What it Means to be a Social-First Brand
In the past few years you may have heard the terms “customer first” marketing or “customer experience design” and “customer-centric strategies” used a lot. These have become popular buzzwords and positioning statements for companies; but what does it really look like in action?
Although it’s gained more traction in recent years, the customer-centric concept was actually coined back in the 1960’s by Lester Wunderman during the era of direct marketing. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the invention of the loyalty card and other such innovations helped brick-and-mortar retailers to track customer behaviour and deliver a more personalised experience.
Here in the age of digital media, the personalised experience is a necessity, and has become incredibly refined thanks to cutting edge insights technology.
Digital media, with a particular focus on social media, has shifted the power from brands to consumers. This is why customer-centric strategies are essential and at the forefront of brand experience. A business that focuses on putting the customer first is always more successful, with a reported 80% outperformance of companies who lead with customer experience over ones who do not prioritise this.
Building a brand in a digital world requires connecting with people, and when there is so much competition, truly connecting in valuable and memorable ways means prioritising forming this connection when you develop your strategy, and leading with that.
The Customer in Control
For many, life is inhabited equally (if not, more) in the digital space as it is offline “IRL.” What has made the digital environment so seductive is that inside it, the consumer is completely in control. The feed is a reflection of all their desires and interests. It’s tailor-made to exactly what they want to consume- instantaneously.
The customer controls their own digital environment of how, who, what and when they want to be communicated to. The combination of smartphones and social media has been the most influential in shifting human behaviour and has single handedly fragmented attention.
It’s up to brands to meet the consumer where they’re at: on the timeline, scrolling and swiping past anything that doesn’t jump out without a second thought.
A customer-centric approach requires brands to create an experience conducive to the digital environment, from the perspective of the consumer, who is driving the experience from their device.
This is why every project needs to begin with the questions:
- Who is your customer?
- What do they need?
- How does your brand speak to the customer based on this?
The brand experience must be integrated with the customer’s lifestyle. Every decision about the brand experience must be made with this in mind: without the customer, the brand does not exist. Respect the customer.
The Brand Experience
Brand experience is the sensory response a customer has to what the brand puts out there, and is designed to evoke a feeling, sensation, thought or behaviour response (like a smile or a pang of inspiration) that leads to taking action.
A customer-centric brand experience is one in which the brand exists side-by-side with the consumer, guiding them through the experience. And in our current culture, the place to exist side-by-side with them, and the place where everything begins, is social media.
With 3.6 billion people actively using social media in 2021, it might look like an ocean of chaos at times, but it’s where brands need to be the most focused if they’re serious about being an integrated part of a consumer’s lifestyle.
“People are consuming content at a ridiculous rate, in 1 internet minute 4.7 Million Videos are viewed, 400k App Downloads, 764 000 Hours of Netflix is watch, 59 million messages sent, 1.6 Millon swipes in Tinder.”
Source: 1 internet minute 2020
People no longer sit in front of one screen and consume media via one-way communication such as TV. We live in a multi-screen, multi-channel, multi-tasking digital world. In this world people have given up their data for convenience, connection and entertainment.
So how do we cut through this noise and actually connect?
- Irresistible creative that grabs attention
- Adding value by offering education
- Slick user experiences that make engaging with the brand fun, easy and memorable
- Community management that makes the customer feel like king (because they are) #CustomerIsKing
- Be human, think human, connect human
“Relationship” is the keyword here. Social media has redefined the nature of brand communication into a two-way dialogue, and is termed “social” for a reason.
The social media space is about connection and authentic conversation. It’s where brands sit down at the table with consumers and get to know each other. This space is where business is humanised. It’s where actual social interactions take place in the form of engagement.
It’s not enough to be seen, you have to be conversed with. And this is where the “customer first” concept aligns with a “social first” approach.
“Social first” is about bringing brands and audiences together. Social media is the collective space where brands and consumers connect as equal parties in a conversation. This is where we close the gap between brand experience and customer experience.
As social-centred brand experience creators we have the opportunity and responsibility to guide our audiences in a responsible and helpful manner as a fellow community member, or even community leader, who has their best interests at heart.
Social media has become so wildly successful because it satisfied the basic human need for community and does so in a co-creative way. The popularity of influencers is a shining example of how the power and desire for community based around common interest is unstoppable.
When we’re playing in the space of social media, we have to respect its collaborative and community-based nature. This leaves brands with an exciting opportunity to create experiences that invite audiences to co-create.
I’ve come to respect social media as the golden thread whereupon all elements of media are coordinated into one cohesive experience. Social media is Rome- all roads lead to it and from it. By focusing on greeting consumers where they start their day, in a way that leaves a lasting impression, we can lead them anywhere. If we wave at them offline, say, from a billboard later on, they’ll remember us from the impression we left earlier on the timeline, and the connection is deepened because the context was already set up.
But this growing concept of “social first” encompasses much more than focusing on social media because it’s where people are at. “Social first” means truly understanding, and then respecting, why people are there- because THEY want to decide how they experience media, THEY want to be co-creators in their digital experience and they want YOU to listen to THEM in order to meet needs and satisfy desire.
The “social first” approach requires an authentically human, community-centric, customer-centric point of view from brands to truly add value and engage with consumers on the platforms that are mutually beneficial in closing the gap of communication between brands and audiences. By focusing on social media with the intention of conversing, building community and offering unique and exciting brand experiences, we are able to add value for consumers, build brands and sell like never before.