Geoff Livingston: Why Email and Search Outsell Social Media

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So much for social ROI. A recent Forrester report states that paid search matters most for new customers, email matters most for repeat customers, and social tactics are not meaningful sales drivers. Correlating this data, ExactTarget surveyed more than 700 consumers (ages 15+) in its 2012 Channel Preferences study: 77% responded that they preferred email to social media for receiving communications about promotions and offers.

But does that make social less valuable?

Opt-in email and click-throughs driven by paid search represent private acts of engagement that occur further along the online sales cycle.

While the linear sales cycle has been disrupted by online media in the past 10 years, buying still represents a process.

From a marketing perspective, an analysis of each media — email, search and social — shows that generally speaking they offer different types of touches and interaction.

Social media represents an inherently relational media set. Specifically, people talk to each other about things, including brands from a personal perspective.

Brand-based interactions in social are generally awkward and related to a narrow topic area, as well as questions, complaints or features about a product or service. Branded social media represents a tangential thread in the course of more personal conversations, so sales offers feel intrusive to most people.

Conversely, when some opts into a brand’s email newsletter or “update” service they commit to receiving sales offers. That person is already familiar with a brand. They are further along the sales cycle, and trust the brand enough to accept solicitations.

Clicking on paid search — while customized to individuals based on keyword preferences, geography and other details — represents a straight advertising play in a medium where people are specifically looking for things. They are far enough into the sales cycle that they want specific information about a product or are ready to buy.

So in a linear context, social represents the top of the funnel where people gather information about products and brands. That’s why email and search outsell social online.

To be 100% crystal clear, branded social interactions occur when context and relevance present an opportunity, usually through friends and peers via conversation and reviews. Social interactions with brands occur when someone begins to look for more information BUT before they are ready to purchase, when there’s a customer complaint, or when a loyalist shares branded information within a networks.

This speaks to the need for integration so a potential customer has fluid and natural identification with a brand throughout corporate communications and marketing efforts. We need to weave tactics and types of media together for a holistic experience rather than isolate them.

The need for better marketing integration prompted my latest book, Marketing in the Round (co-authored with Gini Dietrich). Whether you read the book or not, I hope you consider how you can better weave together all of your marketing tactics throughout the sales cycle, on and offline.

Geoff Livingston is an author, public speaker and strategist who helps companies and nonprofits develop outstanding marketing programs. He brings people together, virtually and physically for business and change. A former journalist, Livingston continues to write, and has authored three books.

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