In traditional scenarios, when the concepts of internet, Web 2.0, social media etc. did not exist, a firm could study customer requirements and build a product accordingly. Bringing the product to market involved a marketing scheme in which customer was educated about the product by the firm only. The uniqueness of the product, the benefits one could derive, and the performance parameter were all communicated directly by the firm to the potential customers. With this the firms had an advantage of cleverly and silently hiding the unwanted attributes or at least the features which will make it less relevant. The firms could divide the market into different segments and smartly design the 4Ps – Pricing, Promotion, Place and Product – specifically for these different segments. For example, two cars built on the same platform but branded differently could be sold to different customers with different pricing and different value propositions. As long as there was no information spillage between the two segments they could be educated differently about the product satisfying the key requirements of segments respectively. In return a monetary or other premium such as brand loyalty could be extracted. Typically the firm informed or signalled the consumer about the attributes of the product.
With the coming of Internet and especially collaboration and networking it brought along with it, information flow became unrestricted. Social media – blogs, networking websites, discussion boards, content sharing systems etc. – has created an ecosystem where information can be created, distributed, recieved and analyzed in a matter of minutes. One can as easily plug into this ecosystem as easily “Google” (search) for it. There is constant information spillage between conventional consumer segments. As a matter of fact, the segments are becoming fluid as people have easy exposure to other people’s personas and they get influenced and shape their personas easily. Today before assimilating any marketing information (signalling) by the firm, consumers validate and evaluate it from every angle. For example, reviews of a product online are looked for and believed more than the advertisements by the firm. People easily get the information about competing products from the discussion board. Only after verifying from different sources, a customer decides to purchase the product. In such a scenario the whole idea of understanding a product changes from signalling by the firm to screening by the customers. Effectively customers are becoming more informed, vigilant and wielding of their requirements.
With such a phenomenal transformation of marketing priorities, it is imperative that social media marketing strategies are built to leverage on this transformation or at least safeguard against failures arising from it.
Some of the example ways in which screening can be utilized by a company includes –
1) Understanding trends and values important to customers from the data collected from discussion boards, reviews.
2) Building credibility around brand by withstanding strong screening.
3) Forcing comparison with the rival products and proving yours to be superior.
4) Crowdsourcing of ideas for product itself.
All in all, a company should use social media as a marketing space only when it is absolutely comfortable and prepared for the screening by consumers. It is an inevitable phenomenon of a platform which brings together millions of potential customers but open seamless and countless means of transparent information exchange.