The new social world isn’t just a way to reach some new people in new ways. It’s an opportunity to rethink how we do marketing from scratch.
I’m a technology evangelist and a big part of my role is talking about how new technology allows organizations to transform the way they work, disrupting old conventions. This applies to marketing, too.
As the social media tidal wave has flooded in, many marketing organizations have stayed firmly in their comfort zone. They have continued creating content in an ivory tower, and used social media as a new opportunity to launch tweets and blog posts at people in the hopes that some would stick.
But social media brings more profound changes. It has significantly raised the stakes for marketing while providing new powerful options to those savvy enough to take advantage of them.
In addition to the macro trends affecting all organizations, marketing is undergoing massive change. Big chunks of what marketing used to do – connect buyers and sellers – is now done by search engines. Products now “speak for themselves.” Good products can be found and promoted by customers with little or no marketing support. Bad products will be called out on social forums. Increasingly, your products “are” your marketing. “In a world where everybody’s naked, you’d better be buff” says Don Tapscott. Marketing organizations need to spend less time telling prospects how great their products are, and more time ensuring a great customer experience.
There has also been a huge change in the underlying economics of marketing. It now effectively costs nothing to get messages out to the market, via web pages, blog posts, Twitter, or Facebook – it’s easier than ever to “make noise.” But because everybody else in the market is making noise, it’s harder than ever to get listened to.
In the 1960s, advertising guru Howard Gossage observed “People read what they are interested in… sometimes it’s an ad”. In other words, marketing is about interesting content first and foremost. This essential truth is now firmly back on the agenda, since it’s the foundation of what is now known as “pull marketing.”
The vast majority of today’s marketing materials are professionally-produced, designed for a specific audience, and talk about customer concerns and problems. But they typically aren’t very engaging or interesting, and do little to differentiate from other vendors. These materials quickly fall into a vast sea of “marketing mush” without making any impact on the market, while interesting content gets shared via email, retweeted, or “liked” on Facebook, reaching a much larger audience. The “return on interesting” has soared because of the new social environment.
To adapt to the new social world, marketers have to rethink the way they do business:
Create a refinery. It’s not about creating good content. It’s about creating a system that ensures good content. What’s fundamentally new about social media marketing is that you can start small, iterate, and use analytics and community feedback to identify and optimize interesting content. Rather than spending lots of money on materials that people might not find interesting, your can first test your ideas with blog posts or tweets. Once content has proved itself to be interesting, you can then invest in sharing it more widely. Over time, the most interesting content becomes the most visible and accessible to prospects and customers. And just as importantly, content that is not interesting drops out of sight.
Break down the barriers between content, communications, and community. Marketing efforts have to work seamlessly across these three silos. The sense of belonging to a community has always been a big part of branding. Now community is part of the product in a much more literal sense. People increasingly buy your product because of the interactions they can have with other purchasers, whether it’s beer, luxury cars, or ERP systems. Creating marketing materials without first engaging with or consulting the customer community is a marketing sin. Running a web seminar without inviting people to participate in your customer community is a marketing sin. Sending out a press release without a link to more detailed content or an invitation to a web seminar is a marketing sin.
Deploy fewer bureaucrats, more entrepreneurs. Too many marketing organizations have plans modeled on the former Soviet Union – complex attempts to marshal resources to create what centralized bureaucrats think customers want, with planners rewarded more on appearances rather than results. Marketing has to move to a more agile model with “marketing entrepreneurs” that have a deep understanding of their customers and the drive to deliver what those customers want.
Create the right incentives. Capitalism has price mechanisms that ensure that the good entrepreneurs succeed and the bad ones fail. Marketing organizations need similar systems in place that support experimentation, but with rewards and success based on objective measures of the right behavior. Today, a marketer is far more likely to be reprimanded for not following the corporate template than for creating uninteresting content. An expensive video piece tends to be seen as intrinsically more valuable than a blog post, even if the latter may be of much greater interest to customers.
Rethink campaigns. The notion of a “campaign” that is planned six months in advance and ends after a few months is an anachronism. Marketing organizations should instead make a hard separation between (and have different systems for) constantly-improved “always on” content and agile marketing around newsworthy trends.
Be a human being. It’s not about B2B or B2C marketing. It’s about H2H: human to human marketing. Organizations need to make sure they really understand what people are interested in and dump the marketing speak. You can’t create engaging content without engaging with customers, yet too many marketing people create materials with agencies in an ivory tower and hope that they will hit their mark. In a world of transparency, you have to be a trusted advisor – your job is not to lie, exaggerate, or pretend that awkward facts don’t exist. If you can’t imagine a customer saying it out loud, don’t write it. Your job is to help the customer make the best choices. If the best customer choice does not involve buying your product, you need to find a different audience or make a better product.
Realize that you are not interesting. As a vendor, your views are inherently not as credible as third-party information. Instead of creating all your own materials, let your customers do the talking, “curate” materials from journalists, analysts, and other influencers, and focus instead on getting their voices heard. An analogy: oil is hard to find. You can devote some of your resources to searching for it, but you’re better off refining and selling the best oil that comes from others.
Tell true stories. We’re hard-wired to enjoy stories. Hire people that are good at interviewing customers, identifying the best true story, and writing it up fast and efficiently. These people are called journalists.
Emulate the Discovery Channel. If your product is complex (e.g. enterprise software), aim to emulate the best documentaries that teach while entertaining the audience with stories and analogies.
Invest in technology. Forrester has defined three “imperatives” for CMOs in 2014: using data as a foundation for all marketing efforts, focusing on the buyer as an individual, and organizing around the customer rather than a channel. Achieving this requires investments in marketing technologies such as:
- Analytics to gather objective data on marketing success and optimize every aspect of the customer journey
- Real-time systems to provide personalized, just-in-time offers
- Collaboration systems to engage with customers in new ways
- Omnichannel platforms to create a seamless customer experience
According to Forrester, the next stage of marketing growth is “engagement marketing.” I believe that interesting content is at the heart of engagement. Marketing organizations need to rethink marketing systems in order to make ‘”marketing” an integral, enjoyable part of the customer experience, rather than something separate from the “product” itself.