Getting The Social Customer To Buy

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Shopping is a social act. We’d like to think that it’s the perfect fit for Social Media. Is it?

Between us friends, I’ve shifted and changed my presentations on Digital Marketing in the past few months. It has moved away (almost completely) from what brands either should be doing in the Digital Marketing and how to think about the space to being one hundred percent customer focused. I wish I had the source for the following thought, but someone recently said that this is the first time in the history of Marketing that the consumers are ahead of the marketers.

It’s true.

What are brands really up to?

  • They’re asking consumers to "like" them on Facebook while few actually make an effort to connect to those individuals on their own spaces.
  • They’re asking customers to subscribe to the RSS feeds of their Blogs or share their content, while the brand editors spend zero time engaging in the comments on the Blogs being created by their customers.
  • They’re looking for customers to follow them on Twitter, but don’t actually push beyond their own tweetstream to build affinity and loyalty.
  • They’re asking customers to watch their videos on YouTube, but few brands are doing anything unique on the channel. It’s mostly their traditional advertising or a longer version of a TV ad.

Social Media is not a destination.

The greatest struggle facing brands is the paradigm shift away from Social Media being a destination to Social Media being everywhere – a simple and true part of their lives. Brands make the (wrong) assumption that people will go to Facebook, like their brand, do something on the wall, then the brand will be in a better consideration space for purchase further down the sales funnel.

Create a new scenario…

Here’s some fiction for you: Sara needs a new sun dress. She goes online and does some research. She posts some options up on Facebook and asks her friends on Twitter to check it out and help her decide. Then, she heads down the store (if she hasn’t made the purchase online) to buy the dress. Sounds realistic, doesn’t it? It’s only half of the story. Let’s try again: Sara needs a new sun dress. She does some online research, posts some options on Facebook and tweets them up. Her friend, Mandy, sees the tweet and they text each other to head over to the mall together. While strolling through the mall, they’re both not only chatting to one another, but they’re connected. They’re responding to text messages, they’re being alerted to Facebook and Twitter updates, they’re laughing at posts and – maybe – they’re even checking in with Foursquare to see who else is around. While in the store, they notice a couple of other dresses, they snap some pictures and post them, but then a question comes up about the materials that were used to make the dress. Sara and Mandy do some quick online searches… nothing. They realize that the brand is on Twitter so they ask the brand directly…

…and so the story goes.

The new consumer is not linear. They are scattered. They are connected – not only to one another, but to the world – and their Social Media engagement is highly untethered. I’m often critical of brands who try to make Digital Marketing bend to their will instead of spending the time, effort and having the patience to build valuable credibility (which leads to loyalty). This is another prime example of that: your consumer is social… much more social than they have ever been before, but it’s not a linear relationship (like the one they probably have with your flyers or coupons or five years ago with a website) and you’re not going to be able to make them bend to your will, either. Facebook is not a destination in their worlds. Facebook is everywhere and anywhere.

This is not my consumer.

There are many brands who feel like smartphones, iPads and Social Media have no direct impact on them, because this type of consumer is not in their demographic. Those same people used to wonder why they need a website. Whether or not this is a current part of your customer’s media and technology diet is irrelevant because it will be. The question is how long? Ten years? Five years? Two years? It’s hard to say, but my gut says less than five years and closer to two years. Most brands are already in planning for next year, so this means it needs to get on the business slate now. Today.

Ask yourself this: are you really ready for the social customer (as they are and not as you would like them to be)?


  1. Sounds like you have come out of a meeting or two quite frustrated at the brands you do or want to represent. What’s scary for them is if Mitch Joel can’t convince them who can? New competitors will pass them by, almost unnoticed…..

  2. Great post. I agree with you that social is the a layer through which all things are going to be seen. If you look at the stats, social (and mobile) is going to quickly become the default state of the “Internet”. Consumers are scattered and I completely agree that trying to get Likes, etc is noise and that engagement is where the rubber meets the road. The issue with most marketers is that they’re so used to distribution, that they can’t even fathom true engagement. “That would be too hard!” or “where is the ROI? is something I hear often.
    We all learned from The Cluetrain Manfiesto that we’re back in a true marketplace. This is what social has done . . .
    As for the ‘This is not my consumer’ sentiment, I agree with clients when they tell me this and then quickly follow-up with a conversation about the rise of the mobile influencer ( Ignore these individuals at your own risk.
    Again, great post. Thank you.

  3. The impact of this means marketing is going to get more expensive to manage with higher costs for both time and money. Although marketers will hold onto mass media broadcast methods for as long as possible to keep costs down.

  4. I agree that brands are nowhere up to speed on the reality of being social online. The first obstacle is that brands have been, and continue to be, slow at adapting to the reality of social media marketing. The speed at which their reality has changed is exponentially faster than the speed at which they are accustomed to or even able to change.
    But there is a bigger obstacle. Using social media means changing the entire way businesses think and operate. In a social world, ROI can not be front and center. In a social world, business leaders have to be social. Most aren’t comfortable with that. In a social world, empathy trumps strategy. In other words, to make social media work, businesses need a paradigm shift. That is a lot to expect.

  5. Excellent blog Mitch,
    I would like to hear more of your thoughts on your opening remark of:
    “It has moved away (almost completely) from what brands either should be doing in the Digital Marketing and how to think about the space to being one hundred percent customer focused.”
    Recently there has been great talk about this, and a noticeable shift in what many are saying. Moving away from as you said “what brands should be doing in Digital Marketing” to either “customer focused” or “customer service”
    I agree with your points that many brands request people to join them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter to only put out advertising in a different channel. Furthermore, those brands that are interacting, are going on Facebook or Twitter and see what others are saying are currently getting a huge edge or the rest of their competition.
    Looking forward to more posts on this subject Mr. Joel,
    Until Next time

  6. Yes. Yes I am. I regularly encourage my clients to use any and all channels available to them to reach me with customer service questions…except the phone. They are starting to do just that but it’s slow going. I train people to use technology so frequently my clients aren’t there yet. But I will answer a tech question at 11pm on Facebook (as I did last night) rather than being forced to wait until a decent hour to return your call on a weekday. I’m ready.

  7. Interesting that David Rubin sees online video as almost the same thing as TV. He sees that all as Push, not a very good way to build a relationship through digital, almost as if that’s an after thought. Mitch are you seeing the same mindset when pitching to clients?

  8. Hurricane Irene hit Vermont in a very serious way. Some have said the flooding occurred in ways that haven’t been seen in 500 years. Many homes were flooded leaving the insulation in their walls useless. So, I posted the following on Facebook to reach out to those homeowners who needed advice as to what to do.
    Here’s what I wrote, “For home-owners with flood damage from Hurricane Irene – JLC: The Journal of Light Construction may have some information about how to re-insulate your home. Efficiency Vermont has offered help and I imagine BuildingGreen, LLC could help as well. Of course, Vermont Green Building Network has a lot of members who are general contractors who may be able to help as well. There’s a lot of help going on in Vermont!”
    Each of the recommendations I made were to companies that are active on Facebook and that I am a “fan” of. Their links were active and the post showed up on each of their pages. I didn’t post that for recognition from the companies but to support the people who could use the help. However, I have to admit I was surprised that you were right, companies what us to “like” them but they aren’t actually engaged!
    To the other extreme, I Tweeted out “Morning is broken but Green Mountain Coffee Roasters can fix it.” at 7 am one morning and at 7:15 had a Tweet back from them. Do you know how many times I’ve told this story? Might you be more inclined to buy Green Mountain Coffee? I know I am.
    Companies need to realize what they’re missing by not engaging.

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