By adaptive - July 22nd, 2014

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For corporations to succeed they need to make the move from a product-focused approach to one that is more customer-focused

Corporations are focused on a set of key drivers that include: revenue, bottom line, financials, return on investment and growth. The consumer on the other hand is driven by an entirely different lingo that revolves around feelings, personal impact, intimacy, trust and engagement. For the business to capture the loyal attention of their consumer within the social sphere, they need to shift their focus from products to people.

“It’s not harder to sell today, but it is harder to keep selling,” says Estelle Nagel, Head or PR for Gumtree in South Africa. “We are in the process of changing our social media plans to become more customer-centric even though we have one of the largest social media pages in the country. Even with close to 900k followers, we felt we had to make changes to get the full value out of it. Research has taught us that customers are less attentive, less brand loyal and more sceptical of advertising messages. They know you are trying to get them to part with their money and that you have an agenda.”

Almost every article talking about social media points out how huge it is, and how corporations and their brands simply must use it in order to grow as a brand and a business. It’s easy to ignore this repetitive sentiment, as it doesn’t really add much value. However, some startling facts from around the web should get any business without customer-focused policy to rethink their status:

  • Social networking has long since overtaken porn as the hottest Internet search.
  • Social media is no longer relegated to the young and the restless with the 55-64 year age bracket growing by 79% on Twitter, 46% on Facebook and 56% on Google+ since 2012.
  • You have under an hour to respond on Twitter, especially if it’s a complaint.
  • YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn ranked as top three sources for referrals according to Shareaholic, with Facebook and Pinterest remaining King and Queen for referrers of traffic.


Getting to the customer

Developing a social strategy for your corporation needs to have two-way engagement that encourages communication and builds loyalty and trust. Many brands are not yet aware of how much power now sits in the hands of the consumer.

“There has been a power shift and we’ve moved away from looking at the product and instead we are focusing on the consumer,” says Dave Ogden, Customer Engagement Consultant at Aspect Software. “In just a few clicks, customers can research a product or company prior to purchase, or write a review about their experience. The power of opinion is undeniable and – without focusing on the customer to give them a positive experience – bad company reviews mean they will simply take their business elsewhere.”

This sentiment is echoed across all those who offered insight into this piece: ignore the customer at your peril.

“The influence of technology and social media has changed the way brands communicate with their clients and potential clients, and how clients engage with brands,” says Veli Ngubane, Creative Director at Avatar. “It is important to move from product focused strategies to customer centric ones as it is the brands that pair the needs of the product with insight that create positive experiences.”

Apple is one company that regularly uses the customer approach in order to boost the brand and the business. Their product interactions focus on how they will improve the lives of their users, not long and dusty lists of features and specifications that few people understand. They show the value of their product to the user and that value is based on insight into the lives and behaviours of their customer base.

Interestingly, it was Apple who bought Dr Dre’s Beats for $3bn – a move that not only capitalised on the hip hop star’s understanding of the music industry, but also gave Apple access to a product that was entirely structured around a customer need. The business was built around a specific customer and has become one of the most popular in its arena as a result.

Offering insight

According to Lauren Shantall, Director of Lauren Shantall, the responsiveness of social media is what makes it such a strong tool for gaining insight into the consumer: “You can pose a direct question and get a real response,” she says. “The insights you can gain into customer behaviour by looking at demographics, usage, social media influencer tracking and virility potential are much more sophisticated and revealing.”

Social Media Post Click Engagement

“If asked, most customers are happy to tell companies about their needs and requirements and with their answers, companies can take action and respond,” says Fran Muiños, Social Media Manager at STD-Multiopción. “Today every company in most sectors competes with at least a dozen competitors worldwide and must keep up with an ever changing market. To know what your customer wants, before your competition does, could give you the leverage needed to survive and emerge as a market leader.”

Gathering the insight offered by the consumer allows the brand to develop communication tools and social media strategies that engage with their customer base and give them a sense of being heard. Showing the customer that you’re listening can make all the difference in the way that they respond and relate to your business.

“You can’t please everyone, but if you drill down to what people are happy or unhappy about and respond, nine times out of ten they are glad you took the time to speak to them,” says Nagel. “They feel like part owners of the brand and that’s what you want.”

Plum Baby & Kids Fashion is a wholesale business that used to focus on the products only. When the new owners took over they realised that they had to adapt and develop a more customer-centric business. They used social media to achieve this goal as it didn’t demand a lot of capital outlay and yet offered greater returns on any investment.

“We have used social media to gain valuable insight into our customer’s wants and needs,” says Eugenie Pepper, owner at Plum. “Through social we were able to build connections and strengthen relationships with our end consumer. We asked our customers if they preferred side opening or front opening baby sleeping bags and found that parents of toddlers preferred them on the site, so we changed these to suit.”

Using social media has had a major impact on Plum’s presence in the marketplace and having moved to a customer-centric approach, they have becoming more attuned to what their customers want and have subsequently increased their sales, their following and brand identity.

What social media has shown corporations is that they are not selling products or features any longer. Social businesses sell benefits to their customers. Successful enterprises understand this shift and place it at the heart of all their marketing and customer support activities.

The second part of this series will cover how personalisation has been radically altered in the age of social media, and how these interactions are the bedrock of lifetime customer advocacy.

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