Social media and business strategy: What I learned from professional services marketing

Traditional, conventional business strategy has relied upon one kind of marketing for decades:  broadcast.  The advent of social media is doing more for what creative marketers have advocated for years — the actual engagement of each and every stakeholder in a conversation, or a debate, or a brainstorm, not a one-way blast.  But traditional marketers are afraid of anything they cannot control, so most are still waiting for the pioneers to show why we should embrace social media instead of fear it.

I think the real problem is that traditional marketers, some leaders among them, are actually threatened by the fact that social media is making it possible for communication between a company and its stakeholders to occur independently.  You can just hear them asking, "what about my job?"  Well, this post isn't for them.  Or for anyone who believes that the best route to job security is to keep corporate marketing in the dark ages.

I was fortunate to have learned marketing not in a college classroom or a consumer conglomerate but in what some would have considered a stuffy sanctum, the executive suite of an accounting and consulting firm.  The longer I'm at this, the more I appreciate my unconventional background.  It has given me the fuel to look at every new innovation, real or trumped-up, with an eye to what it will do for the relationship between my clients and their stakeholders.  Because relationship is where it's at with professional services.

This is the first of a couple of posts I'm planning about social media and the corporate marketing function.  I'm inspired by a couple of things right now:  my work with startups and the need to look at every penny spent on marketing, and an afternoon I spent this week as the guest of KickApps at a really terrific seminar they hosted for their clients, potential clients and the social media community.  It's great and it's fun that companies like KickApps even exist.  Great because it's about time the best marketers create firms like this that really help companies maximize their involvement in the worldwide web — fun because marketing is going to be fun again, thanks to the early case studies to which we were exposed.

Before I go into sharing what we learned this week, though, here's what it made me remember, courtesy of my still-relevant experience at Andersen Worldwide.

  1. The best marketers are not parked in the marketing function, they live at the front of the company.  This means all employees.  They are the actors, not just the symbols, of the brand.
  2. Relationships are the most meaningful platform for marketing.  When you look to establish a relationship with a customer or an influencer, like a journalist or blogger, you get yourself out of the sales or publicity mode and into a real conversation.  You learn what interests them and what they need.
  3. Whether a sales cycle is long or short, establishing a relationship depends upon understanding what the customer [or stakeholder] really wants, not what you want them to think or do.  You build a brand by understanding what your people and your products or services can do for the stakeholder, not how much money you can make from the relationship.  The money — and the success — will follow organically and easily.
  4. The best marketing happens face to face or one on one, which means that the social network is perfect for building and sustaining a relationship.  What we have today is akin to what we had yesterday — a means to connect over content.  It's perfectly fine that the connecting happens via digital correspondence.
  5. Authenticity will out.  You cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
  6. Some of your best ideas will come from listening to what your critics, including dissatisfied customers, say.  Whether it's about your company or someone else's, or even if it's about you.  Play on a team of rivals.

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