Social Media? – Nah, It’s Personal

New way to a shopper’s heart?

ALL THE RECENT chatter about “social media for business” is driving me around the bend.

For some time now, I’ve been searching for a terminology that would rescue us from imprecision and allow a meaningful business conversation to take place around the impact of smart phones within the retail environment.

At the National Retail Federation Conference and Expo two weeks ago in New York, the presentations and pitches frequently turned to the impact of social and mobile media, and I kept cringing every time I heard it. Here’s why it bugs me so much:

When new business phenomena have arisen in retail marketing, sloppy terminology frequently led to poor initial understanding of the business opportunity. Often it is due to a choice of words laden with confusing prior connotationor the absence of a suitable term.

We sometimes used “consumer” and “shopper” interchangeably; now we distinguish between those two customer roles. We spoke of “manufacturers” or “vendors” before the term “brand marketer” was introduced in the mid-90s. A deficient thought vocabulary renders some concepts virtually unthinkable.

In Your Facebook
Today, most of the marketers and solution vendors obsessed with “social media” are in fact formulating new ways of delivering one-on-one messages to targeted shoppers and attempting to influence what they do and say on social networking sites. It’s undeniable that one particular application Facebook happens to be used heavily for social play and sharing of consumer lore. Marketers are dazzled by the massive “audience” it has accumulated and are salivating to exploit the opportunity. How fortunate for Facebook investors.

But setting up corporate pages on Facebook or Twitter does not a strategy make. Indeed the existence of these pages implies a broadcast mentality from us to them. Despite the open visibility of customer comments on the wall, there seems to be relatively little interaction between consumers on these pages. Old comments get quickly buried behind newer ones, and only our social media hired guns bother to track and analyze them – in reports calculated to justify their existence.

Regardless of the channel, shopping is primarily about each individual’s personal success get the best deals; satisfy my needs most efficiently; manage my budget; impress my friends; etc. When a shopper turns to his or her personal mobile device to access tools to enhance in-store success, it’s a very personal action motivated by very understandable self-interest.

Getting Personal
I submit that when it comes to tapping shoppers via those pocket two-way radiowave computers we call smartphones, there’s very little “social” about it. It’s not social – it’s personal.

If we conceive of the mobile device as a personalized channel for interaction between retailers or brands with individual shoppers or consumers, then we would do well to set aside the imprecise term “social media” and start talking shop. These new media are personal media. Much of what happens on them may be social in nature, but everything that happens on them is personal.

The personal mobile device is taking shape as a personal nexus, where online, in-store, social, and commercial communications converge in unique combinations tailored by and for each individual. Each of us shifts roles at will, according to our objectives of the moment – searcher, receiver, reporter, sender, aggregator, re-transmitter, gatekeeper, purchaser, advisor.

Businesses that hope to play effectively in this incredibly fluid and fast-changing media environment had best get their minds around the personal nature of the shopper experience using mobile devices. When we discuss our strategy for personal media, the marketing mindset shifts in what I think is a constructive direction. Better decisions and practices must surely follow.

As for me, I have nothing against online friendships; but when it comes to business you may count me as anti-social. My reasons? Well, they’re personal.

© Copyright 2011 James Tenser

NOT TV!

Shopper media — digital and not — are one class of tools for shopper marketing. Almost any in-store message, measured in isolation in a controlled test, can deliver a sales lift. In this mode, the message does its magic by “activating” shoppers’ pre-existing propensity to select an item or a brand. Or to put it in crude terms–it helps them to notice the product, then buy it.

Not rocket science. Retailers today can use very simple and low-cost digital display systems to promote their higher-margin store brands this way. They can measure the success of this activity at the POS and prove ROI. It’s a very valid and easily attainable use for digital shopper media.

Walmart’s network provides a channel for brands. With 140 million shoppers per week, it claims network-sized audience numbers. No doubt it sells some incremental product, but it is profitable up front because what it really sells is audience access to advertisers. It’s got impressions by the megaton, which may seem attractive and familiar to advertisers, but not so much to promoters.

For 2009 I foresee a rise in awareness of shopper media for promotional purposes–with applications that will slash technology and content production costs and deliver a higher, clearer return on investment: Small screens, not large. Locations at the point of decision, not in lobbies or power aisles. Store brand focus on par with national brands. And tailored to shopper experience–not an assault on the senses.

The new in-store audience measurement methods are designed to help agency media buyers feel better about spending their client’s ad dollars on a media environment they really don’t understand. “Customization” in this context seems to mean playing different messages in different areas of the store or during different dayparts. I suppose breaking a large store up into virtual “channels” this way holds some validity, but it feels forced to me.

Despite the glowing screens, this is not TV. It’s a mistake to carry the metaphor too far in the retail environment. And there are marvelous opportunities ahead for retailers to deploy shopper media as integral elements of their selling machinery and shopper experience.

© Copyright 2008 James Tenser
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