So the great place I work at recently had a writing competition about "reaching the new complex consumer." I was inspired to enter, because it's a fascinating topic - and the winner got a nice load of cash! I may not win, but I'm pretty proud of this little piece, so I wanted to share it here.
Remember: I'm writing this as a marketer, to other marketers. Some of the tone may get a tad fanatical for you, but when you're in the Advertising/Marketing industry, that's what it takes to get the attention of The Jaded.
The New ROI: Collective Networking Between Brands and Consumers
There is no more "them," and it's all our fault.
For good or ill, we started as Marketers with our "magic bullet" messages and drilled all the way down to the "guerilla" level for the express purpose of reaching and changing the behavior of Them: The Consumers. We've poked, prodded, offered, discounted, promoted and printed everything we could to affect The Target Audience. Each new medium has just been a wider net for us to reach more numbers to get more prospects and yield more ROI. We've used all 360 degrees around The Demographic to find a new angle, but now They have done the unthinkable:
THEY have learned to ignore us.
You have felt it. That inward shut-off when you see the overly-idyllic lifestyle photo, or your hand reaching for the dial at each mention of "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!" You know the Marketer's bag of tricks and can provide textbook examples of each, probably with material just from your morning commute. You've reached the point where it's sub-conscious, and yet if you're a Marketer, you'll get to your desk and try to analyze the next email campaign for whether we can get more out of Them with the "buy-one-get-one" or the "half-off" offers.
And this is the point: You ARE one of Them.
Marketers can not live in a diatomic, "Us vs. Them" world anymore, because the world has fundamentally changed. Publication now inherently includes participation, and the same people using your product are now recommending your product, rating your product, ranking your product, or just ranting about your product. Every move a Marketer makes throws off ripples of conversation, and the successful organizations are the ones who can anticipate these fluid dynamics, strategically activating groups and memes that maximize their clients' potential.
Marketing isn't hypnosis anymore, it's anthropology.
Our new study is to understand the full experience of how consumers interact with products, and how consumers interact with each other. These interactions are the new "synapses" in our collective intelligence, and it is at these points of exchange that every brand finds its success or failure. As information flows through these points, nuance is gathered. Impressions are made. The Sneezers come out, and Tipping Points are neared. Everything that goes into forming an opinion, or deciding on a purchase, filters through this decentralized network.
Marketers can't be Brand Managers. They must be Brand Matchmakers.
In the status quo, brand management is about control. We control the ways and places our Brands interact with Consumers, and only let that interaction occur when it's in our Brand's best interest. "After all, if all a Consumer knows about our Brand is what we tell them, then that's all they can say about it, right?" Following this path, some Brands have taken the recursive path into effective silence, repeating only the boilerplate messages and ignoring the conversations around them. It's the Marketer's role to take this Brand into The Real World and introduce it to the Consumer, making every interaction genuinely positive for BOTH parties.
Marketers have to be done "telling." They must INVITE.
Every marketing campaign has to begin by identifying (or creating) a point of JOY between a Brand and a Consumer. Is it an amazing timesaver? A gift to the Environment? A security for the future? What interaction between one Brand and one Consumer will be so incredible that it can not be kept under Wraps? Your campaign is a personal invitation to participate in this moment; to experience the Brand at THIS point. It's no longer a question of gimmicks or tricks -- it's a moment of relationship.
Brands are parties, and the best ones have party favors.
Return On Investment is a fine metric when you're dealing with concrete assets. A bridge costs so much money and lasts so long, meaning a certain ROI. But can we reduce the social work we're doing to the level of asphalt? Marketing is about Return On INTERACTION; the mutual benefit gained by both the Consumer and the Brand from encountering each other. If the Consumer can take away an artifact, a benefit, a new mental benchmark (or even all three) from a positive interaction back to their social network, the Brand is the real winner.
Successful brands create a "Gold Rush Effect."
You would think the first person to find gold in the Klondike would keep their mouths shut about it. It's a finite resource of immense value, so shouldn't you keep it to yourself? Unfortunately, that person had to use what they found to get what they wanted -- gold exchanged for money or stuff. They HAD to interact with other people who wanted the same thing. It's in our nature as Consumers to share our experiences, and it's in our nature to want GREAT ones. Brands want their Consumers to walk away with the huge gold nugget, because they know that more will come looking for the same.
Welcome to the Consumerscape. Hope you brought business cards.
It's the equivalent of a political campaign, this concept of Brands "pressing the flesh" with Consumers. For some Brands, it's going to be hard to get out there and mingle with "real people." For others, they will have skilled Marketers to help them develop a form of charisma, a genuine personality that encourages Consumers to come closer. Some businesses will focus on earning a million dollars. Others will focus on winning a million friends. Which will be worth more?