Think of all the ways that companies use branding to build awareness of themselves or to promote their social awareness and customer service values. A few things come to mind such as greeters at the entrance of your my favorite store, go-green awareness issues, charity drives that “give back” to the community for every purchase made, TV screens playing music videos or news as you wait in line, and the list goes on.
None of these things lead directly to conversions but they do lead to higher company awareness and the good old fashioned fuzzy-feelings we get when we know that that we are valued as a customer. Most times we are probably not even be aware of these things on a conscious level. But the effect shows as we have a tendency to patron these companies more frequently than the other alternatives.
Branding is a viable marketing strategy
Businesses worldwide invest millions of dollars in branding campaigns each year. In fact, let’s put aside pure branding campaigns. If you think about it, providing good customer service is branding too. The quality of customer service a company provides (good or bad), causes an image of that company to be branded into the consumers mind. Over time, a little here and a little there builds up into a solid perception of that company. Whether they like it or not they have established a recognizable brand by doing little more than going about their business.
When it comes to realizing the benefits of branding, most companies will tell you that it is valuable. But increases in sales can rarely be traced back to a single customer service or branding event. But that doesn’t negate the value or stop companies from investing their money into these types of campaigns. The lack of trackable ROI on a per-sale level doesn’t make branding (or good customer service) an unnecessary expense. In fact I don’t think any consumer would argue against the necessity of excellent customer service.
So what’s all this have to do with social media?
Social media is branding
Over time Target may see an increase in brand awareness and overall sales due to their clever TV commercials that do little more than show people dancing around a red target symbol, but I doubt they can trace any sales increase to a single commercial spot. I’m sure Wal-Mart can’t track a single purchase to the addition of the elderly employee standing at the entrance greeting customers. But when we walk through those doors, we feel that Wal-Mart cares just a little bit more about me, the customer. So goes social media.
When we engage in social media and online social networking, we similarly don’t see any immediate, trackable results. But, like branding and customer service, we don’t need to in order to understand that it’s valuable. When companies engage in social media they can’t think of it as a traditional marketing expense with a return on investment that can be shown on paper. Results won’t be seen immediately, and usually only after a very long period of time, and you’ll not likely be able to pinpoint a single new sale or customer an a particular branding campaign.
But social media is still important. It provides a way for companies to get out there and get noticed. It’s an opportunity to go where the consumers are and create a presence. Like a TV ad, you don’t have to wait for consumers to find you, you go where they are. But instead of forcing yourself on them while they are watching their favorite TV show, social media let’s you actually hang out with them. You’re not the ad on the wall, you’re the guy holding the drink telling stories that your audience finds fascinating.
Social media is better than branding and customer service
Because of the direct interaction social media affords the client with their customers, it truly is better than any branding campaign, including one-on-one customer service. Customer service means that the target consumer has to become a customer first (or at least be very close to becoming a customer) before you can make a good impression.
Social media, however allows you to brand yourself long before anyone becomes your customer. And it can often be the catalyst that brings them over. And why wouldn’t they? You’ve already become a part of the group. In fact, if you’ve done your social marketing right, you’ve already become their friend. This is interactive branding at work.
So don’t be afraid to participate in social media just because you don’t see the ROI. You’re not likely to, at least not immediately and not in a way you can pinpoint one event causing another. But over time, you can build your social reputation. This leads to credibility. And over time that credibility and awareness will very likely lead to an increase in your customer base.