Savvy marketing increasingly means not only cracking the social networking code, but understanding how video, mobile applications and social customer relationship management (CRM) practices can drive both demand generation and a heightened customer experience.
And according to Luanne Tierney, vice president of worldwide channels marketing at Cisco, marketing executives ignore those powerful tools at their peril.
All three categories are big themes at this year's Cisco Partner Velocity, which kicked off in Barcelona late Tuesday and continues through Thursday, with about 200 international Cisco partners in attendance. During several sessions Wednesday, Tierney emphasized that every potential area of customer interaction -- be it a Facebook account, a Twitter feed or a Web site landing page -- is a place to influence the conversation about business.
"It's no longer enough just to have a Web site," Tierney said. "It's about having a conversation with your customer."
Video, she said, is the number one opportunity to engage with customers, and many customers now trend toward searching video sites like YouTube for information as often as they do search engines like Google.
Mobile applications are another key area of touch. Cisco will be rolling out a channel partner-focused mobile app of its own later this month, Tierney said.
"It's not expensive to create a mobile app, or to get your word out there," she said. "But you have to have people who know how to put it out there."
The third category, social CRM, means combining social networking acuity with traditional CRM databases: learning more about your customers, in other words, to prompt more meaningful engagements with those customers. Last monthCisco released a software tool called SocialMiner to allow customers to track social networking interactions related to their companies as a form of business intelligence.
"No longer is it that you just have a database," Tierney said. "You can find out what [customers are] reading, what they're saying about you. We're seeing the growth of these tools for monitoring your clients, which is creating a whole new way for CRM. There's an opportunity to hear who they're talking to and what they're saying."
Social networking is a powerful medium, said VARs in attendance in Barcelona, provided it's used effectively -- and the rule book for "effectively" is still being written.
Mike French, vice president of marketing at INX, a Houston-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner, said INX tries to use social media in every single one and in every single form of its marketing campaigns.
"There are conversations happening about our industry, about our customers and our business, so why not at least listen and hear what those conversations are?" French said. "Social media is very personal -- it's very dynamic -- so how do you take a corporate strategy into the personal realm? That's the challenge."
French said INX leverages Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, but its best tool thus far has been the INX executives who blog on the company, and even driven some demand generation from customers responding to blog posts. Facebook has been less impactful, French said, because of what he described as a "conflict" between business Facebook use and personal Facebook use, and whether it's important for those to be separate.
Martin Lohnert, marketing director of Soitron, a solution provider based in Bratislava, Slovak Republic, said that Facebook has been his organization's most important social networking tool. Soitron began experimenting with Facebook, as well as Twitter and LinkedIn, about a year ago.
"There are a lot of conversations happening: we get contacted via Facebook by people telling us about our site, whether something doesn't work or when they want to get information," Lohnert said. "They're so used to Facebook, and that's why that conversation is happening there. There are probably hundreds of conversations that wouldn't happen unless they were on Facebook."
INX's French added that social networking and video are important tools because they give companies an interactive edge.
"If you can figure it out, you actually give your company a personality," he said. "It's a great lever not to just communicate but also help define your culture."