Social media initiatives claim an estimated 18% of the marketing budget at today's most successful companies. Besides, these 18 cents work harder than any other share of the marketing dollar.

Social networks and community dynamics have fundamentally changed many of the most intrinsically understood truths of marketing communications while creating a more measurable business practices. Can we trigger behaviour, and if we can, which and how? How is the fragmenting media landscape changing the process by which customers research and make purchases?

The answers are clear: Marketing has fundamentally changed, and many in the profession are struggling to catch up. The framework by which they understand marketing is not set up for a non-campaign world where they don't control timelines and control experience alone.

Companies tend to view the sales and marketing process as a systematic approach of 7-9 steps that begins with initial contact and pushes the potential customer through sales leads, need identification, prospect qualification through to closing the sale and then maintaining a customer relationship. This is how sales and marketing teams structure the selling process. The buying procedure, from the customer's perspective, is different.


Buying is a complex process with multiple stops, starts, and options. Each potential customer will move through the process in unique ways (although, in aggregate, demonstrating certain patterns of behaviour).  The movement is linear in that any two sales will end with the same result, but no two routes to a sale are exactly the same. The same is true for any type of engagement decision (e.g., joining an email list, following a Tweet).

The best marketers can hope to do in such an environment is to manage the process so that even though all roads may not lead to Rome, eventually all roads lead to, and through, digital "toll booths" of content and information exchange. Why don't many marketing organizations view that process as a coherent customer narrative? Three reasons:

  1. Marketing is normally structured around campaigns, not customers.
  2. Marketers don't measure a linked sequence of customer actions across all touch points yet; they still think in terms of pre-sale and post-sale, not in terms of a relationship that can last a lifetime.
  3. Marketers are determined to control the narrative rather than create digital touch points of content and experience, and then measure how people interact with these.


When interested in a wine, customers can first engage with a potential purchase in many ways. Engagement tools could include a billboard with a URL that they type into their Smartphone browser, or a click on a Facebook wall post from a friend's feed, or a search on Google.

These are all examples of entry points to a research experiences that could initiate a longer relationship between the customer and brand. This relationship begins with the brand gaining permission to communicate more. What happens between these start and end points is the complicated part, with the beginning and end rarely connected directly, especially when the activity starts with a discussion via social media or an online community.

Today, these start and end points are not connected. By setting up measurement beacons that customers interact with, marketers can understand what each digital customer narrative looks like. And by shaping these experiences with content and the addition of community engagement, you could measure the context and experience of research and customer care from the first interaction and throughout the relationship. In this context, the true measure of influence relies on how many people engage in shared content.

It will matter if you're a results-driven marketer with limited resources who wants to really understand how each part of the marketing mix contributes to progression via either relationship or sales conversions - parallel but intersecting tracks that must be both viewed and measured to understand customer/buyer and audience dynamics.

[Acknowledgment of this article as downloaded and reworked, are from Marketing Profs].

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