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Peter McCormack, co-founder, McCormack & Morrison

Many of the major developments in marketing practice over the last 50 years have been about customer data. Creativity may have grabbed the headlines but it has been advances in customer databases, CRM, loyalty, direct mail and customer profiling that have changed the way marketers think and work.

Why, then, is the industry on the verge of throwing this all away? I fear we could be sleepwalking towards disaster as marketers hand over control of and access to customer data to distant and unengaged third parties.

I’m talking about social media marketing. As the hype around social builds, more brands seem to be putting a lot of their customer data eggs in one basket. They don’t seem to care about building an accurate and well-maintained email database; instead they want to build Twitter followers. They don’t want a well-managed CRM campaign, they’d rather have a Facebook page.

Social has its place and its role, but the risk is that brands are increasingly losing control over the information about their customers. If you have your customers’ email addresses and opt-ins, alongside whatever demographic data they’ve given you, you have a huge range of interaction and targeting options, as well as the opportunity to build a long-term relationship. If they’re a Twitter follower, however, then you can tweet them and that’s about it. You hold little or no information about them and all your interactions are limited to 140 characters.

The downsides of social don’t stop there, either. With the incredible dominance of Facebook and Twitter in the social media marketplace, it’s an established ‘truth’ that these sites will be popular for ever and are a reliable place to invest your marketing dollars in building up a following. However, many thought the same when they pumped tens of thousands into building their Second Life shop or their MySpace page, and I’d be interested to see how the ROI has panned out on those.

If you’re building your marketing strategy around a third-party channel, you ideally want to be 100% sure that the channel in question isn’t going to go out of fashion. If you’re managing your own customer data on your own terms, then the risk is all yours; if you’re looking to a social network, then there’s a new level of uncertainty.

I’m not saying that all social media marketing is by definition bad, but brands need to make sure that if they’re going to jump on the bandwagon they shouldn’t forget about the marketing basics that have got them where they are today.


Published 21 January, 2010 by NMA Staff

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