Thursday, April 26, 2012

Marketing Isn't Dead. It Just Got a Wake-Up Call.

I love it when industry pundits make generalizations without accounting for how different we all are, or how diverse human behavior really is. One size never fits all, and painting with a broad brush is extremely shortsighted. In fact, even among hispanics alone, there are more sub-cultures and market fragmentation than any other people group.

What I'm driving at, is the notion that traditional marketing is dead (at least, the science, rationale, and thinking part of the selling process is dead) or no longer needed somehow, because consumers have full control over their own purchasing decisions. Or do they?

For years, gurus have been saying that the digital era pushed aside old rules of engagement and made way for an exciting, new marketing landscape. I don't dispute that. But one thing hasn't changed all that much, and that's the way our brains make decisions. Everyone is influenced by something, and that changes dramatically depending on who you talk to on any given day.

I've heard the arguments. Consumers no longer wish to tolerate annoying advertisements or traditional marketing methods that disrupt their busy lives. They strongly despise any business or brand that tells them what to buy and why. Instead, consumers know what they want and how to get it. Unfortunately, that's not what the research shows, or what common sense would dictate.

Sure, we all have access to a world of information via the Internet. We can research our own products and services online. We can read forums and see what others are saying about brands. We can contribute our own thoughts and reviews. We can follow key people on Twitter or Facebook and even write our own blogs. But how many are actually doing that, especially for day-to-day purchases?

Statistics show that the average person isn't doing all these things before they go to the store to pick up a gallon of milk or some laundry detergent. People are creatures of habit, and many things along the retail path-to-purchase influence the decisions we make. For instance, many decisions are often determined at the last minute.

It's true, the Internet has transformed the way we shop, and marketing has had to adapt to the cultural shift. Instead of just broadcasting a message, brands and businesses are actually returning to the days when they used to engage consumers in a two-way conversation about their needs and concerns. Somewhere a long the line, we lost sight of this principle and consequently, our way. Involvement is a valuable, but often overlooked investment. It's about championing a movement; not just a message, which involves anything that helps your brand become an industry leader that people love, trust and loyally align themselves with.

Rather than paying for expensive ad space, or spewing out press release after press release, brands are forced to participate in a new process or perish. But that doesn't mean we should all become digital PR agencies and digital marketing firms. That's just over correcting. Businesses are as different as the consumers they serve, and there's no cookie-cutter formula that works for all brands. That's why an integrated approach works best and we need to focus our time and attention accordingly. This is not about a digital revolution, but an uprising that brings the customer back into focus where they rightfully belong.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Champion a Movement, Not Just a Message

Anyone who knows me at all, knows how much I love to talk about branding, the future of brands, and the importance of social media, although that term is a bit dated now that global interconnectivity is within everyone's grasp today. In this parallel universe, interactivity has become the new norm and participation is hardly an option. In fact, life will never be the same, as marketing itself is being re-branded. Yet I refuse to spew the same esoteric rhetoric your run-of-the-mill social media marketing guru can provide these days. You know, the type that go on and on about engagement, social purpose and responsibility? The same group who started out years ago with an an insatiable preoccupation with tactics and technology, as if platforms like Twitter or Facebook invented the art of conversation and communication between human beings and brands.

But make no mistake, they all know one thing to be profoundly true. The conversation is definitely different. But while most businesses are studying how the internet keeps changing, they ought to focus their time and attention on how the internet is changing their business. That's the biggest variable in all of this. People are different. Attitudes are different. Tolerances, routines and behaviors are all different. The consumer is different. The world itself is very different.

The internet has empowered customers, and now THEY call the shots. They own the conversation. They dictate what they want from a brand. As Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts has said in a keynote speech in Cannes, "return on investment," or ROI, should be dubbed "return on involvement." In essence, marketing has moved from interruption to interaction in the battle for customer attention and relevance. Endearing brands know how to champion a movement, not just a message.

Then there are those who still point to the old adage that content is king. Really? Content is just the hors d'oeuvres served at your cocktail party. That doesn't make it king. Your guests are king. Your social network is king and the conversations that revolve around their content is king. Social media isn't just a content delivery system, anymore. It's about community, connectivity and the collective causes of cultural movements that arise and become a rallying cry for brands and their followers. Those who get that are king, in my opinion, and that's all I have to say...for now.