Following the Dark Ages, a period characterized by scarcity and brutality, an explosion of creativity and innovation was set in motion by an economic shift and a new Merchant Class. Social and economic power flattened out, and during the Renaissance, some of the most significant human advances in science, technology and the arts were born.
One can only imagine what life was like during this period of astonishing economic and social change, but we may be on the verge of something very similar occurring right now.
Rapid innovation and globalization are dramatically affecting our social climate, from the ways we interact to how our goods and services are designed, produced, marketed, delivered and consumed. A new economy anchored in relevance, value and sustainability will provide opportunity for companies who embrace and communicate these values.
Gone are the days of push marketing and advertising, where companies controlled the media upon which they promoted their brand and products and, in turn, managed public opinion. People don’t trust advertising anymore, and our recent economic downturn has reset our values.
In a new social climate enabled by technology, personal connections and recommendations through social media now empower consumers and influence their perceptions and decisions more extensively than any company can actively manage. And we are only at the emergence of this trend.
Forward-thinking companies and some really smart people are trying to figure out how to effectively market their goods and services in the social media sphere – and for good reason. It is strategically imperative for a business to be a part of the conversation, in terms of both brand management and product development, even if that business can’t control what is being said.
If the anecdote about 10% of users contributing 90% of social media content is even close to being accurate, the firm who influences social media opinion leaders will effectively tap into a vast content-generating engine, capable and willing to spread their message instantaneously and globally.
Savvy internet marketing firms are finding ways to segment, identify, and market to the influencers because their credibility enhances the distribution and retention of a company’s message.
But there is no best way to reach the influencers because they are unique, particular, technologically literate and fickle. They don’t like being sold to. That’s why advertisers are having a hard time converting mass-market messaging to the web and why a viral campaign only works once. While social media may work now, it may soon be the last place in which to effectively engage them.
Ignoring other marketing channels at the expense of a robust social media strategy is short sighted and risky, regardless of how important this channel has become. It’s like going all-in with your marketing budget at a table in Vegas. The odds always favor the house. We read a lot about the companies that have found viral marketing success, just as we see lottery winners interviewed on the evening news. It’s nice to see someone win, but there is rarely a repeatable methodology established.
If a marketing strategy in the old days favored reach, then control has become the significant factor for the evaluation of a marketing channel in the new social economy. An effective marketing plan will rely on an integrated use of all marketing channels including interactive, print and media advertising, sponsorships, partnerships, and experience marketing, with resources allocated based on the degree of control the firm has over its message and the perceived value it can provide to the intended audience.
I believe that event and experience marketing including point of sale marketing and package design will provide the most ROI by demonstrating tangible value to the consumer and providing a controlled environment for presentation of message and brand to influencers. Consistency of design, user experience, and the marketing environment will become core competencies and differentiators.
Successful marketers will engage market research to find opinion leaders for their products and then reach out and engage them personally in a way that makes them feel valued. As channels of mass distribution evaporate, feet on the ground will help companies promote their products and brand.
And when the influencers share their brand interaction experiences with their social media friends, the company will be online to measure, evaluate and participate in the discussion.