Social Media: a bad marketing strategy?

Every few months, a jargon comes along that forces a wry smile. Till recently, TGIF would translate to how you felt on Friday or would mean an American fast food chain. However, in the web enabled flat world, it stands for Twitter, Google, Internet and Facebook. While this is gaining currency in the US, it will surely make it way to this side of the pond very soon. In one of the finest article I have read recently on this topic, branding guru Al Ries argues that Social Media Not The Answer For Weak Brands. He is spot on!!

Al argues that marketing can be divided into marketing strategy and marketing tactics. With marketing strategy being the most important half of a marketing programme, he classifies TGIF and things of that ilk to be components of marketing tactic. As Claire mentioned in her blog, the TGIF activists have forced companies to bring back old products (Wispa, Chuck etc). Similarly companies have also been forced to withdraw products. When HSBC added an overdraft fee for recent-graduate bank accounts in the UK, it incurred the wrath of students who set up a Facebook group called “Stop the Great HSBC Graduate Rip-off!” It generated enough negative publicity that the bank reversed course in a matter of weeks.

One of the most critical functions that social media excels in is capturing the Voice of the Customer. Companies need to be aware about what is being said about them in TGIF space. They need to have a strategy on how to engage with TGIF. Companies need to define, understand and engage their target markets. If you get it right, you might even make money on it e.g, Dell. But overwhelming evidence is that TGIF is helping companies to better understand it customers and competition.

TGIF has flattened the competitive landscape and to quote Al: has replaced word-of-mouth with word of finger. A key difference: word-of-mouth leaves an invisible trail in the ether. Word-of-finger leaves an electronic trail on the internet. However, social media slickness is no substitute for having a solid marketing strategy. This is especially true for companies that service retail customers.

(This blog appeared in Capgemini’s Customer Experience Blog in Dec 2009)

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