I remember the first time someone asked me if I had tweeted yet. I just stared at them as if they had just spoken to me in Swahili. It’s probably the same way many of today’s C-suite executives look at their marketing managers when they request funds for social marketing initiatives. They just can’t comprehend the recent sudden changes in consumer behavior and communications technology and how quickly these changes have reshaped the marketing universe.
The recent history of the home and building industry is partly to blame. Rewind the clock five years, virtual eons in Internet years. In 2005 the home and building industry was just beginning to realize the full impact of the mass retailer model. Centuries old wholesale distribution networks were in disarray. Manufacturers were no longer the most powerful entity in the channel. The Big Boxes were calling the shots. And speculative real estate was taking off like a rocket. Housing starts began to escalate.
Who had time to notice that high-speed Internet had become a household essential? That streaming video was becoming the norm? That blogs, RSS and forums were seriously eroding magazine market share? Our world was focused on building brands and driving awareness. Reach and frequency. TRP’s. Realigning channels of distribution. Supporting product introductions. Just sell baby!
Two more years of extraordinary prosperity and then the market collapsed. In a single year, housing starts plummeted from an all time high of 2.6 million to less than 500,000. Budgets and staff were cut reciprocally. CFOs were asking their President’s, “Do we really need to advertise?” “What can we cut?” “Shouldn’t you be running sales promotions?”
The boom and bust economy has been a smoke screen for some companies. Intent on retooling their bottom line, the head-honchos have focused on staff reductions and tired sales and marketing gimmicks aimed at generating immediate sales. And who can blame them? They have missed a fundamental shift in market dynamics that is essential to survival in this new conversation economy.
During this same period, marketing managers were tasked to do more with less. We hardly had time to process the multitude of e-mails we were receiving, much less figure out what a retweet was. We all struggled to understand the implications of social media.
So many of us were focused on the channels themselves instead of understanding the value of the conversations occurring in them. We sensed the way consumers were making decisions about brands was changing. We heard the horror stories about educated consumers that knew more about our products than our dealers. We began to see that consumers expected a response to their tweet to our customer relations department.
I have a unique vantage point in that I get to talk to H&B marketing decision makers across the country. Everyone is wrestling with the enormity and complexity of what we now call social marketing. And, in the midst of dramatic budget and staffing shortfalls, most will tell you they’ve had to muster the nerve to explain to their CEO that they need funding for a Facebook page or Web site optimization only to receive a blank response. And most are beginning to realize that this is so much more than a communications initiative.
The companies that have embraced social marketing, and have wrapped their consumer facing operations around these powerful tools, are taking share at an exponential rate. They have torn down traditional barriers to honest, transparent relationships with their customers, and they have measurable results to prove that it is working.
Too many companies still don’t get it. They view social media as a passing fad and don’t understand the implications of doing business the same old way. You see them going out of business on a regular basis. If you are in this boat, don’t give up. Do yourself a favor, seek out educational tools to help educate your senior management team.