Keep It Simple, Stupid

7 July 2012

Simply Wrong: What Do You Mean By “Social Media” And “Engagement”?

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Hype Assailant; image by Jantusia via Wikimedia Commons…

I LOVE to dispel hype surrounding social media and marketing clichés like “engagement.” But sometimes, even my fellow hype-assailants go astray and perpetrate some nonsense of their own…

Case in point: “Marketers Have It Wrong: Forget Engagement, Consumers Want Simplicity” by Patrick Spenner at Spenner sounds important (“managing director of the Marketing Leadership Council at Corporate Executive Board”), and he comes armed with seemingly credible tools: stats from the IBM Institute for Business Value, and even more stats from a survey of 7,000 consumers and 200 marketing execs nationwide. He then launches his attack:

“In a world where brands are constantly fighting for attention, many marketers are asking themselves a key question: What is the best way to impact purchase decision and brand loyalty? The answer they are likely arriving at is that they should engage potential and current customers via social media. After all, consumers are all about social media, right? Wrong…

Not only is Decision Simplicity the number one driver of likelihood to buy, but the impact of simplifying purchase decisions for consumers is four times stronger than the favored marketing strategy of engagement.”

Since I’ve read other arguments for simplicity (for example, strong brands help consumers navigate cluttered marketplaces), I’m prepared to buy Spenner’s argument and research it further… until he provides two examples of Decision Simplicity from a company he admires, Intuit:

  • Trust – Intuit provides more than 160,000 unfiltered user reviews and ratings on the TurboTax website and helps people find the information most relevant to them.
  • Learn – Intuit offers a live forum – TurboTax Live Community – where people can ask questions and share information.

Hold on there: Unfiltered user reviews and ratings? A live community where people can ask questions and share? Excuse me, but aren’t those prime examples of social media and engagement?

Not So Intuit-ive

I presume Spenner can explain why those don’t constitute social media and engagement. The problem: he never defines his terms in the article, so it appears that he’s endorsing the very practices that he denounces. I hope he at least defined those terms for those 7,000 consumers and 200 marketing execs.

(Note: This isn’t the first time I’ve seen sloppy arguments at Forbes should stop relying so much on guest columnists, and hire more professional journalists and editors.)

At the same time, if Spenner thinks simplicity is superior to social media and engagement, I wonder why he invested time responding to comments on this article (how socially engaging), or even more intriguing, why the Marketing Leadership Council has both a blog and a Twitter account. Couldn’t the MLC drive more sales of whatever it is they’re selling by simply making our decisions simpler?

As it turns out, determining the true value of social media, engagement, and even simplicity isn’t that simple, is it?


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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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