Guest Post: Customer Service Is the New Marketing — How CMOs Can Leverage Digital Word of Mouth

June 20, 2011

Christopher Rollyson is a leading social media thinker and leads CSRA. This post was originally published in MENG Blend.


In most brand organizations, marketing investments rest on 20th Century marketing principles whose results are diminishing every year.  At the same time, an increasing portion of products and services is “commoditizing,” which puts more pressure on marketing to “create” differentiation and value.  In many cases, there is no escape—except by changing the rules.  Here I’ll show how marketing can reinvent itself by using social business to tap a hidden gold mine.

Customer Service is the New Marketing

The Threat:  Dire Straits in Marketing

Marketing as a profession emerged in leading economies during the mid 20th century, when manufactured products were novelties in many categories. Marketers came to assume that they could “create an image” or “brand” using the mass communications to which few had access.  Individual customers had no leverage because word of mouth was analog.  Word of mouth has always been the most trusted source of product or service information, but it had no leverage until social peer-to-peer technologies emerged.  Marketing’s credibility will never recover because customers now have a more trusted alternative — other customers.  You can make this work for you.

The Opportunity:  Customer Service as Marketing

For customers, the most compelling information about companies, products, or services is often conversations about how products or services can be used in specific situations.  They have high credibility because they are initiated by customers and show what happens when exceptions arise.  Simplistically speaking, marketing’s job is to increase demand for the company’s products and services.  Customer service conversations will be more compelling than marketing messages in many situations, but they have to be treated completely differently.

  • When you realize that superior customer service in digital social venues can be reused by thousands of customers and prospects, suddenly you can invest in it because it can drive more sales.  And customers can use it for free to help themselves.  Therefore, it is like marketing, except it is much more effective because it has high credibility since your company doesn’t control the conversation.
  • Customer service is an opportunity to show how products or services create value, or how people can avoid or deal with exceptions.  These exceptions are often fears that prevent other prospects from buying.
  • Address the emotional channel of value.  People are most attracted to other people who are sincerely interested in them.  People who care. Really.  This can’t be faked.  But when your employees do really care and can show it, people can feel it and will want to do business with you. When this happens in a transparent many-to-many venue, it creates demand.
  • One company that does this consistently is Apple in its Genius Bars. Over the years, I have had dozens of interactions with various stores, in person and over the phone.  In virtually every case, people show genuine interest in what I present to them.  I also observe employees and how they interact with a variety of other people.  It goes beyond being “professional;” people really seem to care.  It can be done.  But Apple is practicing it at one-to-one retail at a very high cost.
  • Pattern matching software can automatically select, analyze, and publish very specific public conversations elsewhere (mash-ups). Therefore, your company can display these conversations alongside products, so customers can find them easily.

How to Leverage Social Business for Marketing

  • One of the most difficult things to overcome is the realization that marketers will never have the credibility and influence they had before digital word of mouth. However, this is critical because, until you realize and accept it, you will lack the sense of mission needed to transform marketing ahead of competitors. It requires profound culture change. Companies that do it will win because they will be aligned with customers. Those that don’t will increasingly have adversarial relationships with customers.
  • Analyze social business conversations for your products or services. Look for certain products or services that show relatively high levels of customer involvement and group problem solving within defined scenarios (i.e. big screen TVs for having people over, or seat belts when you have a pack of preschoolers in the minivan).  Also analyze customer service capabilities and results and cultures around various products. You want to select situations for pilots in which customers are collaborating and customer service is relatively empowered to address problems.  If the latter is in bad shape, don’t use your customer service people for the first pilots.
  • In the pilots, have people serve customers in third party sites, which will save money and increase credibility.  Choose forums and sites that are public, so you can republish information later via mash-ups.
  • Select a small group of Contributors for pilots who love the products but who are really interested in customers and how they use products.  Scale the program by rotating people in and out.
  • Have a username convention for Contributors that’s natural yet uncontrived.  This will help you track mentions in Google.
  • Create quantitative metrics to show results. Create a taxonomy to categorize customer service issues along with metrics. Some examples of metrics: expressions of gratitude, customer problems solved, uninvited mentions or referrals, Google rankings, social media monitoring rankings of conversations. Contributors’ rankings within forums or venues (i.e. “thumbs ups”).
  • Create the mash-ups and republish relevant conversations between your people and customers on your web pages.  Be careful when you do this, so it doesn’t come across as fake; you want a good portion of conversations in which your people admit they are wrong or made a mistake.  Marketing is already known for “happy talk,” which is why it has little cred.  Also create a microsite that explains the pilot.
  • Create an unobtrusive tracking device (i.e. code) for people to use if they learned about you through the venues, so you can track incremental sales.  But don’t do this using regular copywriters; otherwise it will sound like common coupons or promotions and discredit the effort.
  • Experiment with various product/customer/service scenarios until you get some wins.  The better your due diligence in the beginning, the more likely you’ll get on base.  But many companies and careers depend on getting this right.
Christopher Rollyson leads CSRA, a consultancy that creates social business strategy for firms. You can reach Christopher and his team at Christopher Rollyson & Associates.


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Innovate 1st Interview Part 4: B2B Marketing on the Edge

June 6, 2011

I was recently interviewed by Innovate 1st for Innovate eZine’s “Conversations on the Cutting Edge” series. Following are excerpts from the interview, which was conducted by Doug Berger, Managing Director, The INNOVATE Company.

To read the full interview series, start with my earlier blog post: “Challenges in Advertising & Media Effectiveness.” 


Doug: Let’s look now at B2B. What if anything is the relevance of our conversation to our readers who are heads of marketing in B2B companies?

Randall:  There is tremendous relevance. TV may not be as important to a lot of B2B players, but certainly the digital world is. If we go back to what drives advertising effectiveness, it’s creative quality itself, the amount of media weight, and the programming context.

Innovative Advertising & Media Applies to B2B Too

If you’re selling tractors to corporate farms you’re probably advertising in some kind of farm-related content. But are you measuring that and really understanding the differential performance of all of the different forms of content within which your ad sits?

In a B2B context, if you are going to buy ten million impressions against corporate farm people and you execute a campaign, what percentage of those ten million impressions actually hit the target?

Start demanding accountability from the content providers if you’re not getting ten million against your target, and that is what was promised. That is number one.

Number two is measuring different digital creative in real time, and then optimizing your mix on the fly.

Finally, you can look at actual reactions. Let’s say that the objective of your digital campaign is to drive prospects to sign up for a newsletter on your website. You can measure the percentage of people who actually went to your website; the percentage who signed up for the newsletter; the percent of those people over time who actually call you or visit a dealership, etc.

B2B is a different context and a different set of media and advertising choices, but a lot of the underlying principles are no different.

As much or even more than the consumer world, social media is really important. You are going to have key influencers who are even more impactful in B2B categories than they would be in the consumer world.

If I’m the brand manager of Tide, there probably aren’t 50 consumers out there who are so influential that they could really sway opinions about my brand. In many B2B categories, it’s where you have real experts, and people rely on those expert opinions that there’s a much greater opportunity.

You can find who is blogging about your category; how many readers do they have; to what degree do they talk about your brand, and is it positive or negative; you can form relationships that turn them into not only influentials in the category, but influentials who again voluntarily are speaking positively about your brand most of the time.

Doug: Randall, this has been a terrific interview. Thank you.

Randall:  I think it’s a really exciting time to be in this space of advertising and media effectiveness – not only TV, but digital, social media. Personally, I think that there’s more transformation today than there has been probably since the advent of TV advertising and brand management.

Think historically about the advertiser. They spent on advertising. Then they waited months and months to figure out, did it work?

Now what does an advertiser really want? They want to show the right ad, to the right target, in the right programming, at the right time, at the right price. As these systems get much better at measuring the near real-time impact of advertising … the creative quality, the media impact, the programming, the placement … all of these different things, and the systems ultimately catch up, the world is going to move to a much more real-time model.

In that world you need a different marketing organization with different skills, and different processes, and different capabilities than what people have historically had. That is a big change.

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