Let’s file this under the “It’s not too late” department: According to a new whitepaper by social media analytics and management company Sprinklr, customers can get more than halfway through their buying process before a brand campaign reaches them. However, with consumers spending more and more time on social media—it’s now over three hours per day for the average user—reaching out to prospective buyers on that platform can only up your chances of finding them before a purchase is made.
The report, titled “The Elements of Social Selling,” cites three “universal principles” that marketers need to follow. The first is to get personal—find out as much as possible about a brand’s target audience using information gathered via social media.
The average person on social media posts “their interests, they share their Amazon favorites, they discuss products they like and dislike,” the report says. “And all of this data is freely and publicly available. This information is rich with explicit and implicit clues to what individuals’ needs are.”
The whitepaper also urges marketers to “learn to find these clues, assemble them into a coherent picture that informs action and then act on that data to improve the likelihood of a sale.”
A second-step principle the report lists is to add value to a brand by creating and sharing content with potential customers online. “Creating and sharing an insightful blog post, beautiful image, inspiring video or even a highly relevant offer can establish trust and influence customer preference significantly,” the report suggests.
The third principle is to nurture customers over long periods of time, with the report stating, “By being personal and adding value consistently and over time, you can influence the person at the key point in their buying journey.”
Paul Rand, president and CEO of social, digital and word-of-mouth marketing agency Zocalo Group, suggests in the whitepaper that a good rule of thumb is for marketers to “spend 90% of the time talking about things that interest your audience and spend 10% of the time promoting. Providing real value is key.”
To that extent, the report says, “When a brand cultivates customer relationships with helpful, engaging content, the customer starts to trust that brand’s product, advice and the name attached to both.”
The whitepaper also advises marketing executives to put themselves in their customers’ shoes, “taking the time to understand where you customer is coming from, what they need and what they don’t need. This is how you create user profiles that you can source for future and current engagements.”
In the report, Karen Walker, senior VP of marketing at Cisco says, “A social listening platform is where we bring together the art and science of marketing.”
The report suggests marketers collaborate with the customers via social media to help meet their exact needs and wants. “You can also attain feedback that will help you better understand the role that social is playing in the purchase process, and your efforts are driving revenue,” the report says.
Reaching the Next Generation
Cisco’s Walker adds, “If you think social expectations [for marketers] are high now, think about the next generation of buyers. They’re more and more likely to be digital natives. If your social responsiveness and content isn’t timely and engaging, you’ve lost them.”
Walker says getting real-time feedback from consumers about a product or offers via social media enables marketers “to innovate and move much more quickly from a business standpoint.”
She says marketers who don’t have a social media strategy in place can also be in trouble if they have to deal with negative comments on social media about their brands. “Don’t be one of those companies, at greater risk of losing control of the conversation about your brand,” Walker advises marketers.
Rand cites a Nielsen study in the whitepaper that says 92% of consumers say a recommendation from a friend or someone they trust is the No. 1 influence on whether they buy a product or service. With that in mind, he offers a six-step process to becoming a “highly recommended” brand.
• Develop a clear and purposeful story of how you want people to talk about and recommend your brand.
Rand says, “The more you effectively communicate this story, the more it will become synonymous with your brand, informing how your customers talk about you.”
• Live your brand—Put your energy and focus into staying aligned with your mission.
• Be human, transparent and live up to mistakes quickly.
Rand says, “Mistakes happen, but a customer complaint addressed quickly and transparently can turn a brand detractor into an advocate.”
• Stay engaging and interesting.
• Regularly evaluate and evolve, but stay true to your core.
• Structure and manage your organization to be recommendable from the ground up through human resources, marketing, operations, customer service and innovations.
“These principles seem simple, but if you apply them, they have the power to transform your business,” Rand says. “You can become the most discovered, recommended and chosen brand in your category.”
Another piece of advice in the whitepaper is offered by Jennifer Barr, social media manager, online brand, at Cisco. Barr says sincerity is key when selling in the digital age.
“In 10 minutes of online search, people can find out more information about your company than you even knew existed a year ago,” Barr says to marketers. “Long gone is the time when website content, press releases and SEC filings are the main information sources. Now, even for B2B companies, your customers and employees may be posting pictures and comments and reviews all over the world.”
Barr offers marketers three tips for “sincere” online communication.
• Establish a clear idea of who you are before you go online. “What is your brand? What characteristics and attributes do you want people to associate with you and your product or services?”
• Find out who your customers are and what they want. Barr says, “Listen to learn before designing your website, and listen twice as much as you communicate on your social channels. Use this information as input into product design, interface and sales approach.”
• Communicate to connect. Barr suggests using “simple, clear, consistent messaging. Sincerely appreciate customers. Add elements of humor and fun from time to time, even if you sell complex, technical products.”