This special report from the recent 2016 High Five Conference was prepared by Holly Larson. Follow her on Twitter @HollyKLarson and connect with her on LinkedIn.
Brands have broken trust with customers and treat social media as “the cocaine of communications,” favoring quick hits over lasting relationships, said marketing thought leader Scott Monty.
Monty gave the opening keynote for Day 2 at the High Five Conference on March 2-3, 2016, in Raleigh, North Carolina, speaking on The Broken Promise of Digital: Making the Customer the Center of What We Do.
Monty, the principal of Scott Monty Strategies, built his marketing career at Ford Motor Company and agencies that served IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences, Coca-Cola, American Airlines, T-Mobile and GE Software, among others. Monty also serves a board member of the American Marketing Association.
Monty opened his talk quoting the famous Robert Frost poem about the road not taken as a reminder that past is prologue. Monty looks to the greats of literature, poetry, and philosophy to inspire marketing and communications, because there is great constancy to human behavior, he says.
Customer Trust Is Fragile and Mutable
Monty said there are two essential elements in marketing – trust and attention. While the Edelman Trust Barometer has found that trust is on the rise, there is a major gap in trust levels between the informed public and the general population. These findings should remind us that we live and work in a multi-audience, multi-channel world, and one message does not fit all.
Monty offered some quick case studies of companies who have broken trust with their customers:
- Volkswagen, which lied about their cars’ emissions and has set the company’s business back at least 10 years.
- Ashley Madison, which built its business around mistrust, has compounded this image by mishandling customer data and creating millions of fake accounts.
- Comcast, which got a customer, an accountant at PWC, fired when he complained about being overcharged and provided a spreadsheet of evidence.
Digital marketing in its current form isn’t working, said Monty. “If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.” Brands applied a broken model of advertising to the Internet and have doubled-down on social media. It’s no surprise companies are seeing diminishing results:
Banner advertising is dead.
- 0.12% of people click on banner ads
- 0.14% click on mobile banner ads. This number is higher because people make mistakes, not because they’re more interested, said Monty.
Forcing customers to suffer through an inferior experience is not the solution. Ad blocking is exploding, with 44% year-over-year growth, and brands are quaking.
It’s Not About You. It’s About Me, Me, Me.
Companies talk about having two-way conversations with their customers but don’t deliver. Many marketing teams haven’t fully grappled with the fact that we’re back to living in the age of Narcissus, the character from Greek mythology who was so riveted by the sight of his own reflection in a pool of water that he couldn’t leave it. Only today’s images are powered by selfie sticks and posted on Instagram.
Customers can get products from someone else, so brands need to support customers’ feelings and needs.
Steal these insights:
- Social media is cocaine: Brands are using it to amplify their message, when they could be connecting powerfully with customers.
- Customers’ buying decisions are still driven by people they trust, whether that is a friend, colleague, or social influencer they follow. There are still human beings woven throughout commercial transactions.
- Be different. At Ford, Monty helped launch the new Explorer in July, the “wrong” season to do so. The company was the first in the industry to do a Facebook reveal. The marketing campaign helped drive the launch to the #1 trending topic on Twitter and the #2 trending topic on Google, losing first place only to Lindsay Lohan’s latest antics.
- Explore the dynamics of paid, earned, and owned media and make sure you’re really creating content customers want.
- Monitor the conversation. Target learned this the hard way, when an individual hijacked its Facebook page with a convincing handle (Ask ForHelp) and logo, insulting customers who questioned the company’s decision to de-genderize the toy section in its stores. It took Target 24 hour to respond. It did so elegantly, with a photo of troll dolls, slyly insulting Internet trolls, who just happened to have rainbow-colored hair, but damage was done with the company’s silence.
- Stand firm when you’re right. Apple faced down “Bendgate” with steely reserve. CEO Steve Jobs said customers were holding devices wrong, and T-Mobile’s CEO questioned, with expletives, why customers were putting an amazing supercomputer in their pants and sitting on it.
You Just Got Owned
Companies sometimes try to control the buying experience with disastrous results.
Keurig created a digital rights reader so customers couldn’t use other companies’ K-Cups in their coffee machines. San Francisco Bay Coffee, a bespoke bean company, then created the “Freedom Clip” for people who “want to brew with freedom.” The company was expecting 10,000 orders for its K-Cup converter and was willing to give it for free. Instead, 300,000 orders poured in, and San Francisco Bay Coffee had to hire outside help to ship the clips. Monty became a convert and wondered how many other individuals became San Francisco Bay Coffee customers over the Keurig flap.
There’s a disconnect beteween companies and their customers. Nearly 3 in 4 customers have ended a relationship with a company due to poor service, yet 2 in 3 marketers say customer acquisition is their most important goal. “That’s probably because they are bleeding customers,” said Monty.
Listen Socially – and Constantly
Companies talk a lot about social listening – but do they really listen? The ancients give us strong advice on this topic. Socrates said, “Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue,” meaning we should all speak less and listen more. Meanwhile, Cicero urged listeners, “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words.”
“Let customers speak – and then speak like them,” urged Monty.
Facebook Likes Are the “Digital Grunt” of Engagement
It goes without saying that companies should create strong products. “No amount of marketing will fix your products and services if they suck,” said Monty.
But companies need to improve their content marketing and strengthen engagement. A Facebook like is a “digital grunt,” said Monty. There is far more value to commenting, and sharing is the ultimate compliment. When a customer shares your content, they are saying, “I believe in this brand so much I will put their content on my page,” states Monty.
Plan for Real-Time Spontaneity
Companies are pushing into real-time marketing, the final frontier of digital. Oreo set the bar high with its “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark” tweet. While the Tweet responded to a highly unique situation, a power outage during the 2013 Super Bowl, it was no act of serendipity. Oreo leaders had spent 100 days preparing for the Super Bowl, combining the forces of four different agencies and its legal, brand, and communications teams. “They set up people and processes,” said Monty, and released both preprogrammed content and responses to world developments. By the time the Super Bowl ran, “This was a fine-tuned machine. They [the Oreo team] had built muscle memory. It’s about how your execution fits to your strategy and business results,” says Monty.
In an Era of Technology – Get Human
Companies sometimes get seduced by the shiny bells and whistles of technology and forget their core mission. “The more technologically advanced our society becomes, the more we need to go back to the basic fundaments of human communication,” Monty said, quoting Angela Ahrendts, SVP at Apple.
Being human doesn’t always require a huge budget. Monty cited KLM’s Twitter handle, which has a timeclock on how long it will take its team to answer customer Tweets. Delta customer thank-you cards are signed on the back by real employees.
What are brands doing to make their customers feel like kings and queens for a day? Uber employees don’t ask for reviews, because they are focused on delivering a great customer experience. And Indian Motorcycle shared a customer’s beautiful photo of a motorcycle at sunset, sent a thank you note, and made a payment on the man’s bike, earning a raving fan and social media plaudits.
Get back to basics, reestablish trust, and build relationships by being authentic, said Monty.
Follow the conversation on Twitter at #High5Conf.
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Holly Larson is a B2B content marketing professional with more than 15 years of experience creating programs and messaging platforms for global industry and technology-driven companies, startups, and agencies. As the principal of Scribble Studio, LLC, Ms. Larson partners with her clients to develop internal, executive, and strategic marketing programs in the Americas. Previously, Ms. Larson held marketing positions at global consulting firms AMS, SAIC, and Sapient, launching an executive communications practice and designing go-to-market strategies for new technology services. More information is available at www.linkedin.com/in/hollyklars