Marketing in the Age of Participation
Let’s begin with an oversimplified summary of marketing macro-trends from the past five years. Advances in technology have led to rapid innovation cycles, an open door to startups, and greater competition in virtually every major industry. Increased competition places greater pressure on marketers to successfully position, target, and reach new (fickle) consumers, thus leading to increased budgets but greater scrutiny. Concurrently, channels of distribution and social media proliferation have reduced the overall effectiveness of traditional paid media (TV, radio, print). Investments in digital media continue to rise, but these tactics run the risk of becoming just another billboard until a standard measurement scheme is adopted…impressions no longer count, folks. Marketers find themselves faced with too many options but the same old dilemma…how to reach the right eyeballs with a relevant message to drive funnel activity? Relax, you don’t have to do it all alone…
Your Brand is No Longer Yours
As mentioned above, the proliferation of digital media has become an open invite for informal journalism and product critique. Consider your personal news feed, anyone with a Twitter handle, Pinterest page, or YouTube channel can pose as a resident authority for a given topic. Combine this with a human tendency to seek recommendations from trusted networks at the speed of “fiber”, and all of a sudden pay-for-play review services like Zagat, Forbes, and Michelin become a little less relevant. Similarly, a brand’s ability to tell their own story objectively is in itself oxymoronic. Consumers yield more power than ever in curating brand experiences for rebroadcast with greater organic reach than any single brand or network can provide. So how can you make heroes out of your customers and are you comfortable with passing the mic?
(ex: Beck’s Song Reader)
Never Discount Vanity
We are all a few clicks away from becoming professional storytellers, kickstarters, and journalists…and some clever folks make a pretty good living doing so. Since we all now have the ability to live in bits and bytes, we also own digital brands to build and protect. Consumers tend to curate the best of themselves in photo, video, and text, and if advocating your product or service can help them in their quest, you just earned more efficient advertising than you could ever pay for. Yes, altruism still exists and deep-down most of us share information with the hope of helping others. But there is also selfish pride in being viewed as a source of discovery for news, humor, products, or deals, which can double as brand sponsorship. Do you have the ability to locate your top advocates, make them feel special, and hand off something exclusive enough to share? Does this help them build their individual digital brands?
(ex: Warby Parker’s Home Try-On)
If traditional media effectiveness is in perpetual decline, you no longer own your brand, and customers control their own path to purchase, how can you win? The most progressive brand marketers recognize that modern consumers, specifically digital natives, want to elevate beyond the transaction and require their share of wallet contribute to more than corporate profits. This can be a win-win for both brands and consumers, with corporate cause efforts (CSR) are perpetually constrained by resources and priority, when aligned with marketing they can build brand equity and also contribute to customer acquisition. As mentioned above, if this also helps consumers attach altruism to their digital profiles with minimal keystrokes, they will support your cause through commerce.
(ex: Toms Improving Lives)
In the grand scheme of advertising, digital media is still in relative infancy. This is precisely why I find it so valuable to study patterns of communication and subliminal intent to predict behavior. One thing is for certain, no single brand can afford to continue feeding the diminishing returns meter, a.k.a. traditional paid media. In order to scale your brand message in the most organic way, you must enlist your customers (and their respective networks) to participate. Word-of-mouth still happens largely offline, but online sharing platforms are fertile ground for brand advocacy. However, this must be a true value exchange, whereas if a consumer offers you a piece of their digital real estate, your product or experience must deliver incremental value in their personal brand building campaign.