How many of you remember what marketing was like before all the TV commercials, the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram posts etc?
I’m sure it took a few seconds to recollect your thoughts. If you do, then you’re one of the few lucky (or rather unlucky) ones to have witnessed the social media revolution and how it enabled business owners and retailers to take their marketing campaigns to the next level.
So, What Is Marketing?
The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
There are both internal and external marketing factors which interact with one another in any campaign and impact the overall success. These are
- Product/Service offered
- Place (a.k.a. distribution)
Moreover, in order to satisfy predefined organisational objectives and stay ahead of the competition, organisations should anticipate certain wants and needs of its customers and satisfy them better than anyone else in the market.
How Marketing Evolved Over The Years
Digital marketing has invaded every aspect of our lives. But it developed rather recently. Before all the flashy TV commercials and social media ads, there was a different system in existence.
From the 15th till the 20th century, print media – comprising of newspapers, magazines, and billboards – was the primary channel of advertising.
The first half of the 20th century saw the emergence of new mediums of advertising viz. radio, television and telephones. The second half of the 20th century saw TV ad revenue surpassing radio and magazine ad sales and telemarketing emerging as the most common marketing tactic.
By the end of the 20th century, newspaper ad revenue was in billions as print advertising was made easier owing to the emergence of personal computers and desktops. During the same time, mobile phones gained popularity thereby making SMS marketing possible.
This period also saw the first automated large-scale commercial use of spam e-mails for promotional purposes. Soon, search engines launched by Yahoo (1995), Ask.com (1997) and Google & MSN (1998) gained popularity as the term “search engine optimization” emerged.
The Internet Revolution
In 2000, the internet bubble popped and the features of the digital world, which were only available to a select few users became available to the general public and tech related growth saw an increase of almost 500% on the NASDAQ index.
Following this, greater emphasis has been placed on easy information sharing & transfer, user-centric design and collaboration thus enabling brands and retailers to engage with the customer in new ways ultimately leading to the origin of the term “Social Media Marketing”.
The Birth, Growth And Expansion Of Social Media
Some milestones in history when it comes to social media are –
- 1997 – Six Degrees (The world’s first social media site)
- 2002 – LinkedIn
- 2003 – Myspace
- 2004 – Facebook
- 2005 – YouTube
- 2006 – Twitter
Contrary to popular belief, the idea of social media did not originate with Facebook. The idea came to light in the 1970s when e-mails were first used for marketing purposes. The world’s first social media site, called as “Six Degrees” was launched in 1997 and enabled the users to upload their profile and become friends with other users. The networking sites developed in the 2000s made us look at social networking from a different angle and changed the way we approached marketing forever.
Most people are accustomed to traditional forms of marketing because of their longevity and were a little apprehensive about fully embracing the idea of digital marketing. But since traditional marketing only allowed business owners and organizations to target a small audience, they eventually took to the internet for promoting themselves.
As social media channels allowed for easy interaction with the audience and gave users the power to choose how they wished to receive promotional content, the number of active monthly users grew rapidly. These channels eventually brought people from different geographical regions to one common platform for sharing and exchanging data with one another.
Another reason why social media witnessed a tremendous expansion in a relatively short time span is because it proved to be cheaper as compared to traditional marketing and offered a better ROI to investors.
As of 2017, a total of $41 billion have been spent on social media marketing. Some other interesting facts about social media are –
- Number of internet users in the world – 3.8 billion
- Active social media users – 3.02 billion
- Facebook user base – 2.04 billion
- YouTube user base – 1.5 billion
- WhatsApp user base – 1.2 billion
The Downside To Traditional Marketing
There were some inherent shortcomings of traditional marketing which were soon compensated by SMM thus making marketing feasible for all types of businesses, irrespective of their allocated marketing budget. Some of them were –
Little to no interaction with your audience
In the case of print media, there was negligible contact between the editor and his audience. Print media was more of a one-way communication, where the content creator was acting like an information provider, trying to build a brand reputation.
Generally, the cost varies from publication to publication and on the size of your order (flyers, newspaper ads, radio commercial, handouts etc). Depending on the complexity of your requirements, design and the set-up process, the cost may skyrocket thereby making such advertisements costly for small businesses and startups.
Results cannot be measured
While there are a plethora of tools available online to measure and monitor the various metrics (volume, reach, amplification, retweets, comments, replies, shares) of SMM campaigns, the same cannot be said about traditional techniques. This ultimately makes it difficult to track the progress and calculate the ROI of a print media campaign.
Difficult to receive feedback from the customers
As there are a select few channels of communication between the author and his audience, it is difficult to provide channels for receiving regular and consistent feedback from the readers to measure where the author can improve his work or get access to better sources for future articles.
High bounce rates and poor conversion ratio
With traditional marketing mediums, a common problem was the high bounce rates. Unimpressive conversion ratios further added to the worries of marketers, further making marketing a challenge for them. The conversion was unpredictable as there was no way of measuring how many users noticed the advertisements and wished to engage in business activities with the brand.
Benefits Of Social Media Marketing (SMM)
Now that we’ve talked about the shortcomings and drawbacks of traditional marketing techniques, let’s talk about the advantages of SMM over other forms of marketing.
It is easier to know your audience
SMM has made it fairly easy to know details about your audience by making use of the different tools available in the market. Moreover, multiple social media login and sharing options have made it possible to collect data from different social profiles of users to have a better understanding of their buying behavior thus allowing you to develop targeted ads.
Audience targeting made possible
As gathering information about users has been made easy, we can now quickly know about the likes, dislikes, interests, and hobbies of users with just a few clicks. This allows you to devise marketing campaigns specifically tailored for your target audience to ensure high conversion rates as your ads will be inclined to the users’ interests.
As compared to print media, where your reach is limited by geographical or monetary restrictions, SMM allows you to reach out to almost everyone with an internet connection. The best example of a platform with worldwide exposure is Facebook, which has managed to bring more than 2 billion users together, allowing them to share content with one another.
We already know that distribution of print media is a costly affair and somewhere down the line, you will face financial troubles. But with SMM, the scenario is different as you only need an internet connection to publish and share data as most social media sites do not charge the users any money for sharing content. Also, ad and PPC campaigns cost a lot less than splurging on traditional marketing channels.
Developing a solid fan base of loyal customers
SMM has enabled brands to publish content created by them across different channels and interact with their customers and fans on a regular basis. The customers follow accounts of their favorite brands to get the latest updates and receive promotional news and coupons.
Establishing authority in the online domain
When brands post the latest news, updates and industry insights across different social media channels frequently and before anyone else, the users start seeing the brand’s accounts as the “go-to” destination for latest factually correct news. This gives credibility to the brand and helps establish a commanding authority in their respective domains. A good online reputation also helps directs traffic and increase a brand’s sales.
Quick feedback and customer service
Feeling neglected and disrespected is one of the primary reasons why customers switch brands while making transactions. SMM has revolutionized customer support as a user can connect with the staff at any time of the day from anywhere. Brands can now offer personalized support to their customers and improve customer retention rates by making their customers feel valued.
This has to be one of the most pristine advantages of SMM over traditional marketing. It fosters a sense of belonging when following social media accounts of various brands and increases the overall engagement offered to users. A solid community also acts as social proof while pitching to other users. Eventually, the community becomes self-sustaining and doesn’t require much effort from the moderator/admin for initiating posts and other activities.
Sharing (content) is much faster
Sharing print media content with others was a challenging task as one had to physically take the piece of content to show others or send it via post to their friends and (or) families thus spending unnecessarily for the purpose of sharing.
Since social media channels do not charge the users any fee for posting and sharing content, SMM is favorable to users and retailers with a tight budget. Cross-channel posting has even made it easier to reach out to different audiences and direct traffic to your website with just a few clicks.
Easy measurement of ROI
SMM has allowed for easy measurement of ROI for all your campaigns by giving solid figures of different metrics such as customer acquisition, lead generation, clicks, revenue, contest entries, etc. depending on your goals and helps you choose the best platform for maximum ROI. Based on these results, you can then make the required changes and improvise your approach towards targeting your customers.
Social Media Marketing Has Become A “Need”
Considering the benefits of SMM over the traditional approach, it was just a matter of time before people all over the world got involved with SMM. The “Social Media Revolution” which print media brands feared was right around the corner and it soon became unavoidable.
Currently, 93% of marketers use social media for their business and this number continues to grow slowly. The increasing number of active monthly users of different social networks and the amount of time spent daily by an average person on such sites has made SMM not just the best way to reach out to customers, but also a “necessity” as many claim that print media is slowly losing its significance. Moreover, in the world of e-commerce, where almost all the users are a few clicks away, you need to come up with new and creative ways to attract your audience and work towards keeping them engaged with your brand.
Social media also plays a crucial role in helping users research, discover and share information about brands, products and services. Studies have shown that 60% of all users looking for products/services through several online sources came to know about a particular brand or service provider through social networking sites.
We all know that in today’s digital world, where information is readily available to the customers (thanks to Google), it is important to focus on your brand’s presence and maintain & build an online reputation which is inclined with the interests of your customers.
The one thing brands owe SMM is that personalized customer support can be provided to the customers at all times. Nowadays, instead of being put on hold or chatting with the customer care executives for long hours, users can simply post a complaint on the social media pages of a brand/service provider and receive quick reverts, which make the customer feel valued and cared for ultimately compelling him/her to continue doing business with the brand.
Referral traffic has emerged as one of the most credible sources of business for brands has been made possible by SMM as word-of-mouth references make it easy for users to trust the experiences and reviews of their friends and colleagues.
The Situation Today
In simple terms, the situation today is such that a person sitting in Guatemala, a Central American country (for those like me who are not too strong on world Geography) can read the reviews/ideas of someone halfway across the world in India or shop from the website of leading Italian fashion brands such as Gucci, Prada, Armani etc.
But on a serious note, with 94% of all marketers are using SMM in some form or the other, social media advertising is steadily growing at a rate of 20% annually and the total spending will cross the $50 Bn mark by 2019.
Another trend gaining popularity is the desire of users to act as brand ambassadors and advocate for their favorite brands through social media. Capitalising on this opportunity, brands are aggressively recruiting their fans, account followers and other users to spread recommendations and reviews about their products and services. Consumers who do write, share and comment on product reviews online claim that they share their experiences to tell others about how well a company did their job and to receive loyalty rewards by the company.
Social media users are also showing a keen interest in cooperating and working together with their favorite brands. 60% of 18-34-year-olds say that they will happily work with brands and want to give recommendations to improve and customize the product.
Brands have even started offering incentives for the users to refer the brand to new users. It is a mutually beneficial relationship as the brand gathers a large presence and the customers are offered cheaper prices for the products/services offered.
Gone are those days when marketing was all about hard selling and improving the sales figures. SMM has started focusing on building relationships with users (potential customers) and helping them solve their problems. The number of relationships you build is directly proportional to the trust your customers will place in you.
SMM has achieved this by keeping all channels of communication between the customer and the brand open & accessible 24×7, something print media could never achieve in all its years of existence.
Though SMM has completely revolutionised marketing, some retailers continue to use traditional methods and are yet to fully accept the paradigm shift to the digital world. Though it is tough to say whether traditional methods will survive the change, we can be sure that SMM is here to stay and will encapsulate the world in the coming years.