Bringing Knives to the Social Commerce Gunfight

When the U.S. entered Iraq in 2003—whether to avenge the 9-11 attacks, sniff out WMDs or just establish a democratic foothold in the Middle East (pick your favorite)—it was widely anticipated that superior organization, firepower and traditional warfare acumen would be sufficient to topple Saddam Hussein and return Iraq to its purported democracy-craving populace.  Someone we’ll leave nameless may have also said something about being welcomed with “chocolate and flowers.”

It didn’t quite turn out that way and the U.S. learned an extremely difficult—and devastatingly costly—lesson:  when the rules of engagement change, no amount of traditional strategy, tactics or muscle are going to override the new rules.

I was fortunate to participate in a clear bellwether that the rules of engagement for marketing communications are in the midst of irrevocable change.  On September 23, Lift Summit 2010 was held in Atlanta, GA.  The theme of the one-day event was “practical, applicable ways that social commerce drives sales,” but the real vibe came from the emphatic nature of each speaker’s tacit proclamation that the real business of marketing is shifting dramatically out of the control of marketers and into the hands of the consumer (for our purposes, “consumer” refers to B2B or B2C targets; we’re all consumers, we just wear different hats at home and at work).

From Eric Bradlow (@ebradlow), Co-Director of the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative, to Sam Decker (@SamDecker) of BazaarVoice, Erik Qualman (@equalman), author of Socialnomics, or Boland Jones of PGi, the undertone was clear:  if you want to optimize sales, you’d better get on the stick when it comes to participating in the social conversations that will drive your business (or drive you out of business).

(One aside:  I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to attend a conference that wasn’t filled with Marketing 101 speakers; the Lift Summit was definitely a graduate course.  It moved quickly and demanded more than a cursory understanding of the social landscape from attendees who, based on the plethora of in-conference tweets, seemed to be eating it up.)

I won’t recap the conference here (you should check out #liftsummit on Twitter or visit an excellent blog recap at http://blog.liftsummit.com/ for more info), but it did completely reinforce how catastrophically wrong it is for marketers to ever accept a traditional marketing plan ever again.

As marketers, we’re literally bringing a knife to the gunfight that is social commerce today.  It’s time to fully embrace that traditional advertising, PR and direct marketing are now merely support tactics for social engagement and nurturing.

We can complain about it all we want, but the marketing funnel of our future is a social graph.  We still need traditional tactics to create “aha” moments and fill in the knowledge gaps that will undoubtedly be created by the less-than-expert UGC opinions that will surround our brands, but—for better or worse—the shopping mall just got razed.  In its place is a bazaar that’s more rave than flea market.  So grab your glow stick and dive in; the only way to understand this world is to immerse yourself in it.

PS:  Don’t confuse “social media” with Facebook and Twitter.  They may be the best known to the masses, but this revolution is way, way bigger.  Oh, yeah, and the fastest-growing social interaction device also makes phone calls.

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