A View From INSEAD
Professor Miklos Sarvary
Today, marketing is no longer a one-way communication. Thanks to the internet and, in particular, social networks, marketing has become a conversation – in which the consumer not only talks back to the marketer but also speaks to other consumers. This phenomenon, known as interactive marketing, has become a major research topic at INSEAD. Indeed, the school has some of the world’s leading thinkers in this field on its faculty.
Has business “cracked” interactive marketing yet, or is it still developing new strategies to unlock its power?
We know from history that, when a new medium is born, businesses need time to understand its real meaning and how to use it... which answers your question, really. This area is still evolving considerably. Any strategy a business adopts with respect to interactive marketing therefore has to be an adaptive strategy, with lots of learning built in.
So what do we know so far? And, based on that, what broad strategy should businesses adopt?
We always knew that word-of-mouth was important. What’s new is that we not only have a record of what people are saying but also know who is speaking to whom. So the first thing businesses need to do is to discover who the opinion leaders in a community are. Who sets the tone, connects other people and makes sure the information is spreading effectively within the ranks of the community? There is already plenty of advanced analytical technology around to help figure this out and map the paths of communication in a network. The second step is to listen in real time to the conversations that are going on in order to extract information. And the third step is for marketers to join the conversation. They can inject content into blogs and micro-blogs by responding immediately to what others are saying about their brand.
Is that really such a good idea?
Absolutely. Brands are massively influenced by word-of-mouth. If marketers don’t get involved, they risk losing control of their own brand. So far, we've seen a tendency to intervene only when there is some kind of negative impact on the brand. But there are also many opportunities to have a positive impact.
How will this approach revolutionise direct marketing techniques in the future?
It's difficult to answer, partly because of the ongoing learning process. There's going to be a lot more experimentation, that’s for sure. What’s already clear is that a lot of analytics will be brought to the process – network analytics and IT knowledge. But a lot of soft skills will need to be brought to the process too, utilising people who are naturally good at engaging in conversations and listening to consumers. I’m not sure we quite have these techniques nailed yet but we're definitely on the way.
What is INSEAD doing to help businesses maximise their interactive marketing opportunities?
We're doing more and more research into social media and interactive marketing. Many of my colleagues are working on these topics. We also try to include modules on social media in all of our marketing programmes. In addition, we try to bring expert practitioners into programmes in order to try and address what's going on in this ever-changing environment in a practical way. The learning is as much a “conversation” as the medium itself.