To put it simply, we market online because that is where the customers are, in ever-increasing numbers. Flawed as they can be, statistics do tell a story, and as proof of my opening statement, this graphic supports that assertion.

Social Media Users2

All social media channels combined account for 25–33% of the global population. The proliferation of digital devices from desktop computers and laptops to tablets, smartphones, and glasses with heads-up displays now defines our world. Globally, cell phone access is available to 91% of the planet. ( Access to digital information is global and expanding as well.

This widespread access to information necessitates that we market on all digital channels. Brands can no longer influence customers by controlling the information they see or by telling a story to distract and mislead rather than dealing in facts, features, and benefits in a two-way, community-focused way. Customers will seek out the opinions of their friends, family, and social media contacts to find out what they think about your brand. Then, they will go in search of the truth by visiting independent, unbiased sources to validate the claims you make about your brand.

Let us think about that for just a moment. The traditional marketing funnel of AIDA (attention, interest, desire, and action) will always exist, but the process has become more dynamic and sophisticated. Not only are potential customers using word of mouth to seek the advice and counsel of other potential customers when making a decision to buy brand X or brand Y, they are now doing it online, in real time, using digital search and social media channels. In addition, they are doing their homework, which could come from the brand itself but is more commonly the first Google result or the top Twitter feeds for a concept or product.

So, what does this mean for marketers as we strive to acquire customers, increase conversion on our e-commerce sites, and earn customer loyalty? We must engage customers where they get their information, in their digital environment. We must make sure that the answer from their social media friends, family, and acquaintances to the question, “Does brand X really do that?” is an emphatic “Yes!” Then, we must be able to measure, target, and repeat this for similar customers across our marketing channels. We must be aware of and even point them to independent sources that talk about our brand. We must provide a service and value to the engagement.

Search Marketing

Moreover, when we talk about social engagement, we are talking about stamping a face, personality, and identity on a brand. Many people interact with social media while watching TV. The customer has to recognize the brand when they see it and know how best to connect. The complexity of that statement is awe-inspiring in integrating across media channels. The concept of a brand being a person just like you and me is counter-intuitive. The brand is the system with which many of us don’t have a connection. However, that’s changing in the age of social media—the brand is now identified more closely in social media through people, like you and me, which explains why I am here and why I am writing. Let’s talk about what we can do as digital marketers to optimize the customer’s experience.

So, what is the plan? First off, we have to be online with customers in the places they frequent. We will talk to them and ensure our website is set up for high conversion, customer satisfaction, and visibility in social and search channels. We will provide useful information in forums that customers frequent without doing the hard sell or hyping the brand. When you want to buy something, you always have questions. We need to be the person there with the answer and we need to be credible and influential.

Part of that conversation will involve making it easy to find brand content that helps answer customer questions either with our content or that of a reputable, trusted, and unbiased third party. That content must clearly differentiate the brand from competitive brands and be unique and engaging in capturing a customer’s attention. It has to be the objective truth and provide clear benefits to their decision. Remember that customers will verify what they read through an independent third party. This is the power of information and social media at work.

Lastly, we can use marketing cloud dashboards to understand Big Data, inform and validate future marketing decisions, and give customers more of what they want.

As audiences become more digitally savvy, the businesses that want to stay competitive in a multichannel, multiscreen world must continue to adapt, engage, and tell brand stories in a new way.