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Beyond Facebook: The evolution of communication and consumer decision-making

There’s a reason we keep inviting Carisa Miklusak to speak with produce industry members: She’s focused on the business applications of digital technologies rather than cheerleading for Facebook and Twitter.

Ms. Miklusak is chief executive officer of tMedia Strategies, a transmedia consultancy. She defines transmedia as “the art of telling a story using many integrated mediums and several unique distribution methods.” Social media shouldn’t replace traditional marketing but should be integrated so holistic communication Carisa-MiklusakCarisa Miklusakdecisions can be made, she said.

Nonetheless, social media stands apart. Reason being, it’s a leading catalyst in today’s communication evolution, which is changing how people make purchase decisions.

Because we know consumer behavior has tremendous bottom-line impact, social media is something all produce executives benefit from understanding better.

What’s social media’s link to bottom-line sales?

Carisa Miklusak: Social media is creating a new decision-making model, and is an example, or expression, of the evolution of communication that’s changing consumer behavior and the way consumers interact with organizations. By understanding how your target audience is changing as a result of this evolution, you’ll be able to understand what your company needs to do to adjust its communication strategy, whether it be for sales, customer service, operationally or even B2B purposes conversing with different partners.  

How is social media different from traditional sales and marketing?

CM: Social media’s actually not that different from traditional marketing, sales or customer service. We use social media just like we do in traditional ways to motivate individuals from the beginning of the buying cycle all the way through to the check-out counter. It all comes down to adding value for your consumers and positioning yourself as a brand of choice. When you do that, just as when you’re effective with traditional marketing, it translates into share of mind or share of voice, and that translates into customer loyalties and new customer acquisitions, which translate into sales. The difference is, social media creates additional opportunities along the way. This whole time while you’re selling, talking and marketing, people are responding. If you’re listening to this focused group, you’re also learning because you got this level of research and development as an intrinsic benefit. By listening and talking with customers throughout the buying cycle, you gain a little more influence to ensure they get to the final step.

Any tips for co-creating content with supply partners?

CM: You want to look for areas where the audience and customer base overlap or the interests overlap and then find maybe five places to start right away. We’ve seen a ton of success with growers and retailers co-creating content, because it demystifies where the food comes from, how it gets to the store and makes the consumer feel connected to the source. Through the B2B aspect, we find stores building better relationships with their partners because they better understand one another’s core interests and audiences. The partnership grows tighter through the combined outreach to consumers and can be really powerful on the impact of business.

Have you noticed anything unique about social media and the produce industry?

CM: This is an industry poised and determined to harness this new tool. The produce industry is a lot more hands-on with marketing and advertising than many other industries I’ve worked with. I can sit down with a farmer or a grocery store executive and they can tell me everything they do from a marketing and PR standpoint. Because we’ve learned it’s effective to take what’s worked well offline and use that same approach online, the produce industry’s understanding of their whole business and how things are marketed really prepares them for success as they translate that to the social sphere.

This is also a fearless industry, which is refreshing for a practitioner who travels the country hearing a lot of fear about entering the social space. This great ambition and “roll-up-the-sleeves” attitude is critical in terms of predicting what their success will be — not just for social but for all emerging digital tools. Fearlessness allows companies to benefit quicker once they get started than companies that want to make sure everything is blown out from a corporate standpoint before they put the first word on Twitter. It’s a learning environment that seems to be the most productive in social media. Many companies behind the eight ball are simply hesitant to try and make mistakes.

Can you give us a peek into the PMA Fresh Connections: Retail events you lead?

CM: We focus on how consumer decision-making is changing and how that changing decision-making process is affecting your brand. We look at the opportunities to leverage social media’s two-way dialog. We do this from a conceptual standpoint and we make sure there is some opportunity to build a tactical plan to implement in your business. The session is incredibly interactive. It’s really a conversation, not about replacement or social media cheerleading, but rather about the impact on your industry, the evolution of communication, the new way consumers are making decisions and how can we stay relevant amid all this and leverage these trends to make an effective bottom-line impact. The next event like this will be in San Diego on June 11-12, and people can learn more about it on PMA’s website (www.pma.com).