Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Social media from outside the marketing department

It's been a little over 12 months since I left the marketing department at work. I'm now sitting in a small team that is curiously called Knowledge Exchange and essentially our role is to "help members connect with each other online and share experiences" (that's how I put it).

I've had a fantastic time in the role because it has given me the freedom to voraciously learn about everything that online collaboration/networking/sharing can offer. I've got my million-and-one accounts on every service possible; I'm talking to people I would never have met were it not for the Interwebz and all up I think I've had a bloody educational year.

But one of the biggest things that it has taught me is that doing this stuff just ain't natural to everyone. For the past four or five months I've been having regular catch-ups with my old marketing team to get them on-board as advocates for online collaboration.

While it is true a person's need is the first step in deciding what and indeed if collaboration should be online, in these meetings we've decided to have a bit of a taste-test to learn about the fun things that live online. The team has tasted forums, blogs, micro-blogs, wikis, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube... the works. And in the end I think that the biggest learning I've had is that for most of these tools and platforms you simply can't explain the benefit - you have to experience the benefit.

And that's a bloody hard sell. The whole "trust me" line just doesn't cut the mustard when a member receives their 4th email for the month.

Deborah Schultz, partner at the emerging tech strategy consultancy Altimeter, also shows in her P&G digital hack night, the 'jump-in' mind-set of a digital native/convert is different from the 'planned' marketing mind-set. Marketing, as creative as it might sound to the outsider, is actually about tangible benefits and direct outputs - $1,000 input gives me 6% return gives me $20,000 sales. It's logical, it's tested, it works. Marketing reads the instructions, figures out how it works and then applies the correct procedures.

Sitting outside the marketing department has given me a new appreciation for the act of marketing, especially in this new world of 'experiences'. The digital native/convert has accepted that the world simply has too many experiences and opportunities to sit down and read the instructions. You simply gotta jump in and go for a ride. If you don't like it get out, get in the next one, try something else. You'll find the one that you get a benefit from soon enough. Try marketing that! And everybody's 'it' is different to the next.

The best I could say is get your story right and tell your story through the experiences that you market. And it doesn't all have to be digital. Red Bull is a great example of a company/brand that has a story to tell through the experiences it markets and I bet their marketing spend is 90% off-line.

So in a little over twelve months a curious thing has happened to me, my walls of data and measures that direct-marketing taught me have started to crumble. Instead I'm now talking about stories and experiences, about failing, collaborating, talking with people not at them.

... I think I have a long way to go to win over the marketing department but I'll keep working at it. Good luck to all you other digitals out there converting the analogue marketing departments of yesterday.

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