Are We Asking the Right Questions?


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For all the discussions, Webinars, articles, and blogs on social media, we always seem to come back to traditional marketing questions.

– How can we engage our followers and visitors?

– How can we increase our conversion rates, i.e. turn visitors and followers into customers?

– Which platform is best for B2B marketing?

– How can we measure social media’s ROI?

And so on.

Valid questions, all. But I wonder if they are, in fact, the right questions.

Social media platforms are something new in the marketing universe.

The Internet and social media combine the essential elements of two previous paradigm shifting revolutions: The invention of movable print with the Gutenberg Press created an unprecedented democratization of access to information. And the development of the national Interstate Highway System in the US significantly diminished the importance of geography in creating and maintaining relationships while producing a truly national marketplace. The Internet has taken access to information and the shrinking of distance, modern “givens,” to a whole new level, re-inventing the concept of marketplace as both without physical boundaries and delimited by self-defined interests and communities.

Social media networks and communities of like interest are both broader (geography no longer matters at all) and more fluid than they have ever been. And this is particularly true for the “millennial” generation, people who have grown up in an electronic world without borders or boundaries.

We need to ask some more basic questions, I think, before we can determine how to most effectively market in this brave new world and before we can realistically start to determine its ROI.

So what should we be asking? Well, for example:

– What does this mean for marketing’s traditional approach to market segmentation, the slicing of a buying universe into smaller, more closely identifiable groups? These new groups are self-defining and fluid – and not geographically circumscribed.

– What does this mean for the “personas” that agencies are so laboriously constructing? Can we organize and categorize people as confidently as we could in a more static world?

– Is it logical to expect the same decision-making and buying behavior in a world with 24/7 access to information as in a world where politicians and business could better control the flow of information?

– Does having hundreds or thousands of followers on Facebook or Twitter actually mean anything? How deep is their interest or commitment to you and your products? They can, after all, “like” or “unlike,” “follow” or “unfollow” at the click of a mouse. And just because they follow doesn’t necessarily mean they are paying attention.

– With the growing attempt to personalize the Web and search, how important are the site rankings we’ve been so arduously pursuing? How can we get above the crowd now?

– How does business get attention when people’s attention span is shrinking and the Internet noise is increasing? This, of course, is not a new problem. But it is an increasing – and increasingly important – one.

– How can we most effectively meld traditional marketing mechanisms with the increasing number of new mechanisms, mechanisms that assume (and facilitate) a boundary-free, self-segmenting, fluid marketplace.

– Can we continue to rely on old-world models of the marketplace? How can we create new models in such a dynamically fluid marketing universe?

I’m sure you can add some important questions of your own. (And I hope you will.) Please contact me and share your ideas so I can add them to this dynamic list.

Right now, though, one of the few things I am sure of is that we won’t be able to answer the traditional business questions of ROI, avenues of revenue growth, or where to place our limited marketing time and dollars if we don’t ask – and answer – these new questions.

Emily R. Coleman
Dr. Emily R. Coleman is President of Competitive Advantage Marketing, Inc., a firm that specializes in helping companies expand their reach and revenues through strategy and implementation. Dr. Coleman has more than 30 years of hands-on executive management experience working with companies, from Fortune 500 firms to entrepreneurial enterprises. Dr. Coleman's expertise extends from the integration of corporate-wide marketing operations and communications to the development and implementation of strategy into product development and branding.


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