Situational Influence: A New Marketing Model for a New Era
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The end result of any good marketing effort is to identify, engage, and nurture the most qualified prospects, ensuring the leads generated drive the highest customer acquisition rate—or at least it should be. There’s been a backlash against the marketing industry, marketing professionals, and even some marketing software platforms because of what many see as their inability to measure the direct result of their efforts vis-à-vis the business’s bottom line.
The study of marketing—and social media in particular—is often criticized for being a soft science. Critics point to exercises such as branding, community building, and social engagement as examples of efforts that may raise awareness of the brand name but are rarely able to link directly to the specific sales or profits generated by those activities. The need to measure the return on investment (ROI) of social media activities—and by extension marketing—has become a rallying cry of business executives and pundits alike.
Others claim that many modern social engagement programs are ineffectual due to their focus on short-term strategies instead of long-term value. Here critics point to the trend in acquisition of simple measures of success such as followers, “Likes,” and shares. Others cite the use of social influence scoring platforms to identify brand advocates as short-cuts driving poor and inaccurate results because they avoid the real work required to drive long-term business value and bottom-line results.
Criticisms aside, the practice of influence marketing must be restrategized if it’s going to become an effective marketing tactic for businesses and gain the favor of executives who control marketing budgets. The advent and use of today’s popular social influence platforms and scores is not influence marketing. These platforms are a good exercise in product and brand amplification, whereas true influence marketing is about measurable customer acquisition and lead conversion. This chapter lays the foundation for an influence marketing blueprint that demonstrates how the practice of influence marketing may return to driving measurable sales instead of just broad brand awareness.
Business models and methodologies are constantly evolving to adapt to consumer trends, technological advances, and socio-economic changes. It’s a common occurrence; in fact, evolving business thinking, strategy, and process is essential for corporate growth. The key, of course, is to stay ahead of consumer needs and preferences so that your product, operations, and marketing are ready when consumers make the shift. Better yet, influence them to shift toward your product. Today we have the advantage of Big Data, a term used to describe the increasing amount of unstructured business and consumer data being collected and stored by organizations. However, the term is also associated with the fact that real insights from this collection of data are difficult to ascertain due to the current limitations of commonly used software tools that capture, manage, and process that data. Ironically, technology has created an environment where we produce and collect data faster than technology permits us to effectively store and intelligently analyze it. This fact hasn’t stop marketers from basing decisions on such data, however.
Steve Woodruff, president and founder of Impactiviti, a professional pharmaceutical and health-care industry referral network, states that too few marketers pay attention to the trend currents, which he defines as unstoppable forces (social, technological, economic, etc.) inexorably shaping the cultural landscape. He warns that the current trends most businesses focus on are merely metrics that contribute to much larger trend currents. He argues that a business’s quest to mine data and manage current trends blinds them to the long-term shifts in communication; they do not see the proverbial forest for the trees. His views are an astute observation, as we’re seeing more and more businesses crippled under the weight of Big Data and more and more marketers—faced with so much online data—jumping on the bandwagon of quick-fix social media solutions instead of doing the requisite work for success.
For many years now, Apple Computers has been the go-to case study of a business that stays ahead of the curve, with some arguing that its real success comes from creating the curve that people subsequently follow. Whichever you believe, the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, was the epitome of someone who saw only trend currents. For example, in 2000 when the music industry was focused on fighting individuals sharing copyrighted music for free across peer-to-peer networks like Napster, Apple was monitoring the trend currents. What others saw as a copyright or financial issue, they saw as a fundamental change in how people purchase and consume music. The music community was trying to manage the current trend while Apple focused on the trend current. Jobs set out to create a solution that leveraged the Napster revolution to create an entirely new business model. Less than a year later, he introduced iTunes to the world, and within a few months was boasting a million downloads. Later that year, it launched the next iPod featuring a brand-new version of iTunes that seamlessly integrated with the songs and playlists stored on Mac computers. Within a year, Apple reinvented the industry, identifying and adapting to the trend current, not the current trend.
Arguably, at least in modern times, technology has had the biggest impact on consumer habits, business operations, and the economy in general. Social scientist Everett Rogers outlined an adoption life cycle of technology in his book Diffusion of Innovations, shown in Figure 5.1, which explains how technology is first embraced by a few innovators and early adopters before the majority of the public embraces it. These innovators who tend to jump on a trend quickly to gain the first-to-market advantage often fail to understand the trend current. The crossroad is typically traversed by the “early adopters” who are equally quick to jump on new technologies, but whether the path chosen leads to “early majority” adoption is based on how well the innovators understood the trend currents.
Figure 5.1. Innovation adoption life cycle
We’re at just such a crossroads today with influence marketing; what is the current trend and what are the trend currents? Innovators, such as PeerIndex, Klout, and Kred, witnessing the change caused by social technologies, pervasive communication, and the disruptive impact they had on word-of-mouth and influence marketing practices, developed first-to-market technologies to leverage the Big Data available across social networks to identify influencers through their level of social activity, the size of their network, and how much other social media users engage with them. They sought to provide marketers a new tool that could once again effectively identify influencers within their communities. Marketers, or the innovators and early adopters using social scoring platforms as the basis for influence marketing campaigns, are embracing current trends. However, if we suspend our focus on the current trend, we might see where we’re missing the opportunity to truly create, manage, and measure brand influencers in the future. We’re not suggesting that social scoring platforms are useless, only that basing influence marketing campaigns on them is shortsighted. To measurably and effectively generate business value from influence marketing, we must first understand and navigate the disruptive forces created by social media and the pervasive technologies previously outlined in Chapter 4, “The Current Influence Model and Social Scoring.” In addition, consideration for how consumers make decisions at different stages of the purchase life cycle adds a new dynamic to influence marketing strategy.