I went to a marketing conference last week. The entrance, enrollment and aura were ‘uber’ chic. The miniature pastries were impressive and the panoramic views of rolling meadows injected mini-shots of euphoria.
Throughout the presentations something strange happened. Everyone seemed to recall the real role of marketing. Never mind future megatrends, it was all about lead generation. Gee whiz we forgot our roots… Amidst all these conversations, engagements and connectivity, we collectively got sidetracked, meandered aimlessly down pixelated paths – only to discover they were split ends or dead ends.
We think we have it figured out…
At last we can make sense of the waterfalls of social media streams, SEO metrics and the big fat data. 2012 is supposed to be the year we harness social media to get results – the year we build real online communities and translate it into revenue. No more spaghetti throwing on the wall to see what sticks. Finally we can make smarter decisions.
Hang on… Can we be so sure we got it this time round? What if we have lost the ability to know how we know?
Digital philosopher David Weinberger, in his book “Too big to know” flips the concept of knowledge around its very axel. Until not that long ago, knowledge in the form of science, marketing, education… was sourced from books and experts. Today knowledge is in the networks. Myriads of streams of data coil their way through connections and communities.
Supposedly, our friends, family, even you and I are churning out valuable information nodes. Believe it or not someone is actually tracking some of this information some of the time and measuring it in real time.
But who is to say these digital dust storms generate value? Since when did everything become so manageable? And who is to say that what we consider facts really are the facts?
Somewhere along the way, the line between – writers, bloggers, post creators, spectators and spotters, got blurred. Suddenly everyone is an expert.
So… how do you weigh the expertise of this crowd?
As a marketing consultant, not that long ago, I spent a large amount of my time researching material and presenting it in polished power point presentations. Today I am also sourcing some information from “network experts.” Like many of my colleagues, I am experimenting with meta data gleaned from social media monitoring tools.
The question is – does it provide enough insight? We are trying so hard to hear the voice of the customer, we are hoping to analyze it, but there is so much noise out there. No matter how well we try to capture and present engagement, can we really create marketing intelligence out of it?
Too often there is a disparity in the demographics between those who, let’s say, tweeted about a product, and those who bought the product, and the disparity is large enough to overturn any predicted result.
The US Republican race between Romney and Santorum is a great example of how often one candidate is overrated based on network noise that was analyzed with the coolest tools to date (and you can bet on it that millions will continue to be spent on extracting that information and presenting it in glossy reports).
Towards 2013, what can we do to avoid marketing traps, digital delusions and data debris?
Social media data mining is growing but it is firstly and fore mostly a guide rather than the ultimate answer. We can’t just neatly enter all the parameters into an app, click go and hope that it spits out the answer in real time.
Sure there is a place for big data and its new cousin – affinity data (valuable relationships between consumer behavior, products and content used to create more targeted marketing), but social network platforms are mercurial. Just look how sites like Digg, Foursquare and Gowalla are declining and Pinterest is rising.
Sure we need to take advantage of the expertise shared around the networks. After all, collaborative sharing is spreading valuable information and network knowledge. But there are also endless echo chambers spreading masses of unedited mush.
In the end we still need to combine tools with experience, instinct and an ability to think.
Perhaps our greatest task is balance – A balance between data mining –with more direct information eco-systems.
Perhaps towards 2013 we need to focus more on lead generation by talking, yes physically talking more directly, and more often to the market. We need to build smaller, more focused network communities, and never lose sight of why the hell should they listen to us in the first place.