The previous post on the Flip side of social media, drew such an impassioned response that I am compelled to dive deep into the 3 things that stand out in Marketing today.time-mag-cover

  1. Marketing to the Millennials– am sure you would have seen innumerable charts and graphs about how everyone below 30 years of age is online, and how that is half of the population of the world today ( the civilized world, at least!) And of course, the next bit of inference based on data, that 90% of all internet time is on social media, and hence, brands and marketers need to be where people are interacting with (read- poking!) each other on Facebook, Re-Tweeting each other’s 90- character attempts at inspiration, Haiku, humor, updates on where you’ve been and what you’re doing, and where via Foursquare, and in visual graphics on Pinterest. (Read this research piece on Gen M online.)
  2. Online is Social– Like it or not, that’s the nature of the beast. When Craigslist and usenet groups came up in the early 90’s, folks were surfing using dial-up and Mozilla browsers. When HTML got introduced a few years later, every marketer worth his salt spent a few bucks at least on display ads so much so that search engines of the day Altavista, Northern Light, etc became slow with the contextual ads and promoted results loading first before the search result did.
  3. The Devil lies in the Details- and that brings me to a number of assumptions, and insights, often based on faulty data. How faulty? I spent some time with a market research guru last weekend and he told me how field research, which came up with; in the mid-1980’s how many polyester shirts would be worn in India, and now the ridiculous INR 32 per day as the poverty line, is done. DATA, is short hand for DA (dearness allowance) and TA (travel allowance). With data collection forming the base of most analytics and insights, the fact that it can be, and is routinely inaccurate makes it a ridiculous base for building business plans around. The details in this case, are a bunch of lies!

How damaging can that be? Consider the USD 1.3 Billion dollar law suit filed by NDTV against global research giant Nielsen, which the TV channel and production house has accused Nielsen of tampering with TV ratings for over 8 years. Consider also the LIBOR rate-fixing scam which is now unwinding its trails from London’s Barclays Bank, threatening to ensnare UBS and a perhaps, mark its trail to all major financial institutions, and the fiction of the marketplace being the perfect setting for creating value is sent right  back to its Adam Smith “wealth of nations” roots.

So, now here is data from the world of wired and mobile internet, stating in no uncertain terms that Millennials behave differently from their predecessors, and hence, the tools of engagement should be different. How different? For instance, in the US, teens text more, talk less, IM more, Twitter less, and so on and so forth. Slowly but surely influencing marketers to choose channels for their spends.

Interestingly, this becomes the cause for most marketing failures! Marketers, do a whole load of planning and choosing before unleashing a campaign, but do little else after. Why? Because sales is out of the purview of marketing, a marketer’s job ends after creating the demand for the product, the supply side – retail, discounts, etc, are handled by sales, and the results; RoI calculations, if you please, is something the cone heads from research and finance may do after the event, coming up with findings almost 6 months after the act. Having gotten used to such lead-lags, marketers would rather go with logical assumptions, and safe bets and that would have made the case for digital spends stronger. It’s all a data network-with every page view, click, like, comment, share being instantly trackable- right?

Wrong! The branded internet experience of today is a ‘walled garden’ with little unbiased third party research. Analytics are Google Analytics, Insights are Facebook Insights, and RoI in terms of reach and frequency, doesn’t always lead to sudden and significant spike in sales, or consumer behavior or change in mindset. The social web is at best used only an amplifier of a core proposition which would have been attractive even when no marketing dollars was spent on it.  And, am sorry, off or discount sales are NOT marketing propositions, they are inventory-clearing and sales-driven at best, and as any brand custodian will tell you, kills the brand. If you can’t find a market premium, don’t build the brand J

The answer, then, as always to change the frame of reference! Look at all previous gen’s – starting with the baby boomers, in the US in 1950’s; Midnight’s children, in India in 1970’s and then map onto Gen X, which saw the rise of the internet and economic liberalization in India, and the dismantling of Cold War economics across the world. And then pause to ponder, does Gen M- deserve any attention at all?

Beyond the fact, that they are young, and have some or a lot of economic spending power or ambition, how are they different from the generations before them.

And the interesting truth beyond first impressions is that Gen M follows trends, and each other, consumes and adapts to current opinions, feels entitled beyond contribution. And if the armchair activism, and social media inspired flash mobs are any indication, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Albeit powered with more gadgets and instant access but less to distinguish them from previous Gen’s.

The learning then for marketers,

  1. Start listening to the stream. Forget about assumptions based on hard data, there are none. Be flexible in your planning to be able to experiment over and over again, across multiple media and audience touch points. Create simple watch points for metrics, don’t get lost in the firehose of digital or social behavior data.
  2. Stop looking for the cookie cutter. Sell the Model T’s in black, and enable the consumer with a range of paints to express themselves through your products. An innovation Nokia brought into cellphones, and later lost track off.
  3. Begin visioning a Social Media Marketing cycle. If you believe that your existing customers can be your brand ambassadors, using social media, envision your role in a flip cycle, where customer care gives you marketing insights, and sales converts at purchase points, armed with testimonials and referrals.

Or else,  continue to believe customers are A***holes, and they will buy whatever you peddle, so long as it’s visible with high-decibel surround sound, and keep complaining why Gen M is so different!

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