Stop trying to get eyeballs on your brand and connect the head with the heart

Look beyond the numbers to quantify your marketing, argues Good Things co-founder and managing director Jeremy Chen.

Marketing has never been about the numbers. Sure, marketers like to measure campaigns by likes and clicks, engagement and shares, and in this day and age there is an array of tools that will help you track and analyse those figures. Marketers like the numbers, but when it comes down to it, those are outputs, not outcomes.

Marketing is not a numbers game, it is a hearts and minds game, and tracking the numbers is just one way we like to keep score. And I want to share a secret I’m certain you already know deep down: it’s not even a very good way of keeping score.

Looking beyond the numbers

When social media platforms first emerged, the promise was that people could form communities online and that brands could connect with those communities thanks to the platform. What followed was a frenzy of businesses chasing followers, fans, likes and shares, to assert that the brand was relevant and popular, as if they had forgotten that the point was to reach out to the communities that social media had helped organise.

Then the focus switched to engagement, which was partly about seeking endorsement from customers, encouraging them to leave positive comments and testimonials, and partly about having a channel available to interact with the community, even if this risked some negative exchanges.

The issue with both these approaches is that all of this exposure doesn’t benefit brands the same way. For some brands, being front-of-mind and constantly in a consumer’s Instagram feed is exactly where they need to be. Others might instead benefit more from building relationships with their consumers and be perceived as trustworthy, loyal and credible.

This kind of emotional association can’t be produced solely through social posts and engagement, yet plenty of businesses have set aside decent-sized budgets to conquer social media channels, only to find that the outputs do not translate the desired outcomes. Studies show that a customer who ‘likes’ your Facebook page is no more likely to recommend your brand to a friend than other customers.

One desirable outcome is, of course, centred on a number: your bottom line. Your return on investment for a marketing campaign, and how profitable you are because of it are certainly important factors. Another much more complex and valuable outcome is, however, the long-term satisfaction and referral power of your customers and you cannot certifiably measure this through brand exposure.

Converting hearts and minds

When you look at the most effective marketing, it is built on customer relationships, community-building and creating experiences. You can use social media infrastructure to do this, but it is extremely hard to convert a social post to customer longevity, no matter how many likes or how high the engagement is. The best influencers do this really well, but the brand that they are selling to the audience is primarily themselves, so it takes a lot of skill to translate that into a result for a client brand. An example of this is a website that gets lots of traffic but converts very few visitors.

Creating an experience is more rewarding but correspondingly harder to design and execute, particularly during a global pandemic. While big brands have the budget for hype-worthy experiences (think Red Bull’s Flugtag event) it’s actually the smaller, more personalised experiences that have the greatest effect, such as a handwritten card on a client’s birthday or a relevant gift for loyal customers or top referrers.

Tangible artefacts of this relationship can solidify the sentiment and create longer lasting emotional connections. One of our clients builds homes and, when they are done, they hand over the new homeowners the keys on a branded keyring. To the new owners it embodies the emotion of having a new house in a small but appropriate token. A social post celebrating the new homeowner might last a day or so, but the key ring and the positive brand experience enfolded in the emotion of that moment lasts a lot longer.

My advice is to take a good hard look at your social media KPIs and work out whether the numbers are achieving what you actually want – hearts and minds, not just eyeballs – or whether the exposure is actually failing to translate into a return on investment. Someone who ‘likes’ a post is not as valuable as a customer who likes a product they purchased and tells other people about it. The proof is in customer behaviour. Returning customers and customers who refer or recommend you are the best indication that you’ve won their hearts and minds. Seek those, not meaningless figures.

Jeremy Chen is the co-founder and managing director of Good Things.


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