During her keynote this morning, Charlene Li hit on a point that as a marketer is pretty hard to swallow, "Your perfect customer does not exist." The ultimate "I want to capture females between the ages of 18-34 who like to cook and be organized" is more difficult than ever given the adoption of social media. Pure demographics and activity participation can’t drive — on its own — your strategy anymore. Here’s the "why":

  • Your customers are relying on each other more than ever. Authenticity and connectedness define social media for its participants. Companies are shouting at their customers — the barrage of marketing messages, advertisements, and plays for driving sales overwhelm them. So, your customers ignore you and turn to those who they trust: their equals. Peer-to-peer recommendation and word-of-mouth resonate more than ever, especially online.   
  • A "single" voice is now amplified. The plethora of social networking sites, discussion forums, and sheer numbers of consumers and their opinions is magnified given these technologies. Your customers are demanding, and speak loudly when unhappy.
  • Company objectives, initiatives, and your customers: Is there a mismatch? Are you listening, responding and changing based on the needs of your customer? Who are your customers, really? It’s not just important to understand their technology adoption; why do they participate? For example, do your customers listen more than they create? Join rather than comment? This is a critical point to take home: Know your audience well and work with them. Their passion, enthusiasm, and even criticism can help grow your brand.

How do you wrangle the herd? Understand your customers’ individuality; listen and respond to them. Take their comments and opinions, relinquish some of your control, and give them power to create change that suites them. As Charlene said, initially using social tactics sometimes means giving yourself permission to make mistakes (and yes, sometimes they will be painful). However, it’s a step in the right direction.