Saturday, March 17, 2012

Is Social Advocacy the Goldilocks zone for Marketeers?

A week ago, I was sitting in our global marketing board meeting in New York surrounded by 80 of the smartest, most experienced marketeers I have ever met. The members of this board make decisions on how millions of dollars are spent on testing messages, developing campaigns, collateral, assets to make and capture markets using market insights that we spend millions of dollars collecting and aggregating.

A week later, back in India, I was sitting in a team meeting discussing the performance of some of these campaigns in our market. There is always room for improvement, isn't there? The lists could be more targeted, the content could be a little more compelling, the lead passing could be better etc. etc. The solution is often spending more money....budget requests to conduct deeper customer profiling, conduct focus groups and market studies, run value prop workshops. Sigh...spend more. And we still don't really know if it will work.

It got me thinking about marketing ROI and whether this is a sustainable model. What if, one day, the taps are turned off? What if all we have is smart people with little to no money? Our global CMO, Jon Iwata, talks about how its easy to build brand recognition and visibility. These can be bought. But what if the task is to create brand relevance? Relevance can't be bought, its earned. His hypothesis is that if you work on building authentic advocates of your corporate character who can help shape belief in your brand, then you will be relevant. Once you are relevant, you become essential to everything your client does and how they want to do it. And we are on a path to become the most "essential" company to the world (Ginni Rometty, our new CEO, has declared this).

That's good news. Because that means you don't need bigger marketing budgets. You need good people who like you. Fully realized IBMers, in our case. And we have plenty of those. So if we master the craft of identifying and building advocates in our Desi IBMers, wouldn't that be magical for the brand? And in India, we have the luxury (or the burden, depending on how you look at it) of a socially active population. So even if you don't believe in magic, you must see merit in the notion of "Social Advocacy". Every group I pitch this to lights up. I take that as a thumbs up to give it a go.

So we have started the journey to build advocates across the company - leaders, experts, corporate citizens - through social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Blogs. We are seeing sparks of success. Desicorps, our most recent efforts of providing our employees a platform to share their corporate citizenship and community service experiences has energized not only our Gen Y workforce to volunteer in their communities, but it is also generating amongst non IBMers who now aspire to work at IBM because they can see how IBMers are working to build a Smarter Planet.

What do you think? Will Advocacy replace Awareness as the beginning of the AIDA cycle? Is there a magical space between ATL and BTL? Is Social Advocacy the Goldilocks zone for Brand Marketeers?


  1. I completely agree that Social advocacy is key for brands and its not just employees but our customers and consumers. I referred to them as Br@ndsumers in my post but the idea was that brands need to faciliate the digital native sharing of thoughts. Idea of Brand relevance is essential since if its not relevant;brand mentions by netizens may not be positive which may harm the brand image.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Virginia. They are always enlightening and insightful.. :-)

  2. Excellent insight. I was hoping and am positive that more thoughts and perspectives will come up 'Relevance'.....the holy grail Of marketing


  3. I am really thankful to you for this great read!! You did a very great job, keep it up.
    Thank you for this great information, you write very well which i like very much. I am really impressed by your post
    Marketing Roi

  4. Interesting read. Especially about someone turning off the tap. IBM has 450,000 of the brightest employees around the globe. Imagine if you could only advocate the IBM value through these 450,000 employees. Lets do the numbers, 450,000 employees who could influence at least 10 more people via any medium (social media included), you have 4.5 million advocates of IBM.

    It then doesn't matter who turns the tap on or off. Social advocacy is undoubtedly the holy grail but it has been around for decades even without social networks.

    The social networks could increase the multiplication factor. In the future, I see people being hired for their social clout as well. I have 'x' amount of followers on twitter, my klout score is 'y', I have 'z' amount of CxOs on linkedin. This property of followers will be invaluable.