It's that time again, and I'm not only talking about turkey and gifts. It's the 11th hour, when most marketing departments and agencies are budget-crunching and determining the coming year's next brilliant marketing plan. We frantically multitask, running the biggest campaigns of the year during the holiday season while juggling turkeys and gifts.
How do you do it all without producing a half-baked strategy that will make your boss cringe? Let's start with an understanding of your primary target market: your executive team. The fact is that to be successful as a marketing manager or social strategist, you'll need buy-in from the execs in order to move forward with your brilliant marketing plan in the first place. And unfortunately for you, social media marketing is one of the least understood and controversial marketing disciplines out there.
There are big differences between the executive level and the "doers" who are expected to get the job done:
- Executives view the world in the "big picture"; doers need to understand the details within the "small picture."
- Executives think in terms of profit and loss statements; doers think in terms of best practices and managing their campaign budgets.
- Executives are future-thinkers who envision the end result; doers determine a viable means to that end.
It's easy to see where the disconnect lies between an executive and a marketer. While you're working harder than ever to implement a solid marketing strategy, your executive is looking into the future with more questions than decisions in each successive meeting. How do you convince your executives to let you work smarter, not harder? First convince them of the value of social media.
Social media happened. And it's growing at an unprecedented speed. If your company isn't already participating in social media, it has fallen dog-years behind the rest of the world -- not to mention many of your competitors. According to eMarketer, four out of five U.S. businesses with 100 or more employees will use social media marketing this year. Information is coming at us faster than it ever has before, businesses are discovering new opportunities to connect with potential and current customers, and being a smart, tech-savvy company has become part of the cost of doing business. To put it in a nutshell:
Innovate or die.
Before you resort to death threats, try having a more civilized discussion with your executive. Walk into your executive's office with a future vision of the company and a half-dozen statements in your back pocket:
- I want to discuss how our company can stay competitive in our fast-changing environment. Do your homework and bring examples of what your competitors are doing -- or not doing -- in your market. Execs pride themselves on keeping up with the Joneses.
- It's an ideal time to gain market share. Note opportunities where competitors are falling short and where your brand can be first to show up. Identify which discussions are happening about your products and services online, and how you can connect with current and potential customers.
- Social media has become a standard in how business gets done. It's not a magic wand; it's just another way to communicate. Would you have said "no" to the telephone when it first became available in 1877? To quote author Becky Carroll, social media "has become business as usual."
- Our brand can live or die in real time. B2B and B2C customers expect information, right here, right now. It's not enough to have only a website and a phone number (we've come a long way since 1877); people expect an open channel of two-way communication. Your customers are talking about your brand, and they want to know that you are paying attention. Neglect your customers, and they may very well turn to your competitors for answers.
- Numbers are like music to an executive's heart. An executive can't ignore mind-blowing stats from eMarketer, MarketingCharts.com, or Forrester Research. A couple of numbers your boss needs to hear: eMarketer predicts 88 percent of companies in the U.S. will be using social media tools for marketing in 2012, and more than 51.6 percent of U.S. internet users (that's 102.9 million people and counting) are already on social networks.
- Hit below the belt. All that logic still didn't work? Many executives are currently reading Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" biography and pondering how effective they are at leading their own company. So WWSJD (What Would Steve Jobs Do)? Yeah, I went there.
Now that you're on the other side, how can you craft an effective social strategy to delight your executive? The answer: Use your superpower marketing talents to sell your boss on a G.R.E.A.T. big picture. By addressing an executive's point of view on the world, you'll open him or her up to seeing your piece of the universe.
Where does social marketing fit into the big picture? What is this going to do for the company? A good strategy starts with realistic, relevant goals. Start high with company goals, then cascade them into your strategic plan, showing its impact on the overall business. Choose goals you know you can reach as proof of concept.
Can this hurt our business? Play the devil's advocate and think one step ahead of your decision maker. Have an answer -- and a plan -- ready to address risks and to dispel any myths about how this could hurt the company. A common question is, "What if our customers say something bad about us?" My common response is, "If they are going to, they already are."
What will we get out of it? How does this impact the overall marketing budget and our usual marketing mix? Many of us work with small marketing budgets in a direct response-driven environment. Rather than recommending a mammoth shift from another budget to social media or abandoning other tactics altogether, think integration. How can you integrate social strategy into your other marketing activities so it is not a standalone item? Allocate a small test budget with clear goals and success metrics. If it is successful, move onto the next stage of investing more serious resources.
Does this communications strategy negatively open us up to the competition? Executives are often concerned that by exposing a brand to social media's public conversation, competitors will learn more about the company and gain an advantage. I can't think of anyone who'd want to super charge their competitive environment. For the most part, this fear is unfounded and can be combated with a well-thought-out content or communications plan.
It is everything. Consider how you can tie your social strategy into a high-impact event to escalate its value to the organization. A few examples to consider are rebranding efforts, product launches, and change management.
Social marketing is a long-term, long-tail discipline that is most successful when integrated into the business as a whole. Once you have made it past the challenge of convincing your organization to venture into uncharted territory, do it with intention toward the future. A well-thought-out social strategy that addresses intelligent marketing insight and the great big picture for your business will delight your executive and boost your bottom line.