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. (http://​sourcedigit​.com/​1​2​6​4​-​g​l​o​b​a​l​-​m​o​b​i​l​e​-​p​e​n​e​t​r​a​t​i​o​n​-​q​3​-​2​0​12/). 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.