Today I’ll begin to reveal how service-focused businesses can move forward and realize tangible,
meaningful returns using social media & mobile marketing. Results like leads, sales and increased customer value that creates loyalty. 

Here’s how in two words: Build utility.

Tired of the never-ending social media ROI debate? Want tangible results from social media or mobile devices? Follow the lead of banks like Spain’s BBVA and the US’s USAA.

These trail-blazing service businesses realize something very important, and they’re acting on it. 

Need is the new want

Success is becoming less about catering to (or creating) desire,
positive sentiment or aspiration among customers. In this new world economy, “engagement” and buzz isn’t enough. Large and small brands alike need to go “beyond branding.” Customers are only acting (buying) based on what they actually need. And marketers are under intense pressure to sell.

Facebook fans and friends or Twitter followers aren’t enough. Buzzing or creating awareness that we think will generate incremental sales isn’t enough to please C suite executives. Heck, you know that perhaps more than I do!

Success today is more about discovering latent, hidden demand among customers and capturing it, using social media. 

That sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But the real (mostly untold) social media success stories don’t arise out of experimentation with Twitter and Facebook. 

Sorry, gurus, but I see them being built from the ground up, with usefulness and value-creation in mind. They’re strategic investments, not tactical expenses. They’re marketing-oriented but highly operational and aimed at creating loyalty by improving customer experience.

Secret Sauce: Uber-relevance

Now that you’re thinking strategically about social and mobile let’s look for common themes among success stories like USAA and BBVA. Let’s take a deeper look at how “being useful” can drive meaningful customer behaviors that lead to more profitable customer behaviors.

The secret sauce is being endlessly useful and relevant to customers. This means providing tools to customers. Utilities. Applications? Sure, but don’t get caught up in the hype. Think in strategic terms. 

Focus on the essentials, what customers NEED as a part of everyday life. It’s easy to fall into the trap of novelty. 

Example: How many customers love iPhone applications?  Many. But how many apps are truly needed by users and used as part of everyday life? “The how” (the techno-wizardry) is oh-so-sexy with social and mobile. It gets all the attention nearly all of the time. But this attention is actually a distraction. It’s a hurdle for business decision-makers to clear. 

A value exchange

What can all businesses learn from Adagio Teas? As it turns out, a lot. This is another great example of social media success using the concept of utility. Adagio focuses on the “proper steep time” need of serious tea drinkers. 

The company’s fully customized, “digital desktop tea timer” device helps tea connoisseurs  brew a perfect cup each time, and mixes in a powerful, respectful marketing approach to all who use it. 

Adagio gives tea drinkers a useful tool. In return, it gets access to intimate needs-focused information on the customer or prospect him/herself.

Remember: It’s not about the flashy tools. It’s a value-exchange. It’s about how you can snap effortlessly into customers’ lives in profoundly useful, relevant ways. Form follows function. 

This is a value-exchange between both parties. It’s balanced and always gives your company the opportunity to foster more behaviors among customers. That’s the rule. Don’t let any social media guru tell you otherwise, that this is all about being part of the community. 

If this part isn’t “baked in” to your plan it becomes a mediocre social media “success story” (that is truly novel). 

What do your customers need to do?

But what can you actually do tomorrow to get the ball rolling, beyond changing how you think about social media?

What if it were as simple as asking your social media guru or digital marketing consultant to take a back seat for a moment?  What if the real task at hand involved discovering what your customers truly need, or what they’re already doing today, and then extending it to digital? 

Might this be the first step toward extracting value from social media? Yes.

Example: Banks like USAA and BBVA already knew that customers were using technology to make their “banking lives” more productive. So these businesses simply “turned up the volume” with social and mobile tools that allow customers to take the level of utility to new heights.

They didn’t employ a secret formula or best practice from outside the company. They looked at their own scenario for answers.

Ask better questions, today

The question USAA asked itself was…

If customers are already depositing checks by scanning/emailing them might they be willing to snap a photo of the check with their mobile device similarly?  Might that be valuable to them — and to us — in measurable (profitable) ways?

Adagio went through the same process when it realized, “hey, our sophisticated customers drink tea, and perfect cups of tea are hard to come by if you don’t have a reliable means to properly time steeping.”

Social media guru cost on that one? Zero. Of course, the company invested in the application itself and cost to integrate it with a marketing routine. But it had a plan. I’ll talk more about planning and executing these “social value exchanges” in my next article.

So, as a next step ask yourself…

1) What does your business already do – that it could “digitally extend” to customers – based on what you already know customers are doing or willing to do? (and that creates measurable value for both parties).

2) What recent, successful promotion or existing utility that has a unique enough value (that made success a reality) could be “digitally extended?” (to create more/new value).

Challenge yourself

Sure, “self service” is a huge part of the social and mobile Web. But challenge yourself. Reach beyond the gratuitous uses of digital media. There’s new value to be created. 

Example: By allowing BBVA to access their most relevant “financial data points” AND monitor their behavior across these points, BBVA customers are receiving remarkably personalized, qualitative financial advice. This stretches far beyond managing their bank accounts. 

But my point is this: It has roots in it. BBVA’s grander vision realized by its early-stage application was born of classic forms of bank-based utility. It’s “banking on steroids.” And if you think about it banking can certainly use a shot in the arm given the current state of affairs. How about your business?

Marketers are publishers

Next week I’ll return to focus more on the use of content (not just digital / mobile applications) to create profitable outcomes for service and product marketers.  We’ll explore a fascinating case study out of Eastern Europe that demonstrates how one marketer is creating buyers out of thin air. 

Tune in to hear how this direct TV brand is nurturing leads over many months time — cost-effectively netting sales from buyers they’d otherwise never have a chance at meeting.