Some Thoughts on the 4Ps and Customer Centricity

A cracking debate on the relevance of the traditional Marketing 4Ps in contemporary digital marketing has broken out in several places on the Internet. The pro-4P lobby believe that in the rush to get online, many organisations are forgetting some standard rules and good practice, citing the 4Ps as an element of the marketer’s armoury that should be introduced and taken on board. Writers such as Dave Chaffey and Paul Smith have long (in Internet Time) promoted an evolved model with changes to the meaning and number of Ps in the equation.

The anti-4P lobby claim that the evolution of social media means that the 4P model (and its descendants) are increasingly irrelevant because they are centred around the marketer and the product and not around the customer and their world (I won’t use the word “needs” because that is a contentious point). This lobby believe that in a social media world, companies need spend less time selling their product and more time working out what customers would like them to do, and that focussing on how the business broadcasts, and decides what it’s offering is, is an outdated and irrelevant concept.

It’s essentially a worldview difference between “This is what we do” versus “What can I do for you?” The first view will tell you all about brand value and product attributes. The second view relies on customers deciding what those values and attributes should be.

With this in mind it’s interesting to look at the use of Twitter by two organisations competing in the same marketplace – Northern Rail (Northern) and Trans Pennine Express (TPE). Northern (often nicknamed #northernfail is plagued by ancient rolling stock which is slow and unglamorous. There are often problems. TPE has new, fast express trains, but it too suffers from delays, cancellations, overcrowding and so on.

Casual observation of the two Twitter streams shows a marked difference in the use of the medium. TPE clearly have the 4Ps in their sights and use their stream to communicate promotions. Dialogue is clearly between winners and entrants to competitions. Nothing wrong with that (textbook you might say), but I would argue that the vast majority of customers might prefer the Twitter stream to engage with them on their use and valuing of the product. But it is all about “The Sell”.

Northern clearly use the channel to engage with people who complain or who have problems with their train journey. Indeed they’re clearly monitoring the channel for key hashtags and phrases where their customer base congregates. Dialogue is (sadly) apologetic but it clearly engages with audience in the points where they want. TPE are much slower to respond (if at all) and I would argue they are not monitoring the channel in the same way as their rivals.

A perfect (if such a thing exists) take on this is the T-shirt company Last Exit to Nowhere (LETN). With occasional tweets about product, LETN spend a lot of time engaging with their audience in non-promotional ways. Tweets are often about film trivia (or extreme film nerdery). Facebook updates often follow the same structure. Very rarely is a promotional matter with regard to product dealt with, although it does happen – and this often around new product often based on engagement with the community on the product’s development.

What LETN shows is there is a small space for the 4Ps, but it certainly takes a back seat. Concentrating on customer centricity is what drives their traffic rather than a sales drive. Because LETN have a strong empathy with their customers (as opposed to the customers supposedly having any kind of strong affinity with the LETN brand), customers clearly engage because it’s about what they’re interested in, not what LETN are interested in selling.

Nestle PR Anti-Social Fail Whale

Nestle haven’t had a good day today. They launched a Facebook page in an attempt to break into the social media sphere. They must be badly advised, because they assumed that a Facebook page was something you could control like a walled garden. Unfortunately, it’s not really gone their way.

One of the risks of a social media intervention is that you cannot control or account for people’s fickle behaviour. Nestle has had a checkered history in PR and must employ an army of PR professionals globally. So today’s fiasco smacks of sheer amateurism when there are plenty of professionals who could have forecast in advance the outcomes of this little venture.

Attempting to control the conversation is futile. Facebook, despite being behind a wall, is still very much an open game for consumers. A Fan Page is designed to attract everyone, but Nestle’s fatal mistake was for them to build it themselves rather than have it built by evangelists. And Nestle is a not a fan brand, unlike Coca Cola which, despite its bad press around the world, has a significant fan base. Coca Cola is a lifestyle choice. Nestle is a corporation and I doubt whether it has many fans (although KitKats and Smarties do have fans) beyond its institutional shareholders. Unlike Coke which has nearly 5 million fans on Facebook.

Thanks to @MichelleDigital I was reminded that the Coke Page was set up by actual fans who latterly received money for the page to become more “pro”. Coke’s happy to leave it as a grassroots outfit – for now – and it seems to only garner fanboyisms.

Nestle’s visible bullyboy tactics by the Page admins (click on the thumbnails for more details) served only to inflame the already incensed palm oil campaigners. Aggressive and control-freaky, this wasn’t how PR professionals are supposed to operate. There was a lot of moderating and cutting of posts along with expelling members of the group and a lot of aggressive, almost flame-trolling language. It’s poor, it’s anti-social media and it’s unprofessional. I suspect a serious bollocking will occur somewhere in the higher echelons of the Nestle Corporation.

Lesson of the day? Don’t think you can control the conversation. Don’t abuse people in the conversation. Get your fanboys to drive your brand in Facebook not your PR person.

Twitter status and Facebook status: fussiness & following

Whilst we all get to grips with Twitter and try and find ways we can monetize this channel, I thought it might be interesting to look at a few ideas that seem to be circulating amongst the Twitterati (love this new word).

What do you use your status in Facebook for? Many put how they feel or some witty riposte. Twitter as a status seems to be used for far more informative reasons, like asking a question of your Twitter constituency or for providing a useful nugget of content that you’ve produced or that you’ve seen elsewhere. It seems quite a place for viral distribution of info (retweeting) and it happens in real-time. I’ve noticed that people rarely openly tweet the mundane, beyond possibly pointing out what project they’re working on at the moment (with a view to solicit useful advice/input from their constituency).

I’ve noticed form my own followers/following, and from talking to other Twitter users, that unlike my Facebook constituency, my Twitter constituency is far more cognate: given the subject of my research, teaching and consulting, many of my following are working in the industry – people following me perhaps less so – but an interesting conversation with fellow twitterers led to a conclusion that we’re very fussy who we’ll twitter with, and that many twitterers regularly weed and cull their following/follower lists, particularly if they’re a daytime business user. Many block a follower who doesn’t have much of a bio or whose bio seems quite irrelevant tor their professional or personal interests. Others stop following a twitterer who, despite initial impressions, is simply a self publicist and/or a twitter spam merchant. On the other hand, these fellow twitterers had hundreds of “friends” on Facebook  – many of whom they did not know.

So my growing opinion is that Twitter constituencies are perhaps more tightly knit and a lot more fussy about who they involve. A great example of this is how Twitter users like to introduce a new Twitter user to their followers on the basis of trust – “I know this person, I think you’ll find them interesting and appropriate in your Twitter world.”

I’ll follow Twitter culture with interest, because I think it says quite a lot about how people feel about privacy.

FAIL: It’s Time for Facebook to Die

So – here we are on the edge of the precipice.

If you’re looking over the edge, you’ll notice that some things have already gone over. Old world companies, famous banks. You might even see the remnants of the Dot Com boom (and bust) down there too.

But – and here’s the extraordinary thing – we might be about to see a global phenomenon pass by too.

I put it to you, that Facebook is about to die.

Why?

  1. It seems like ages since anything new has happened with Facebook. There’s no obvious new features since the palaver with the new interface. I’m sure new stuff has crept in but where’s the fanfare?
  2. Spend on on-line ads (banners, PPC) is declining slightly, which is a market saturated with content publishers means there’s less ad revenue to go around an increasing number of sites. This has got to hit a business 100% reliant on ad revenue hard.
  3. A true social network like Facebook often resents corporate communications, so a number of advertisers have stopped placing ads there.
  4. The ad mechanism seems really clumsy in Facebook and relies on content scraped from individual profiles and not on Facebook user behaviour (I can write any old garbage as content on Facebook, but why not observe my attendance at events or look at things “I do” within the network?

So – with this in mind, I can’t imagine how Facebook can be making enough money to survive. Flickr can monetize through it’s $12 annual fee (small but what a long tail of professional photographers you can pick up). Ning groups can monetize themselves because of their distinctive niche audiences.  Google Groups are really adept at having very contextually driven ads inside them as part of the overall Google ad network (yet another channel).

I give it a year.

And while I’m at it. What’s gonna pay for Twitter?

Will Google buy it? Or someone else? Or wil it die off?

Fascists feel the wrath of Web 2.0

The leaking of the “secret” BNP list onto the Web has caught not only Nick Griffin unawares, but also the liberal world and it would seem that the tag cloud of social media is fundamentally not into fascism.

A wave of sites has cropped up (http://bnplist.co.uk which is a “wind-up” site and http://bnpmembers.co.uk to name but two) that allow you to identify members of the infamous list. The fact that the data is being shared virally across sites, blogs, through Twitter and on Facebook is damning. Talking to a couple of coders last night and they were looking for a way to build a Facebook app that would work out if any of your Facebook friends were on the list. Alarm bells may be ringing for Privacy issues, but the sheer speed that the data is coursing around the network at sends interesting messages to the marketers about the power of the medium. CEOs with million dollar budgets couldn’t dream of the kind of attention and exposure that this is getting.

To emphasize the viral nature of the subject, someone’s done a beautiful redux of Downfall here

Expect it to explode in the way we dream about!

Network Natives: “If you don’t play nicely, we will ignore you.”

It seems a number of companies think that the fact that they’ve landed on Planet Social Media automatically entitles them to broadcast messages to the current inhabitants. And as a result, they’ve been surprised by the simple lack of business which seems to be coming their way. And why’s that? Because network natives in social media environments do not appreciate being broadcast to. And it all points the way to the fact that many (if not most) organisations still do not get social media.

The key is that organisations believe it is “another channel to market,” however it’s not. Social media environments are places where people communicate with each other in an online environment. Social media environments are places which we can regard as channels to each other. A bit like the pub, coffee shop, canteen and so on. The only people who have any entitlement to engage with us are those we care to sit with. Like any social situation, if someone starts to dominate a social space, you’ll find that people will respond in an appropriate fashion: either by moving away themselves or by censuring that person.

Some organisations seem to have forgotten this in their gold-rush behaviour toward social media environments. CTR on things like Facebook is alleged to be as low as on any other regular web site (and then we’re not even thinking about conversion to sales). Some of this can be attributed to poor targeting software associated with the environments, but also because it’s still a broadcast method.

Having got engaged recently (and changed my status on Facebook to reflect this), I have been swamped by wedding related advertising (having previously swamped with ads for the black dating network). Little attention is paid as to whether I want these services. The ads are relentless. And it turns me off the firms involved. Yet – I know I may want these services, but the imperative needs to be mine. Digital has always been about power in the hands of customers. Firms that forget this, do so at their peril.

The perfect firm is the one that recognises the importance of the conversation. It’s possible to communicate directly with me, to see if I want to have a dialogue, to assess my desires (not work out my needs). And one of those desires is: do I want you to communicate with me? Do I want to converse?

My membership of groups and Fan pages should be a much better indication of this. Think it through.

FaceBook(Feature)Creep

The new version of Facebook is out for viewing (if you have not already seen it). It features a raft of new things and a rethink (some might say radical) of the interface.

What’s new? Well – it’s certainly fatter. The interface seems to have widened substantially, and I think this takes advantage of the fact that many people’s resolution on their computers is significantly wider than a few years ago. Some people have said that it looks cleaner and that a lot of the clutter generated by oddball applications has now been moved behind a tab called Applications strangely enough.

The big news for marketers is that the adverts have been moved to the right-hand side on profiles rather than remain on the left underneath the raft of Facebook features. This means more than one ad can be shown.

The change also seems to make editing of a profile far more dynamic. If Facebook do the same to Pages, then I can see the whole environment becoming far more attractive to Brands than it is at present. More news when it appears

Where’s Facebook Going?

So – what’s the long term thing with Facebook? In the UK at least, this summer should be a real test of the long-term viability of the platform because….. all of the students have left Uni for the summer and are holidaying / working / doing something else other than sitting in IT labs checking their Facebook. With that in mind, we should be reminded of what happened last Christmas. Students went home and in the midst of festive chaos, they kind of forgot about their Facebook and concentrated on Christmas TV, turkey and probably a fair amount of binge drinking. For 2 or 3 weeks, Facebook took a backseat: like a previously well-used toy that was put in the back of the cupboard.

Then on their return, a reasonable proportion just didn’t get back into it and for the first time ever, Facebook UK numbers dropped.

So – will we see a repeat this summer? When Seprtember starts, the returners might just not be as in love with their social platform, and the graduates just won’t have time to play with it. Are we in for another drop in numbers?

I think we’ll see a gradual change in the value put on Facebook by users that we’ve seen with tools such as Hotmail. Once the hottest thing on earth, this now is a useful but not essential tool. It’s no longer considered de riguer (not now my mum has an account there) – it’s just an appliance we use without noticing its specialness. And maybe at that point, that’s when it can become really powerful. The key thing is that Facebook must not take their eye off the ball in the same way that MSN did.