84% of CMOs aren’t listening to customers online. What’s a marketer to do?

diverginpaths.jpgThis week the CMO Council released a survey of 400 marketing executives finding that only 16% have any way of regularly monitoring their companies’ online word of mouth. When you consider current and projected rates of creation and consumption of online word of mouth (UGC, CGC, etc), it becomes quite clear that most marketers continue down the paths they’ve followed for many years, expecting the same results while consumer behavior has taken a hard turn in another direction.

The fact of the matter is that word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing communications – always has been and always will be. Historically marketers have had very limited means to effectively measure or influence word of mouth, and we’ve spent unimaginable amounts of time and money on the next best thing to get people to buy our products. In doing so we’ve talked about brand gap, conversion rates and engagement as measures of minute changes in marketing effectiveness while customers simply ask each other “is it going to do what I want and is it worth the price?”

One explanation for the lack of online word of mouth research and marketing adoption amongst marketers is the question of ownership. Within many companies there’s confusion about who online word of mouth belongs to – the brand management, digital marketing team, research team or customer relations. Again, highlighting the misalignment of many brands’ marketing and management structures to the changing behavior of customers.

In our experience measuring and marketing with online word of mouth (for Avis, OpenSkies, and others) we’ve seen precisely why this confusion of ownership occurs. Digital marketers often identify the opportunity because it’s online, but their budgets are generally limited to more tangible, ROI focused investments. Brand managers and research departments who could really get into the data tend to have more faith in the quality of insight from traditional sources such as focus groups, panels and offline tracking studies (a position that’s becoming very hard to defend). And customer service teams often fear that it’s just another complaint channel that they’d rather not open up – it can seem to be overwhelming.

The most successful model we’ve experienced is collaborative ownership – with Avis in particular we have great success as the digital agency managing word of mouth research and marketing on behalf of the marketing and customer relations teams. In fact, it was a priority of the program’s structure from day one – in order to add value to the social media space and leverage its’ insights and benefits to the greatest degree, it required a ‘task force’ of sorts made up of the heads of marketing and customer service, and a select member of their teams.

At the root of this approach is the thinking that word of mouth, and marketing in general, can be quite effective if it’s based on service instead of solicitation. An approach that would require, in many companies, some structural adjustments – but isn’t that that point – when customers change their behavior shouldn’t marketers?


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Web Liquid is a digital marketing agency with offices in London, New York and Lagos.

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