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Total Marketing

I think it’s fair to say that the world of social media has a tendency to drown most people in the details. Conversations with friend and clients on the topic are often about the latest tools and trends rather than how they are fit together in one coherent strategy.  I think this is happening because, for all the chatter, there is still not a coherent vision as to where it all might be going.  I’d like to take a stab as to how this might all work out, at least when it comes to selling products in a new kind of economy.

Creating a strategy around all the new tools available to us is a topic that I love to teach people about, preferably as paying clients.  It’s not all that hard if you approach it properly.  Primarily, it’s like everything else that I write about – connections between people and each other, connections between people and ideas, connections between people and products.  In all cases, it focuses on people and the spaces inbetween, gaps that are usually filled by the ability to tell a story.  Teaching how to make use of this is a process of empowerment.

We’ve seen a kind of empowerment model change the way businesses operate once before, at the beginning of my career as an engineer.  In the 1980s, the manufacturing world was swept by the ideas of W Edward Deming, a visionary in what we now might call “Total Quality Management” or TQM.  Before this change, the old system of assigned quality to a distinct “Quality Control” group, a small number of people who managed from the top down accepting or rejecting widgets that were produced by workers whose jobs were narrowly defined as production.

TQM made quality everyone’s job.  Any one worker could shut the whole operation down if there was a problem they couldn’t fix because everyone was completely responsible not just for turning out a product, but a quality product.  This meant that workers had to be taught a few basic skills, including some elementary statistics, but that challenge proved a lot easier than originally thought.  The old QC Department took on a coaching and auditing role that oversaw the development of skills as much as products.

How might this apply to social media?  By giving a role in crafting and distributing the sales message to everyone who works in an organization.  The tools to do this are all in front of us right now in social media.

The center of any good social media strategy is the community, the people that define the business.  It goes without saying that the team of employees who make up a company are at the core of that community, especially in industries that involve retail or service.  Any successful message will involve them heavily, meaning that transparency from employee to customer is very important. Once you have employees writing blog entries telling the world who they are, what they do, and why they love it you have the core of a community that reaches out to customers rather than tell them what they should buy.

That’s when social media becomes effective.  That’s empowerment.

It may seem strange to compare the future of social media marketing to TQM, but they have always been closely aligned.  When the auto industry started adopting the new quality systems, one of the first outward signs were commercials such as Ford’s “Quality is Job One” that featured line workers telling the teevee world what made them proud to be part of the new organization.  We could see in the recent downturn how a generation of such changes helped Ford when they were the only car company to say, “No, thank you, we’re OK” when bailout money was offered.  Quality was job one, but telling the world about that quality was a close second.  With new tools and a new focus, any company can do exactly the same thing.

That doesn’t mean that the traditional advertising systems will go away.  What it does mean is that, much like the old QC department, advertising will move towards a process of strategic focus, skill development, and monitoring how effectively the message is getting out. The old days of telling people what to buy will be over.

I call this approach “Total Marketing” in a nod to Demming, but I’m sure that as it develops a better handle will come along.  For now, this is what I teach my clients.  Yes, it means that your employees in all functions have to learn a little bit about how it all works, but the skills of telling a story and social media are not all that hard.  It’s not only empowering, it’s invigorating. And it’s a lot more interesting to dive in and do it than discussing a bewildering array of details

If you’d like to learn more about this vision and my approach, you can begin by following the links to some of the older pieces I’ve written on the topics.  I’m available for consultation and seminars as well – the details can be found under Hire Me.  Thank you!

18 thoughts on “Total Marketing

  1. Some of this has always been part of the hospitality industry. The problem is that it’s always done from the top down. There’s still a joke from “Office Space” about how many “pieces of flair” you have to have on your shirt among servers. It always seems to come down that way.

    Getting it to change is a lot more than SM, but you are right that venues that do it right are always more successful. It really is a team effort. It would be cool to see that move out to the rest of the world through SM.

    Nice vision!

  2. Top down thinking is always a problem. I don’t think it will ever work in social media, however. If social media can accomplish one great thing it will be to change the way we think about industrial organization, much as TQM once did.

    One thing I left out is how TQM gradually became much more systemitized, at least in approach, through the ISO system of quality management. A lot of people will tell you that this is different that top-down management, but I think that bureaucracy is just as bad as heavy management – maybe even moreso.

    That’s another topic. Have to start the revolution first. 🙂

  3. I have to agree Top down thinking is a huge problem. This article has given me a great deal to think as I’m currently skirting the edges of involvement with an on line company which utilises heavily social media.

  4. Most of what people say about “social media” is hoopla. If, big IF, companies use a strategy like you outline here it would make a big difference. But I don’t see that happening soon or easy.

    You’re talking about a complete change in how people do business plus taking on the advertising industry. You’re going to need real results to make that happen & I don’t see those yet.

    Twitter and all that is still a toy. “Social media” has a loooong way to go.

  5. Gwei: This is a message I’m trying to get out to the world in addition to getting my career going. Since you’re a good person (and in the UK!) if you’re really interested I’d be glad to work with you to develop the approach.

    Dale: I’m not disagreeing with you on the state of things today. What is important to understand is that “conventional” advertising doesn’t really work all that well after all – most of the money is wasted. It’s in one of the links up there (paragraph 9, “That doesn’t mean …”). The scale of traditional media means that it’s out of the reach of many smaller businesses, too:


    I expect this to start small and prove itself. I’d like to be a part of making it work, too, and know a few tricks that I didn’t get into here! 🙂

  6. This sounds like an excellent way to think about how to manage the change that has to be coming. I think it is inevitable that more will be expected from employees just as it has all along.

    This may not happen in every company and every industry but I can see how small service based operations like stores will have to go this way. Every one needs an edge today.

    Hope this gets you some business, too!

  7. I remember when TQM first came along. Implementation was uneven at best, but I think it changed industry forever.

    If such a thing happens with SM I really do hope we can skip the ISO 9000 routine. That has done more to ruin industry than any top-down management ever did.

    But I see your point about smaller operations taking this on first. Everyone is an entrepeneur (sp?) in a small store, so it fits. Part of the problem with TQM was that it relied on big companies to ‘get it,’ and some never did like GM.

  8. Annalise: This will definitely be a bottom-up operation. Small biz has been looking for an edge for years, and I hope this helps.

    Jim: If you’re a vet of this, we should swap stories some day. I’m trying to decide if TQM was a real revolution or just a small inflection point on a long road … well, sadly, to oblivion. Manufacturing continues to decline in the USofA so I’m not sure how much good it did. But it has kept things going in other nations where (I think) the implementation was very different. Wish we still made stuff here, tho, no matter what.

  9. There’s an inherent tension between SM and large organizations especially when you are talking about marketing – coherency. Marketers devote enormous resources identifying target markets, developing products and differentiation strategies to serve those markets.

    Savy advertisers will use this information when crafting their messages. The clothing, actors ages and all other demographics and visuals in a TV commercial are purposely selected to match the target markets’ demographics. SM’s stream of uncoordinated, less “on target” messages can be alarming to a company that fears “brand equity” will be eroded, and its expensive advertising will have less punch.

    It is hard to fight the top down when companies perceive the cost is sacrifice of control over the message.

  10. I like the way you put this, Bruce. Very third-person detached, lets the reader make up their own mind.

    This is probably another example of why social media won’t catch on well with bigger companies first. A smaller outlet probably doesn’t have such a finely crafted “message” in the first place, so it’s not a big deal. The restaurants I deal with typically focus on the next event on the calendar, so it’s really obvious what the message of the week is. Larger companies will want more consistency.

    I’ve never dealt with this, but I think it’s a legitimate concern at some point. What I’d say is that the role of the marketing folks is to get the message out to the team / company and see what sticks. If it works for the employees it has a chance of working for the customers, but if it falls flat it may be just as well that it dies.

    That’s a bit glib, I’m sure. At some point a warm and real message does come into conflict with consistency no matter what. Makes it harder to build the brand. But from what I’ve seen of small outlets where everyone pretty much knows everyone, the employees do know what the operation is all about and are always a big part of building the brand – especially in retail and service.

    Something to think about, definitely. Thanks!

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  14. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definately be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment.

    iso 9000

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