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Notes from 13

Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Wow. This event has really grown. I used to attend many moons ago in a different marketing incarnation. Then, the buzz word du jour was “multichannel”, now it’s “omnichannel”. A quick search on the app shows 6 sessions, 4 speaker titles and 8 exhibitors using the word in descriptions. I predict next year, it will double.


Why is omnichannel replacing multichannel? Because retail customers, especially, expect you to be in all places at all times, of course, and that includes social media.


Naturally, I zeroed in on sessions on omnichannel issues as this is the place where I expected social to crop up. And while I found that retailers do spend quite a bit of time considering their social strategies, they’re missing the mark. By a lot.


Executives from Tory Burch, for instance, keynoted today and spent at least half their stage time talking about how social the brand is. But here’s the problem: The key components of their social strategy had everything to do with the brand, and nothing whatsoever to do with the customer. After they spent the first half of their stage time talking about customer-centric they are, they presented the pillars of their social strategy: volume, frequency, …. wait a second…in other words, Tory Burch measures social success by how much the brand pushes content through social channels.


Huh? What about conversation, responsiveness, and the mother of all social success, engagement? Sadly, it appears that brands like Tory Burch—who clearly consider themselves exemplary at social—are simply using social media as just another push mechanism, a way to talk TO customers, instead of talk WITH customers.


Looks as if retailers know on some level that social is important, it’s definitely a big part of the conversation here at But what they’re missing in spades is that if it ain’t 2-way, it ain’t social. If you’re not engaging your social customers in conversation and importantly, enabling them to engage in conversation with each other, your social strategy is no where.


By contrast, Lithium CMO Katy Keim moderated an afternoon panel entitled “Stop Inviting! Draw Customers into a Real and Relevant Digital Experience.”  At the fore of the content for this session were the concepts of trusted content—generated by customers, not brands, and community—an on-domain destination where customers can connect with each other, get trusted answers to their questions and share their passion for the brand and products. In Katy’s words: “Your brand is not who social customers want to hear from.”


92% of customers trust their peers.14% trust brand advertising. If retailers keep using social as another broadcast medium, they’ll never get to any meaningful ROI. (Which, BTW, was one of the top questions trending over Twitter during the Tory Burch keynote—“where’s the ROI?”). Too bad Sephora wasn’t there. Sephora community members spend 10x what other customers spend. How’s that for ROI?


Retailers need to get schooled in social. My advice: Take a page from the playbooks of  other industries who do social right—tech, telco, heck, even financial services brands like Barclays do social very well, and they’re changing the game for both their businesses and their customers.  Not only are they using social media to listen, respond  and engage, they’re bringing customers into the business in a whole new way: as partners.


Retailers hold a unique and highly covetable position with customers. There’s more consumer passion for retail than nearly any other industry you can think of. And if less-than-glamorous financial service brands like USAA can use social technologies to deepen engagement, strengthen customer relationships and build loyalty, what are you waiting for, retail? Get in the game. Get #SeriousAboutSocial.