contributing factor to your branding and customer service efforts, not a stand-alone initiative. Simply having a Twitter account won’t bring you business, but as with other marketing channels, the right messages to the right people will. The impact that social media can have on your brand is tremendous.
From a business perspective (which seems to be at the heart of this particular debate), social media will help you make money about as much as taking a prospective client out for a juicy steak. Witty banter and delicious food can help establish a connection, but you'll get nowhere if you don't have something unique and valuable to offer. If that prospect decides to partner with you, their decision is not likely because of your impeccable taste in appetizers; it's because you used the meal as an opportunity to create trust in your brand.
The personal touch is one of the oldest tricks in the salesman's book for a reason, and social media allows today's marketers to touch more prospects with greater ease. But at the end of the day, its the salesmen, not the channel that will create value for your business.
The most frustrating challenge facing marketing directors today probably isn't how to convince their boss that they need to spend more time and money on digital marketing, although what may seem obvious to you may not be quite so crystal clear to the folks upstairs. It probably isn't figuring out which method of digital marketing can help your business succeed in accomplishing your greater marketing objectives; if your inbox is anything like mine, you’re inundated with a library of information on how search engine optimization, paid advertising (search engine marketing), social media, etc. can benefit your business every day. Not that anyone has the time to digest it all, but once you’ve read enough whitepapers and attended enough webinars, you probably have some solid ideas for how your business stands to benefit from a myriad of digital marketing methods.
My hunch is that the biggest challenge facing marketing directors and businesspeople of all kinds today is: knowing where to begin with their digital marketing plan?
Indeed, the agencies, consultants, and various service providers do such a splendid job of espousing the benefits of their services that it quickly becomes paralyzing unless you understand how each piece of the marketing puzzle fits together. While there are certainly a few things that every organization marketing on the web should have in place before aggressively seeking traffic online (we’ll go into greater detail on these basics in a later post), it’s important to approach your overall marketing plan from a macro level as well as a micro level. It can be very easy to get lost in the minutiae of the benefits of SEO versus SEM versus blogging and forget that there are many ways that these disciplines overlap, and feed each other.
Unfortunately, many marketers with limited experience online make the mistake of focusing their efforts entirely on one or two aspects of digital marketing while neglecting other complimentary or even essential aspects, dooming their plan from the get-go. As digital marketing service providers become better at what they do and more specialized in their respective fields, their advice and marketing messages often become more focused on their one area of expertise, often misleading their clients to believe that their method is the silver bullet for all their digital marketing problems.
I’ve even heard well-respected gurus advising their clients to avoid entire pieces of a marketing plan altogether because their web design service is competing with SEM for client dollars. The sad reality is there is no silver bullet in digital marketing, and yet there are people making millions of dollars a year on marketers and business owners who don’t know any better. I’m sad to say that from what I’ve seen, this cottage industry based on ignorance shows no sign of slowing down.
There are so many specialists in the market pitching their services, and not enough strategists helping marketers determine how to employ them for long-term success. In this environment, marketers need help developing a comprehensive, holistic marketing plan to increase efficiency of their marketing dollars and grow their organizations the smart way. No two organizations are the same, and I believe that a thorough understanding a client’s needs, strengths, and weaknesses combined with diligent research and marketing creativity can achieve a lot more than one-size-fits all, digital snake oil.
My purpose is not to insinuate that all marketing specialists can’t back up their promises. Coming from an agency background myself, I’ve seen firsthand what a relentless focus on your business’ core strengths as opposed to trying to be a jack-of-all-trades can accomplish. My purpose is to help you see how necessary it is to approach your organization’s digital marketing from the big picture so that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, only to become bitter about its inevitable inability to live up to your expectations.