Many of us in the marketing world are focused on the science -- and art -- of customer acquisition. It's a very direct, number-driven game. Not a lot of room for branding in this world. It's about driving a volume of consumers through a gated funnel process and trying to get as many to activate as you can. The more customers, the better.
But what kind of customers do we really want? As we all know, getting a customer takes much more work than keeping a customer. Assuming your marketing department or agency excels at both, the only real consideration left is how to get more of those customers to connect socially because as everyone knows, social customers are the best ones to get and keep, bar none.
Some of your customers are preternaturally social. It's in their DNA. They love to connect. They seek it out. They activate easily, and they share frequently. Still, the process of going from customer to social customer isn't intrinsic to the larger majority of consumers. They need to be stimulated, led, and in some cases, pushed into the social fray.
By applying some of the direct marketing principles that drive customer acquisition, we can create a model that more effectively acquires and retains social customers. These social customers can be a tremendous asset in acquiring more customers. Social customers do an awful lot of advertising for you. This can sharply offset your media costs and drive the new customer acquisition costs down.
So we are clear, this article doesn't focus on how to acquire more customers who are social. Rather, it focuses on strategies and tactics that will enable us to drive more of our existing customers into forming a social connection.
Clearly, brands cannot acquire social customers without making contact. Sure, brand loyalty will deliver some social customers. But a customer stumbling across, let alone seeking out, one of your social channels and connecting with you is rare. It's certainly not a scalable model. It's up to you to initiate the contact. It's really the only way to drive awareness at scale.
Potential social customers can be contacted through any number of channels, most of which you likely own. Every single customer touchpoint creates an opportunity to establish awareness of your social channels. Email, websites, SEO, ecommerce, point of purchase signage, and printed receipts are just a few of the touchpoints available to you.
I'm amazed to see recent case studies in social media marketing that involve the acquisition of social customers by way of exclusively paid media. It's a tactic that, while necessary in some cases, shouldn't be the only avenue of awareness. The touchpoints I mentioned above are from "owned" media channels. They are yours to leverage. Simple icons that click to your social pages aren't enough. Not anymore. Define every customer touchpoint you have, and harness them to bring awareness to your social channels.
Let's face it: The days of casual "liking" are over! Even if they weren't, we've learned that a casual social connection is a weak one. The act of connecting and being connected are different. Nowadays, people don't truly connect unless they get something from it. We, as consumers, are getting bombarded with marketing messages via our social networks, much like we do everywhere else. If you want your customer to form social connection with your brand, you have to clearly communicate the benefits of that connection.
It's not about incentives. It's about consideration. And I don't mean "being considerate." Rather, I mean there is a fair exchange of attention and activation on the customer's part and benefits delivered on the brand's part. Consideration is one of the cornerstones that make up a contract. Social contracts, while invisible to most, still exist. And if this is true, consideration (the benefit) needs to be part of the deal. More importantly, that benefit needs to be articulated in a clear, yet compelling way.
Some of the best ways to communicate the benefits of forming a social connection are by way of content. Why give them a decision (connect or not connect) when you can give them an experience? There's nothing more convincing than content to help us make up our minds when considering whether or not to connect. Don't just throw up a link to your Twitter page. Roll the feed right within your website. Don't just ask for a subscription to your YouTube channel, give them something to watch that excites them into saying "yes." The strength of the initial connection lies in customers believing what they see. If you only show them a button or a link, they can't form any real belief about the benefits of connecting.
You have reached them. You have convinced them to connect. Now what? It's time to make good on your promise to provide the benefit. It's time to deliver the goods. You have to bring the customer from "let's see" to "hell yeah." You have to convert them from a passive social customer to an active social customer.
This is yet another attempt to convince some of you out there that content is key. And to hearken back on an earlier word, let's substitute "content" for "experience." Sounds better, yes? Broadcasting messages is not an experience. Sure, discounts and special offers need to be part of the portfolio of content. But in order for customers to have a true experience, the content they receive needs to give them a deeper emotional connection with your brand than they would have had otherwise.
I'll make it simple -- a kiss is just a kiss. An emotionally charged kiss is an experience.
Emotion is at the heart of every single purchase decision we make. One could argue that it's part of every decision. The psychology behind our decisions is complicated. But one thing we can always count on is our emotions play a big role in the process. Your content needs to trigger the right emotions that will convert your passive customer into an active one.
Converting social customers is not a given. Just because they follow you doesn't mean they are following you. A constant flow of relevant content will help to seal the bond that you are looking to form with them.
We've all analyzed the many opinions on what makes something viral. We often roll our eyes in amazement as a certain piece of content goes into the stratosphere while another more relevant or entertaining piece fizzles out. Regardless of the content, there are very specific mechanics involved in the act of sharing content.
I call this process of sharing "co-connecting." It allows the brand to ride on the shoulders of the social customers as they share the brand's content with their friends and family. The content can't get there on its own. It has to be shared with the masses by your connections (social customers).
Co-connecting is a verb, not a noun. We as brand marketers need to consider who will share a piece of content, as well as why and how it will be shared. Once that's fairly solid, focus on what the content will be. Creatives and other marketing folk still approach this first from the content perspective. It's no wonder it's so hit or miss.
If you have solid sharing mechanics in place (who, why, how) and have created content experiences that ignite and excite both the co-connector and the people they are connecting with, then you've got a terrific distribution model in place. Your content has a life beyond the customer and in fact, drives new customers, both social and non-social, into the activation chain. While this might be stating the obvious, it's important to understand the sequence of events and the mechanics at work.
Co-connections are formed when an initial user believes the content is personally valuable, and valuable enough to share with others. Something is gleaned from that exchange (props, cool points, altruism), but that value needs to be there. Co-connectors do a lot of heavy lifting for you and your content. So value should be at the center of your creative decisions about what content could, and should, be sharable.
Social customers aren't necessary to sell your product. You can build an acquisition model that is scalable and efficient without them. But what are you missing in terms of lost ROI? How much profit could a 10 percent savings in media costs combined with a 10 percent increase in unit sales deliver to your company?
Social customers form a highly cost effective distribution channel to new customers, and they strengthen purchase consideration by way of advocacy. Often they reach more people and close more sales at a more efficient CPA than most forms of paid media. Adding social customer acquisition and retention tactics like the ones above will help your already efficient customer acquisition strategy and deliver a knock-out sales combination.
"Social Communication Network" image via Shutterstock.