David Harkins

David Harkins

Dr. David L. Harkins is a social scientist researching the human experience in systems and culture. He is an experienced executive coach and consultant, passionate educator, and keynote speaker. Through his teachings, inspiration, and guidance, he helps individuals and organizations identify and connect with their potential to make a meaningful difference in their communities.

Digital is not a channel; it’s a life-connection tool.

At the 2009 International Licensing Expo, I watched intently as people from all over the world walked up and down the aisles with their faces buried in their smartphones.  There were hundreds of exhibitors, featuring some of the most exciting ideas and concepts in the Licensing Industry; yet, I’m sure many excellent opportunities were lost or overlooked merely because those exhibiting didn’t make an effort to connect with the lives of those attending.  Most exhibitors just were not in the “lifestream” of the attendees.

I decided to try a little social media experiment at the Licensing Expo to see if we could get into the attendee’s lifestream and create personal engagement.  We advertised our presence on Twitter in print and on signs in the booth, we engaged followers of the Licensing Expo Twitter feed (#LX9) on the floor, and we brought a magician to the booth to create a different life experience on the show floor.

Were we successful?

Our Twitter follower numbers are up modestly since the advertisements began to appear, but the real success comes from the buzz we generated on the show floor.  We tweeted multiple times a day, awarding prizes, sharing memorable visits, and talking about our booth activities.  The folks at the Licensing Expo and others took notice and retweeted.  Many booth visitors said the tweets were the reason for stopping.

It seems that we were not only successful in getting into the lifestream of attendees, but once we gained their attention, we also did well to create a memorable experience (with our magician) when they engaged.  This good memory we helped to create launched many more in-depth conversations about our brand and our opportunities.  Although, had we not made good use of the moment when we captured their attention, attendees would have been off to the next thing.

Some have said this was a successful use of the digital channel or perhaps savvy social media marketing.  Maybe, although I no longer believe in marketing channel silos when it comes to building customer relationships (see my 2003 whitepaper, Customers are Channel Neutral for details).  Customers effortlessly move between channels, so our old definitions are no longer genuinely relevant except to say that the customer experience must be consistent regardless of when and where the customer connects.  Today, marketers must subtly connect, be accepted in the lifestream, and engage with a passion so that it creates a memory for the customer.  So, it was not the use of social media that mattered in our experiment; instead, it was the memory we helped to create.  Social media and digital technologies are the only tools to help spread the message.  What is most important for marketers to remember merely is: great stories and memorable experiences spread quickly to build brands–the channel and the tools are irrelevant.

With people from all over the world attending, the Licensing Expo provided a microcosm of what is happening in our culture.  Our personal and work lives are intertwined, and we engage both, regardless of our location.  Life is no longer exclusively defined by what is happening in our physical presence.  For many of us, it resides in the palm of our hands and is illuminated by a tiny screen. As marketers, we must adapt to these changes without being intrusive or obnoxious if we are to keep our brands relevant.

As I see it, this ever-present digital and wireless connection to the world can no longer be called a “channel.”  Digital technologies naturally and effortlessly extend the relationships in our lives, and life connections are not channel dependent.

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