Why obsession with social media ROI misses the bigger picture

It’s a pretty sad indictment of our summer that I found myself googling ‘convertible hood repairs’ a couple of weeks ago upon reaching the end of my tether with my beloved but far from watertight car [note to our non-UK readers: a hood is another word for roof]. A classic distress purchase if there ever was one – whilst the shock of cold water pouring down my neck beats any caffeine kick to get me started in the morning, the ensuing hefty repair bill doesn’t leave a lasting sense of satisfaction from a job well done. To keep with the weather for just a fraction longer – they do say within every dark, ominous, car flooding cloud there’s a silver lining and so it was as I encountered a small business in a light industrial park in Surrey that gave the kind of lesson in relationship marketing that is so important in successful social media activity – albeit from their garage forecourt rather than a Facebook page or Twitter account.

Rather than the usual take your keys and we’ll get back to you approach, I found myself talking at length with an expert in his field who not only loved cars but apparently finding solutions to leaks which went beyond fitting a handmade bespoke replacement hood (the sole product of the business). This specialist was clearly demonstrating one of the golden rules in social, the ability to go beyond the campaign and focus on the conversation, talking to me about the range of possibilities rather than recommending their product.

A day later I was back to pick the car up, it sporting the same hood but having had 2 of the seals remounted. The biggest surprise was the absolute refusal to take payment for the work, a simple “bring it back when you decide on that new hood” being the only request as I pulled away with a large smile on my face and no icy water running down my back. It would seem counter-intuitive to many not to have achieved the sale from a customer resigned to his fate, but the garage had realised the second key rule – don’t become obsessed with ROI on the conversation but harness all the available benefits from ‘social’.

Brands that are able to participate in these value-adding conversations via their social platforms enjoy a myriad of benefits that are greater than positive ROI.  The fear is that by not fully understanding the benefits of Social, Marketers are making judgements based too heavily on ROI and holding all social media activities to account against this arbitrary measure, ignoring the opportunity to exploit the wider benefits, including:

1. Increased brand and product awareness

Whilst talking to the garage I learnt about the approach taken to the hoods they manufacture, the signs of ageing in my own hood and the limitations of temporary repairs. He was able to begin shifting my mind-set from a distress purchase to an investment in an experience that I really enjoy – driving the car I saved up long and hard for.

2. Driving greater site traffic

Any doubts I caught him on a ‘good day’ were outweighed by the enormously positive sentiment online from owner’s forums, motoring journalists and bloggers. He has cultivated an online network without any social media platforms himself.

3. Increased brand perception

After being able to tap into genuine expertise I would without hesitation direct my own friends towards the garage. As brands we have so much in-house expertise and customers who are looking for assistance – social media is our forecourt to connect the two parties, a connection that will in time lead to value creation.

4. Targeting

On reflection our conversation provided great insight into the drivers that would make me consider a replacement hood for other reasons than just the leak. Similarly, as brands, social media provides us the opportunity to better target our communications and focus our messages on being highly relevant.

5. Insight

Over his years of conversations with customers, the car hood specialist has built up an awareness and knowledge of the market that is as much an asset as the seamstresses and fitters that work for him. For large brands, social media provides opportunities for rich and immediate insight either from passively listening to people who are fans of your brand or setting up dedicated insight communities to glean a similar understanding about what delights and infuriates customers and what they truly value.

6. New Product Opportunities

Whilst I may not have an informed point of view on a car’s convertible hood, for most other products and brands I love I am pretty clear on how they could be improved. As well as providing insight, the digital customer wants to play an active role in creating and tuning products to their needs. Brands such as Coca-Cola, E.ON and Heineken are recent examples of brands actively using co-creation to inform their product and marketing strategy.

Rather than seeking to provide an exhaustive list, the above serves to highlight some of the key benefits for a brand that lie within social media. The concern is that some brands are being left behind in the move online and there are likely many reasons for this, some more challenging than others.

The focus on ROI is often cited as a reason to not get involved or to limit involvement to any meaningful extent. All too often brands are held back because budget continues to be focussed on the traditional campaign channels with their focus on the quick sale rather than the conversational channel of social media. Whilst I would never argue that ROI doesn’t play an essential role in great marketing, the concern is that potentially transformative digital marketing is lost at the conceptual stage because it is arbitrarily judged against channels on an ROI basis and therefore the potential value is missed.  ROI comparisons should never hold companies back from exploring their digital future and capitalising on their digital present.

But how to shift this mind-set within an organisation and empower people to experiment and reap the benefits of social media for their brand? The solution depends upon your organisation and no doubt lies in making adjustments to the drivers of organisational capability – but a common starting point is to address the lack of confidence and capability with digital marketing. Rather like the team at the Carhood Warehouse we are already experts in our category and product, but as Marketers we need to attain their level of understanding and ability in social if we are to maximise the lasting customer value that comes from conversations and a job well done rather than a campaign and a pure focus on ROI.


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s digital capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly @StephenIngram01. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Digital.

Join the conversation and share your opinions on Twitter or LinkedIn, where you’ll find our latest content as well as some of our favourite thought-pieces from other influencers.