Perhaps a contradiction in terms, but often marketing managers are tasked with growing a business through sales, yet oddly the best way to do that is not to focus on building sales, but on building the best product, or overall brand experience.
I believe the promotion or communication of that complete brand experience should part of the goal of any marketing communications effort.
I think we see an example of communicating brand experiences in the Dell Hell example, both in the decline of the brand once Jeff Jarvis wrote his series of blog posts about his Dell experiences in 2005, and the recovery of the brand over an 18 month period starting in late 2006.
Dell had to make structural changes to their customer service infrastructure and improved their product line, as a result of these changes, and Dell reaching out to customers individually through social media, Dell was able to improve overall sentiment about the Dell brand by lowering a 49% negative sentiment in 2006 to 22% in 2008 (Dell's numbers).
Social media is not and should not be at the center of every marketing effort, but in today's world of the web, the internet plays a huge role in buyer decisions and customer communications.
Analytics for social media can include the task of measuring conversions, and I believe it should. But at the same time, I believe there needs to be a role for measuring what the customer's perception is about the brand experience, perhaps through sentiment rating.
I don't know what happened with Dell in 2005 or early 2006 when it came to measuring customer satisfaction levels, but I wonder if measurement of such metrics would have given early indication as to where the company was heading in '05 and '06. I looked at the American Customer Satisfaction Index up to '08 for Dell and the numbers were '04 - 79, '05 - 74, '06 - 78, '07 - 74, and '08 - 75. Some signs of lower customer satisfaction in '05, but the boost in '06 was an increase.
One issue with customer satisfaction is that it measures the rate of satisfaction of existing customers, not necessarily the sentiment of potential customers. Dell's social media monitoring efforts indicated high rates of negative sentiment towards the brand across customers and non-customers. We can argue about the validity of the results taken from social media. But 49% is quite a high number, enough to tell Dell something was serious and action was required. Because social media monitoring tools are now available such as Radian6, Visible Technology, Techrigy's SM2, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, and JD Edwards, I think social media research of this nature enables companies to monitor the sentiment towards a brand much more easily than traditional market research tools (Though I am not arguing for their replacement).
Executives may not always see the relevancy of brand experience measurement when the bottom line is a pressing issue, especially in the current economy. However, case studies like Dell illustrate how important a company's total brand experience can in the end have a dramatic effect on sales.
Maybe the problem for social media measurement is that it is easy to see where brand experience is important in crisis communications situations like Dell, Kryptonite, Ford or GM, but tougher to see the need for brand experience measurement and investment when you already have a good story to tell.
This is an aside: I thought I’d take a look at the Southwest Airlines blog to see what progress the company has made with social media since the company launched in April 2006. Southwest is a leader in the airlines industry and a good candidate for a company that is involved with social media but was not in crisis. I noticed when I looked at the few posts I reviewed that there were no return replies, this reminds me of GM and the FastLane blog before Christopher Barger joined the company. I will have to spend some more time looking through the last few years posts to discover how often Southwest employees reply to commenter’s on the blog. I’d be very curious to know what affect Southwest’s social media efforts have had on the sentiment towards the brand.