Monday, March 30, 2009

On Marketing, Customer Service and Public Relations.

Is it time to play musical chairs?

Social media, conversations, communities and the like are wrecking havoc with traditional silos. The reason - people's behavior and hence expectations are changing.

Consider that from a brand's perspective:
  1. There is no sales funnel - people change their state of mind and intention as they see fit.
  2. There is no single way to get or deliver news - people have more, faster options
  3. Opinions are available for the asking - trust of 'people like me' trumps all other options.
As they say: If it weren't for customers, sales would be easy.

Social media is emerging as the preferred route when information is needed now. It may be the last-point of contact before a decision is made: "What do you think?" or the first-point when searching for information as in "Can you help me?" In the past, these questions had either limited reach and/or defined channels. But today they are asked among friends, followers, and fans in an asynchronous world with no limits on reach - with the expectation that anyone can and will respond.

One of the implications of social media is that we're outsourcing or at least sharing decision making with others. The wisdom of the crowd helps us decide on what camera to buy, what blog post to read, or how to fix a broken product. The assumption that the consumer makes the decision based on his/her interaction with a company is really no longer valid. (A point made in "Branding Only Works for Cattle." )

Recently, Todd Defren wrote about PR and Customer service and the fact that PR was well suited for understanding how to manage and route customer inquiries because it dealt with 'people,' getting things done, and the ability to assess events.

But why stop the organization reshuffle there?

If PR is the new customer service, then is customer service the new marketing, and marketing the new PR?

  • Marketing should be focused on aligning solutions with needs to everyone's mutual benefit. What better organization to understand needs, frustrations, and delights than customer service? They're in the business of talking to people - day in and day out. We only need to expand their remit to tell the stories they hear about how they solved customer problems.
  • Public Relations has been about getting stories told through journalistic channels. As those outlets crumble and information consumption spans every conceivable outlet what better organization to develop tactical plans that manage the complexities of delivering targeted content than marketing? We only need to change their remit to distribute content not just advertising.

Looking at how people interact with one another and with companies might give us insights into how to better organize to support them.

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