How brands fail to really engage and don’t realize it

As marketers we think that we are “engaging” with our “target market” when we run “campaigns” on various social media platforms. We point to various indicators of our successes which range from social signals like retweets, Likes, +1s and comments of various sorts along with some sort of secondary success metric. The industry has come a long way since the early days of just picking a bouquet of social media services and pushing messages, hoping for the best … or have they? Why do brands fail to engage meaningfully even when they think they do?

The power of the social Web is nicely encapsulated by this old nugget from The Cluetrain Manifesto. You have probably come across it somewhere along the way even if you haven’t read the book:

Markets are conversations

That isn’t just some platitude (or maybe it is), it underpins social marketing, sales and advertising. At least it should. What seems to be happening is that marketers are slipping back into old habits. They are just pushing marketing messages across the wires to “target markets” or “target demographics” thinking their campaigns are more engaging and effective simply because they are using a social network to get their message across.

The result is a disconnect between what marketers think they are doing and what their “target market” perceives them to be doing. DigiDay recently wrote an article titled “5 charts that show just how out of touch brands are with customers” about a study done on brand versus consumer perceptions of brands’ marketing campaigns:

Brands like to talk about how well they know what their consumers want. But the truth is, they’re barely scratching the surface. That’s the big takeaway from a wide-ranging new study by IBM and Econsultancy, which found that brands are just not delivering the level of customer experience that they think they are.

The study consisted of two surveys — one for brands and the other for consumers — and found a gap with a real business impact. “The biggest takeaway was the disconnect between how marketers perceive the job they’re doing and how consumers perceive that job,” said Jay Henderson, director, product strategy at IBM Commerce.

The data is very interesting. It highlights brands’ perceptions that they provide a “really good user experience”; provide relevant content across consumers’ preferred challenges and generally understand consumers’ desires. Consumers don’t agree, and markedly so:

Consumer responses about external communications from brands, however, found that in general nobody’s impressed. Only 35 percent of respondents said their favorite companies sent “usually relevant” emails or messages. And for companies that weren’t necessarily already a favorite, that number dropped even more — only 21 percent said those messages are “usually relevant.”

IBM’s Jay Henderson told DigiDay that the problem lies not in insufficient data but too much data. Brands don’t seem to be using this data effectively enough to derive accurate insights about consumers and then engage with them meaningfully. I wonder if the problem isn’t an exaggerated emphasis on data itself.

On one hand, data enables marketers to develop very precise and relevant marketing campaigns but the point of social marketing isn’t just to add Facebook, Twitter and SnapChat to a list of pipes to use to shove messages down consumers’ collective throats. Instead, these platforms offer brands an opportunity to reach out to consumers and actually have conversations with them. Those conversations can be collective or they can be on an individual level.


The key word here is “conversations”. Brands shouldn’t be talking at “target markets”, they should be conversing with consumers, people. Social networks give us the ability to identify our customers and talk to them as individuals. That sounds time consuming but it need not be.

DigiDay published another article which I read this morning, titled “How programmatic creative can revive your inner Draper“. It is a sponsored article but the point of the article is very interesting. The idea is to use programmatic tools to deliver highly personalized and relevant content to consumers based on their preferences and other relevant data points:

With programmatic creative, copy lines and art are loaded automatically, no assembly required. And thanks to HTML5, those ads can be fed into any inventory size available, without diminishing the quality of your media, particularly on mobile.

Thanks to a wide range of technologies, creative departments can use display video HTML5 ads to tell big, bold brand stories across platforms and, using ad sequencing, across time. Using data-driven creative, agencies can give their display campaigns a genuine narrative arc and show the right story to the right people, using data signals to set their parameters.Does your story happen over the course of a day? Use time-based signals to show “chapters” morning, noon and night? Is it a point-of-view play, with different family members coming at the same problem from different perspectives? Use data rules to reach them properly.

It is an intriguing way to be more personal in your approach to your consumers without falling into the trap of seeing consumers simply as entries in a SQL database to be “targeted” even if that is what most consumers may eventually become from an operational perspective. Simply abstracting the “target market” de-humanizes the people we are reaching out to and disconnects us from them. The result is that we lose the ability to really engage with them, connect to them and, consequentially, they don’t connect with our brands.

I had an issue I needed to resolve with my Internet and mobile provider, 012 Smile. I reached them through their Facebook page and, instead of just sending me a message in Hebrew (which isn’t unreasonable), I received phone calls from one of their call center agents in English because it was clearly the best language to use for me (my Hebrew is still pretty basic). 012 Smile uses Facebook really effectively to keep in touch with customers.

I received several calls to follow up and give me updates and it was a terrific experience for me as a customer; not because it was a particularly complex issue or because 012 Smile did something special for me it doesn’t do for other customers. What made a difference to me was that the call center agent took the time to phone me and talk to me in English.

Injecting a little humanity into the process could be what brands need to adjust their perceptions of just how effective their work is and help them adapt their strategies to more human conversations (at least, human-sounding conversations) powered by large data-sets and programmatic targeting tools.


One response to “How brands fail to really engage and don’t realize it

  1. Nathan Jeffery avatar

    Being human and being part of the conversation. This is what ‘Social Media’ is about.

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