My Search for Social Validation

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The last year and a half has been a whirlwind and I’ve come to reflect on where I’ve been and where I am today.

Before I was a Real Believer I was in the ‘Build-a-Better-Mousetrap’ Game

I have been tapping into social media since my Yahoo! days when I launched Answers in Canada and I’ve come to really love the medium. It goes against my grain as a traditional marketer, whose thinking has really been about creating excitement for products that people may not really care about initially, enticing a not-yet-established motivation to want the thing I was selling and provoke action.

I worked in credit card marketing for 6 years (sigh!) not fully believing that people really wanted credit cards, let alone debt. But as a marketer, I sold the notion of access to ‘dreams’ if people had the vehicle necessary to get that access. As an advertising executive in the advertising world, I created amazing campaigns for products and services pushing messaging to audiences, at times, who clearly weren’t interested. The ones who were, were not deemed ‘ideal’ so I backed off from these seemingly low hanging fruits.

As I look back at these events, I realized the huge thing that was lacking: Consumer validation. Not sales. Not response rates. In banking, a 2% response rate on a $4MM campaign was considered successful. That’s because that 2% audience could be upsold, cross-sold, and generate enough revenue over their lifetime to justify the initial acquisition cost.

But were the customers ever satisfied? Were they ever really happy? I never really knew because my access to the customer was limited. I usually received a report from operations telling me how many people signed up for a credit card. Yay! …. But really?

My Transformation

As social media started emerging as a strong vehicle about 5 years ago, I paid close attention to its lure. Here, these networks existed without the interruption of annoying advertising. Ironic, beccause I was typically the OneFishsource of that annoying advertising.

Slowly but surely, I also was lured to a space where people could speak as people, uninterrupted. I spoke to esteemed bloggers and social media strategists like Alejandro Reyes and Joselin Mane, who taught me the importance of active listening, transforming the marketing mindset, and leveraging relationships with the customer to truly succeed. Even in MySpace days I talked with people who were just struggling to succeed. I knew a few band members who would develop new tracks every week so they could showcase it to their networks! And they received accolades and validation–albeit from a tiny universe who admired and appreciated their efforts.

That’s when I become a purist–not overnight but soon after.

I became the anti-marketer, espousing authenticity, transparency, relationship-building. I would talk to anyone who would listen, as if it was an epiphany moment!

…And it was! When I started blogging 6 years ago it was merely an outlet for me to verbalize where this all would lead: social, emerging technology and why it would change the way companies operate. Along the way, it also provided others, who stumbled upon my posts, an opportunity to learn. That was pretty cool… and that’s what kept me going.

My frustration continued

I worked at start-ups, which help me delve deeper into social and the more I learned the more I became enamoured with the business possibilities for social. I then moved to agency and ironically it was more difficult to sell the notion of social media (despite its increasing pervasiveness) to businesses beyond Facebook and Twitter. Businesses still wanted to control the message and chose to ignore the less-than-palatable public opinion. Embracing social means being able to relinquish some of that control and it’s ‘going to take time before this happens… especially in Canada.

There was absolutely no way that companies would see the need for social, especially since their mediums of communication [display, radio, search, mass channels] continued to work for them … [or so they forced themselves to believe].

This ‘breed’ of old school marketers, and business people, haven’t evolved with the times and have chosen not to pursue new mediums or practices for fear rocking  the ‘boat. While they may see a need to transform, their desires are easily trampled when they consider the performance impact on their compensation or perhaps, their retirement plans.

I don’t take the latter statement lightly. Many C-suite Executives have fallen under the ‘old-dog-new-trick’ syndrome and have admitted they don’t know enough about this new communication evolution to make an informed decision. Many times, this is the reason why social hasn’t really truly evolved beyond the Marketing Department. Embracing its true benefits means a top-down mandate that calls for a cultural reboot to change mindsets, and eventually process and job descriptions.

After my 7 years in social media, we’ve taken some significant leaps forward– of business acceptance but we continue to fall 3 steps back each time a brand resigns to using the medium in a traditional “sell-create-no-value-and-kill-the-customer-relationship-in-the-process”.

Jon Loomer wrote this awesome article recently, Facebook Did Something and Marketers Will Screw it Up. In it he indicates:

Here’s the brand’s dilemma: Most Facebook users are on the network to engage with friends and family. People don’t talk like this. Only brands do. And when brands do, these posts stick out unnaturally.

Adding value is unnatural for any brand. Face it, they’re in business to sell. How can marketers truly care about listening to the customer and delivering engaging content if their prime directive is to move the product? THEY CAN’T!

These days I see a light at the end of the tunnel

I have laid my eyes on the smart marketer… albeit they are fewer and far between. The smart marketer does not live in a vacuum. S/he sees the holistic view of the customer: the customer identity, needs (outside of thePsychodelic tunnel to the light product), propensities, influencers – in context with company specific transactions.

The smart marketer sees the inherent value in information and how it will morph the business plan for better results. The smart marketer realizes the value of retaining amazing customers is far less costly than acquiring new ones.

The smart marketer is not necessarily the disrupter. S/he sees value in data. S/he sees value in finding the right customers as opposed to expecting that they will come.

The smart marketer chooses NOT to remain complacent and accept the status quo. They are relentless in their pursuit to figure out this “new” customer and what turns their head. And they continue to remain plugged into the customer long after the first purchase. This, they see as the new normal.

At ArCompany, the last 6 months have proven to me we are on the right course. We’ve made some enormous inroads and have faltered, as well during this process. We’ve evangelized the value in the data and the need for companies to think out of the box and properly implement in a way that benefits both the business and the customer. Is it still an uphill battle? Hell, yes! But we’re seeing examples everyday of  big businesses that have met their demise because they chose bury their heads in the sand.

It’s coming. Are you ready?

Founder at ArCompany, and Co-founder of Salsa AI, Hessie is a  seasoned digital strategist, and intelligence analyst having held senior positions for top ad agencies including Ogilvy, Rapp Collins, ONE and Isobar Digital. She also has extensive start-up experience in social tech, online publishing and artificial intelligence like Yahoo! Answers, Overlay.TV, Jugnoo and Cerebri AI. Hessie is the co-author of EVOLVE: Marketing (as we know it) is Doomed! She is also  an active writer for Cognitive World, Towards Data Science and Marketing Insider Group.

0 thoughts on “My Search for Social Validation

  1. AmyMccTobin says:

    You had me at hello.

  2. dbvickery says:

    Love the journey, Hessie. And as an executive in a B2B, in a “heavy into technology but oblivious to social” world, I can appreciate it. My efforts are just trying to ensure we are at the forefront of the adoption for our particular sector. I have really appreciated my internal thought leaders stepping up and blogging about their respective fields. I hope that helps a lot of readers – and ultimately helps our bottom line as people come to trust us.

    And I feel that several of us talked about this journey over red wine, or was that white wine, or was that milk? I’m confused…well, somebody was confused because I felt fine.

  3. hessiejones says:

    dbvickery  ha! You are mocking me Brian Vickery:)!  It was some kind of delicious wine. Colour is immaterial.

    I love this roller coaster ride we are all on. This space continues to morph and many time has thrown us curves we weren’t anticipating. We know where the market needs to go but we also know we can’t control “when” the demand will sync with our time in market.

    We have quite a road ahead of us and I’m glad that a core group of us will help shape what this next evolution of business will be. It’s going to be an even better ride!

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