Mike Lomax: the more people use digital, the more viral it will get.

How to climb the ‘social’ ladder

Published:  04 April, 2012

Social media is one of the best ways to establish an interactive communications medium within your market. Mike Lomax, marketing communications manager of Lafarge Cement, converts a skeptical Lisa Arcangeli.

In the beginning there was email. Then came texting. Soon after, Skype hit the market, swiftly followed by Facebook and Twitter.

Social media presents an avalanche of ways to impart information. Don’t forget blogs, Wikipedia, social bookmarking, photo and video sharing, geographical tracking, and so much more. Trying to keep on top of the social media flow is daunting for some.

Mike Lomax disagrees. The marketing communications manager of Lafarge Cement UK says social media should always be considered in the context of your digital marketing campaigns.

In the good old days, companies thought that once they had established a website, that was it. How wrong they were! “There are too many opportunities out there with the new medium for anyone to ignore them and the impact which they have on your customers and their customers,” he says.

“Twitter, although it sounds like it’s all about gossip, actually offers a way to communicate to your market in a business-to-business sense in a frequent and fluid way,” he explains.

Facebook, he adds, “is a great way of holding people in a particular niche where they can communicate with you and see what you are doing. It allows you to flag things up when they are happening, whether it’s a particular promotion for products or services.

“Merchants need to communicate to their customers as quickly as they can, especially as people start to move away from texting and are finding other routes from which to receive their information.”

He explains that these days, people usually have more than one type of mobile phone. “With smartphones, you can have access to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.” The latter, he believes, is a site which companies could and should be making better use of.

“Lafarge Cement is working on ways to use all these sites to undertake our marketing communications in faster, more effective and less expensive ways.”

For example, if merchants are planning a direct mail campaign for customers, they could be looking at hefty postal charges as well as printing costs.

Using an EDM (Electronic Direct Mail) process to send to your customers’ email addresses would cost dramatically less than to do the same thing by post, Mr Lomax points out.

“An EDM is also more ‘connective’. It allows people to click through to get straight to your message on their phones, laptops or tablets.”

He admits to being slightly evangelical when it comes to digital and social media. But, as he explains it in terms of pounds and pence, his fervour does make economic sense.

“I still see a place for print publishing,” he adds, “although many say e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle will

replace paper some day, I don’t believe that will be the case. But I do see digital becoming more of a feature of merchant and supplier communications programmes in the future.”

Lafarge Cement’s own journey into the digital social media arena began with its app for iPhone. It has had 2000 downloads in five months since the launch last year. The app features practical videos and a calculator to help users work out how much of the company’s products to use. Although aimed primarily at the DIY market, merchants will also be able to make good use of this app.

The company followed up this launch with its own YouTube channel which to-date, has received over 30 000 views.

“At the same time as we launched the app, we also tested a number of the components of our digital programme within our ‘Big Boys’ Toys’ Mastercrete promotion,” he comments. The com-pany certainly engaged with its targets and received 3500 site visits during the duration of the promotion and approximately 1000 merchant branch registrations.

Keeping the momentum rolling, Lafarge Cement is now putting QR (Quick Response) codes on all its packaging. QR is a type of matrix barcode that was first designed for the automotive industry. The system has gained popularity in other sectors due to its fast readability and comparatively large storage capacity.

“With the QR code, users can get to our TV channel, obtain product information straight from the packaging, point-of-sale or our literature. The codes enable us to ensure that everything we do has a seamlessly connected nature. That is where Twitter also comes into its own – as a B2B tool – acting as a connection to another website.”

Although Twitter governs the amount of words you can put to use, it allows the Tweeter to connect to a website which contains the story they want to tell at a particular moment in time, the product they want to promote and the promotion they want to get people involved with.

“For our Big Boys’ Toys campaign we had dedicated Twitter feeds and electronic promotions, including QR codes,” Mr Lomax explains. “In response to the ads, the literature and the point-of-sale, 366 people accessed the registration site on their smartphones simply by scanning the QR code.” He admits he wasn’t expecting such a good result. “QR codes were still a little bit experimental in our industry at that time, but the results were astonishing.

“Our direct electronic mail campaign, aimed at merchants exceeded our wildest dreams. When you consider that the standard industry benchmark for response is between 5% and 15%, we got 35%. For click-throughs, where the benchmark is between 1% to 10% – our result was 45%.”

The company’s end-user direct mail promotion received a 17% response and nearly 10% on the click-throughs.

Merchants, he says, were better at responding than end-users, “but both sets of results were brilliant”.

The more people who use digital as an exponential system, the more viral it gets, producing increases in brand awareness or other marketing objectives, such as product sales.

For all good marketeers, the ultimate aim of creating successful viral messages is to have those messages spread to others in as short a period of time as possible.

“The more people use it, the more people can see the benefit they can derive from it,” Mr Lomax states.

“The more merchants that use it and allow suppliers like us to communicate with them and their branches directly, the faster, more accurately and more effectively we can do things.”

To those who claim that builders may own smartphones but don’t use them that often, Mr Lomax replies: “That has not been our experience. They do use them and they particularly like to use them to obtain this type of information.

“You could say that social media fits more into a public relations slot, but I would argue that it is an integral part of digital and marketing communications and should form part of any campaign that you do.”

The merchant market is still only touching the surface as it hurtles forward into the digital age. Whether you accept it or not, it’s here to stay. Augmented reality and RFI anyone? Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a very steep learning curve.

Contact Mike Lomax on Twitter: @Cementmike and Lafarge Cement UK: @lovecement

This feature first appeared in the December/January 2012 issue of Builders' Merchants News.

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