Sep 3, 2014

What My Students Taught Me: Four Keys to Social Commerce

Over fifteen years of teaching marketing and distribution strategy classes at the Kellogg School of Management I’ve had the great luxury of being at the forefront of new ideas and developments, and learning much from some of the best MBA students in the marketing field. Here are four ideas we discussed in a course on Social Media I taught in early-2014: the need for brands to focus on social currency, sharing, voice and data.
Social Currency: Maximizing ROI On Consumer Attention
Social Currency is created when a good user-choice experience gives consumers the option to explore content and watch videos they want to see in contextually relevant places – when they want and without interruption.  
A great example of this is the Ron Burgundy Dodge Durango campaign (here’s one of many ads).  By tying in the social equity of Ron Burgundy and the upcoming premiere of Anchorman 2, Dodge was able to increase consumer engagement with the content and product.  According to this Ad Age article, sales of the car rose 59% in the month of the campaign and were up 50% for the year.  Additionally, Dodge saw almost an 80% increase in web traffic since the launch of the campaign.  The campaign generated a reach of 10 million views.
But while great content and a great place to house the content are key, the ultimate payoff is achieving a noticeable lift in brand perception and purchase behavior. With all the social noise in the marketplace today, it’s important for a brand to move beyond ‘share of voice’ to ‘share of choice’.  Achieving dominant share of choice drives a critical mass of viewership.
Social Sharing: Cars.Com Commercializes Reputation Reviews created its own unique social media platform by connecting car shoppers with car dealerships and inventories, and by helping consumers share reviews of Dealer performance and experiences. made itself the lead forum for auto industry reviews, and in doing so put control back in the hands of the consumer.
The first step behind creating this social platform was Reputation Management – in order to grow and sustain the platform, had to convince consumers that it was the best place to go for reviews, while simultaneously convincing dealers that the new review forum would benefit them in four key ways: dealers could listen and share feedback, acknowledge feedback and correct issues, show customers a positive experience and have them share it with others, and use positive reviews to reward their staff. was able to change a lagging perception (how dealers historically treated people) into a leading indicator.
In the end, by creating a new platform that helped Dealers manage their reputations online, was able to amplify its own visibility and position. From a commercial standpoint, leverages the value of it’s proprietary “Auto Intender” community – by engaging with consumers during those times when it can be of most use.
Social Voice: Taco Bell Creates Shareable Moments
Brands are moving quickly to assess how to leverage new social commerce channels to build strong, distinct brand voices by creating ‘Shareable Moments’. These are opportunities to cut through the noise. They typically happen when brands don’t “talk at” consumers but instead join the conversation and the community. Doing so strengthens the relationship and trust between user and brand, helping to develop followers into advocates.
Taco Bell learned several lessons on how to improve its digital communications and overall social presence.
Speak with consistency. Taco Bell’s personality, tone, language, and content are constant and appealing to its consumer group target, millennial males aged 15-25
Deliver brand-identifiable content. Taco Bell’s “You’re doing it wrong” tweet achieved virality by making light of the correct way to eat a taco.
Humanize the brand. Taco Bell’s tone and content sound like a teenage buddy with its funny, irreverent humor. This ultimately makes the brand more relatable to its target consumers.
Social Data: Marketing Technologists Capitalize On Data
Social should not be seen as a strategy in itself but as a behavior that amplifies experiences. Marketing strategies should tap into social behaviors, with data at the center of it and clear sense of purpose. In addition to social, the strategy should include more traditional media in a convergence of paid, owned and earned.  Data should be used to fuel meaningful customer experiences. Those in turn will create data, that can be measured and used to iterate on existing or to activate new experiences. The more experiences are shared, the more people join them, the more data is created. This leads to a virtuous cycle of experience and data generation.
Hence, ‘Marketing Technologists’ are a new generation of leaders equally skilled in storytelling and measurement.  They think like traditional marketers but are equally comfortable with statistical analysis and database management. 
There’s no doubt that social marketing and commerce must still focus on the human element, where big data is just a tool to enlighten our understanding of consumer behaviors and attitudes.  Nonetheless, the sheer volume of social data is staggering hundreds of millions of social media sources and the need to make sense of sentiments, emotions and behaviors is mind-blowing in its complexity.  Today’s marketing Technologists are becoming experts at processing, understanding and analyzing unstructured data as a means to explain and predict human behavior.  


Richard E. Wilson is managing director of the advisory firm Chicago Strategy Associates, and a former clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management and Director of the school’s Center for Global Marketing Practice.

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