With social media making brands more aware of the thoughts of their customers it's easy to believe that social marketing was invented when social media came along. In reality however the rise of social marketing occured when social psychology, behavioural economics and neuroscience started to give us greater insight into how customers really thought. Social marketing therefore emerged when home-economicus was laid to rest.
Whereas traditional marketing was a one way endeavour, social media was supposed to herald a new dawn of relationship and community building. Managing these connections at every scale, from an individual contact to a message that reaches millions of people, is the fundamental task of marketing today.
Of course, for good marketers this isn't anything new. What is interesting is that neuroscience is now beginning to shed light on the social nature of thought and deed. Daniel Kahneman has beautifully highlighted the two distinct ways humans think, with the instinctive 'system one' and more reflective and rational thinking of 'system two'.
Understanding this is crucial to you as a marketer because the system used changes as the customers relationship with you develops. What might begin with rational thought can shift to instinctive thought as they become more familiar with you and your services.
For instance if you have a pre-conceived notion of something, you're using your instinctive brain. As a marketer, if that pre-conception is a positive one, then great, but if not you'll want to trigger the rational side of the brain in your customers to get them re-thinking their assessment of you.
Communities play a significant role in this. For instance, if someone expects others to react a certain way, they too are much more likely to follow suit. Social cognitive neuroscientists and neuroeconomists, including Greg Berns, Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, Vasily Klucharev, Malia Mason, Michael Norton, Hilke Plassmann, and Jamil Zaki, have shown that preferences — and the neural responses involved in computing those preferences — tend to change depending on whether people have been told what other people think.
Research has also found that people respond even more positively when those around them are in the same tribe as them. The social nature of thought, combined with the neuroscience of brand loyalty, should be a major factor in marketing priorities. Every touch point with the consumer should be used as a time to reinforce the community bond between you and the consumer, and between the consumer and other consumers.
How you can get social with your marketing
A relationship driven approach to marketing comes in four stages:
- Reframe – Traditionally marketing has treated consumers as mere numbers. With a focus on social interaction and participation however marketers will need to reorientate their approach and treat consumers as whole people. One useful body of work for this is the four-drive motivational theory developed by two organizational science professors at Harvard Business School. You can learn more about this model here but the key is to ensure that all four drivers are targeted rather than focusing on just one or two, as traditional marketing often does.
- Understand – Do you understand the values of your customers? Different values are important to different individuals, but values themselves tend to be broad motivational constructs, adopted by people the world over. Values have been classified into 10 broad types: power, achievement, pleasure (hedonism), stimulation, self-direction, universalism (which includes values like social justice and world peace), benevolence, tradition, conformity, and security. Thus if you connect with the values people value highly, your relationship will be much stronger.
- Listen – Good marketing has always relied heavily on collecting feedback from consumers. Social media has made the opportunities for this so much greater. Technology is a small part of the equation though. The real value comes from what you do with the information you collect. If you use customer insights to co-create products with them it's a much richer experience for both you and them. That way you don't rely purely on what customers say as much as what they do. Insights like these can help marketers better understand the implicit and emotionally charged elements that the consumer took away from the experience, elements that can significantly shape future interactions with or perceptions of the brand.
- Engage – The brand experience is no longer restricted to the traditional organizational silos of advertising and marketing. Relationship building and brand advocacy is now every employees responsibility. Building a high level of customer engagement through experience can require broad-based cultural change within a company; people throughout the enterprise must align their actions with the values of the brand. You can't be authentic if you don't walk and talk the brand values naturally every day, and if nothing else, people now crave authenticity when dealing with companies.
Doing each of these four things won't result in easy or quick wins for you, but if you can do them well they will help you gain and build long-term relationships with your customers. You'll be providing customers with products and services that are more tuned into their values and ideals. Of all the moments of truth along the total brand experience, the ones that make the most difference could turn out to be the repeated social connections that create bonds among the people who are part of the brand community.
Welcome to the social world.