Interview: Jim Sterne on social media marketing; the customer is more visible now than ever!

Jim Sterne, keynote speaker at Search Engine Strategies 2010 Conference & Expo London From 15 until 19 February, London is the place to be for European search engine marketers and (interactive) marketers in general. For the eleventh year in a row, the city will then host the Search Engine Strategies 2010 Conference & Expo.

When looking at the program for this year’s edition you will find that social media, content and analytics play an import role, besides search engine marketing of course.

One of the keynote speakers at this year’s event is Jim Sterne, among many other things, Chairman of the Web Analytics Association.

I had the opportunity to interview Jim this week on social media, search and of course…analytics.

The relationship between social media and search engine marketing

Since Jim will be speaking at Search Engine Strategies 2010, my first question had to do with social media and search. Many marketers think about reputation management, social monitoring, communities etc. when talking about social media. But as my interview with Performics‘ Michael Kahn showed there is a very strong connection between social media marketing and search engine marketing.

So I asked Jim what his view on this particular topic and on social media in general was.

This is what he answered: “Social media is an ecosystem of communication tools. They can be used to listen and to broadcast. Yes, the term ‘broadcast’ is frowned on in this case, but it applies. A marketer wants his or her message to go out far and wide and blogging, tweeting and discussion boards are all valuable when used in the right way. Yes, listening skills are critical and using what you hear to improve your SEO and your SEM is vital. But using these communications tools for seeding a messaging and then measuring the response is also very valuable, when done carefully”.

So, as Michael Kahn said, social media are not only important for SEO as such, according to Jim marketers should use the insights they get from social media ‘listening’ to improve their SEM strategies. And of course, given Jim’s background, the measuring part is never far away.

Conversion is a factor of revenue

I asked Jim what’s his advice to businesses to take their analytics beyond the basics, like conversions, and focus on revenue, especially now that many companies are introducing marketing ROI as a way to plan, forecast and approve marketing plans (yes, as I wrote earlier this week, in social media marketing too).

For Jim “there are three ultimate business metrics: Revenue, Costs and Customer Satisfaction”.

He continues: “Conversion is a factor of revenue. The question for each company to ask is which key performance indicators point the way toward improving these ultimate metrics for their particular business. If 10% more leads at a lead quality of B+ or better will result in a 15% increase in revenue, then you know how much you can afford to invest in which programs. KPI’s are the ‘dashboard’ to help you know if your goals are being met, if your campaigns are delivering as hoped or if there’s something rotten in Denmark”.

In other words: to define the right KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), you should first know your business goals of course. And customer satisfaction is one on them.

However, then another issue arises: we know (or at least, should know) a lot about web analytics and KPI’s in many ‘traditional’ areas like web sites, SEA-campaigns, etc. (never thought I would call email marketing ‘traditional’, sorry for that,) but what about social media marketing where we’re talking conversations, interaction, and so forth?

The seven steps in the customer life cycle

How can you integrate all the old, slightly old, new and very new ways of marketing into a  holistic view of the customer/prospect?

Jim has seven words for us: “Awareness – Opinion – Response – Engagement – Conversion – Retention – Advocacy” (remember good old reach, acquisition, conversion, retention and loyalty Jim and Matt Cutler introduced in 2000 in their paper “E-Metrics; Business Metrics For The New Economy” that you can still download on the website of Jim’s Target Marketing).

He continues: “These apply along a timeline with each customer. Company functions should be assigned based on these areas rather than on specific technologies. There should be technical services and expertise available to your marketing teams, but they should be customer focused and ask for technology help when needed”.

What will the impact of all this be on the various vendors of analytics, monitoring and other customer intelligence solutions? How will the market evolve?

The vendors: towards collaboration, integration and incorporation

Jim: “Everything will be integrated and everything will be in the cloud, and eventually we’ll end hunger and have world peace. Until then, companies like Radian6 and Webtrends will team up and form best-of-breed partnerships while companies like Omniture (note: acquired by Adobe last year), Unica and SAS will continue to grow their marketing automation systems to incorporate as much as possible”.

Let’s hope we end hunger and have world peace, but what I take away from a business viewpoint (which is less important then world peace of course) is that we can expect a lot of announcements the coming months regarding vendors teaming up.

And I strongly agree that we will have to watch very closely what the vendors of MAPs or Marketing Automation Platforms do, and by the way, this goes for email marketing and ESPs too, if you ask me.

Finally, I asked Jim if, in these times of an increasingly invisible customer where we’re moving from a focus on the selling process to the buying process, trying to analyze the digital footprints of the customer and guiding them through their buying journey is key?

Jim starts by saying he thinks the customer is more visible now than ever (with an exclamation point).

For the record: he’s completely right and, since I often talk about the increasingly invisible customer here, it’s time to say what I mean by that: invisible in ‘real’ sales and other business contacts (but indeed very visible if you know how to track their digital footprints).

Some takeaways

Jim continues: “We can see them by following, listening, measuring, etc. Yes, we should capture as much data as we can, and if we use it unwisely, customers will vote with their wallets and run away or vote with their legislation and shut us down. Yes, we should participate and set up dialogues and join the conversation. It is massively time consuming in comparison to dropping a milling postcards in the mail or sending out mass emails. However, those who invest and do it well will enjoy a serious competitive advantage”.

If I had to resume this in a few sentences? It’s not the media or the tools that matter. Social media marketing is marketing. Companies should be where their customers are. It’s about the customer. About people. And about business: revenue, costs, customer satisfaction.

Not number of followers or fans.

If you want to hear and see Jim sharing his thoughts on these and other matters: SES London is the place to be.

More about the event here.

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