Though it has been a while, I remember memorizing the four P’s during both marketing and mass communications courses in college. At that time, the P’s stood for product, place, price, and promotion. They were touted as the essential elements of the marketing mix. Later, a wise professor (the same mass comm guy who ensured that I would never use “first annual” ever again), taught me about another group of P’s. This second group had five P’s: proper preparation prevents poor performance.
I kept thinking about both sets of P’s as I read the three chapters of Groundswell that were due this week. And some recent projects.
The projects include the purchase and production of ads intended to drive traffic to MBA info sessions, ads pushing a new MS degree in real estate offered at USF, and pieces of the still-in-my-head-after-four-years marketing plan for the College of Business. For all of these, I have been responding and reacting to opportunities as they present themselves. In some cases, we have done really well and managed budget, resources, and opportunities smartly. In many instances, though, the directions presented in this book were largely ignored…we have not truly strategized, remembered the five P’s, or followed Li and Bernoff’s POST method.
As a refresher, POST stands for people, objectives, strategy, and technology. Smart marketers know that considering these things carefully sets the foundational framework for social marketing (or any marketing, for that matter). Who are you trying to reach, what are you trying to accomplish, how do you want relationships with customers to change, and what technology will you use to implement a plan?
One of the hardest parts of the POST method would likely be the second step. After identifying your target, what do you want them to do or what do you want to accomplish? The book gave some great examples that could be applied to my job today (listening, talking, energizing, supporting, or embracing).
When I worked in non-profit, I used to get so frustrated that my agency would chase dollars, meaning that while we stayed true to our overarching mission, we often changed focus and emphasis based on whatever funders were seeking and the dollars that we were chasing to keep the doors open. While we don’t quite do that in my current job, I find myself still chasing rabbits and good ideas instead of getting the plan out of my head and getting the strategy on paper so we can implement it systematically. There was a particular quote that reminded me of this in the chapter on strategy. The authors wrote about executives who held a couple of half-day sessions to talk about social initiatives and were soon buzzing about ways they were going to use technology and kick-start their campaign. The authors wrote this about the executives:
It became clear that they were heading into a dangerous place. By becoming more comfortable with the groundswell, they felt they had the tools and knowledge to act, but they had not yet thought through the consequences.
Guilty. If we’ve done fairly well (on some things) without practicing this POST method, imagine the success we would have enjoyed had we done the preliminary work. If we had considered the five P’s taught to me years ago.
After the chapter about POST, the authors stress that listening is the very first step, so perhaps the acronym should be POSTaL (people, objectives, strategy, technology, and listening).
The story they use to illustrate another smart marketing adage, that your brand is what your customers say it is, is powerful. A first-rate cancer treatment center in Texas promotes itself as a place with a shiny new proton therapy center and top-notch treatment programs. But for the patients who pay the center’s bills, it is viewed as a place providing needed therapy, that makes people wait (sometimes for hours) for treatment while insisting and stressing the importance of arriving on schedule for treatment. The irony is, for the very people who are waiting for treatment, time is the single most important thing, precisely what they are desperately grabbing for and the reason for obtaining treatment. The cancer treatment center (spent lots of money) but began listening to patients’ conversations in an online community and learned that the brand they were touting was different than the customer’s lived experience…AND CHANGED as a result of the eavesdropping. In addition, they discovered that, for all the shouting they did about their facilities and programs, the customers were not choosing to come there based on advertisements and reputation. They were coming there largely based on referrals from hometown doctors. Again, the cool thing is that illustration shows is that after listening to the audience/customer/patient, the hospital responded and implemented a strategy to reach out to the referral source.
Relating this to my job
Fortunately, one of the things I did do well on the job is start listening before jumping in to create a “social media presence” for the College of Business. I recall feeling badly about squelching a colleague’s enthusiasm as she suggested that the College of Business needed a social media presence and needed to quickly establish this presence to address some reputational challenges on a national level. “We should have the dean blog, create multiple pages on Facebook, and get lots of people to like us so that we can push our marketing messages out to them,” she said. She even volunteered to do the work. I insisted that unless we knew what we wanted to say, we shouldn’t start shouting. And we needed to figure out why anyone would come to the blog or how we would drive traffic to it. I began by starting a personal twitter account and using Tweetdeck to watch the (very limited) conversations about us. We then opened a twitter account for the college (we’re @usfbusiness, by the way) and then, once we had a GA who could manage it, established a YouTube channel and eventually a Facebook page. Sounds great, right. We did parts of this plan very well. But we didn’t do everything well as we really couldn’t (even today) articulate the objective or strategy .
Talking, talking, talking
I liked the chapter on talking, especially since it contained real-world examples of how to get communities talking and how to measure the return on the social media investment. Unfortunately, it isn’t necessarily easy to determine how to do this for my own job. Anyone interested in tackling that?