“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies. These markets are conversations…Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance…Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.
The Cluetrain Manifesto, from which these immortal words come, was published in 1999, but its lessons are still being learned by CMOs. Marketing’s biggest challenge was and is to follow the customer on what Altimeter defines as the dynamic customer journey, from screen to screen in search of real time information to make informed buying decisions.
The customer now controls the conversation, and the marketing organization has to be available when the customer needs to talk.
To adapt, marketers need to lead their organizations in a transformation and integration of sales, marketing and customer service and adopt a more flexible approach to how they treat customers. Marketing doesn’t talk to the customer anymore; it talks with the customer – on the customer’s own terms.
This business transformation into a “social business,” will naturally lead to new integrated marketing programs that consist of a combination of paid, earned, and owned media.
Technology, which gave the customer access to information formerly possessed only by the company, will be an ally for the integrated marketing programs of the future. Proper use of the appropriate technologies makes personal and local conversations available on a global scale.
Which is another way of saying that organizations can’t just make large advertising buys through their traditional agencies, and influence their publics through press releases. While advertising and PR won’t go away any time soon, they are both declining in effectiveness.
And they are even less effective when not localized to specific markets, and when not combined with content marketing – the creation by companies and brands of information customers need and would like to see.
Many companies have always done some of this, in the form of case studies and downloadable white papers. They will have to do more, and will have to press all their digital asset management systems and digital marketing platforms into service to support the concept of “owned” media. White papers and case studies are static content creation – the biggest challenge for companies will be content creation on the fly, or conversational content creation.
This kind of content creation responds to the customer’s lead. It requires a shift in company culture, resources, budgets, partners such as agencies, and strategy.
And it requires both a new content strategy and a new mobile strategy/
Content Marketing – the New Way
Content marketing and community creation won’t scale unless more people than only the marketing department and its hired guns (the agencies) participate.
The new way of creating content acknowledges the enormous role employees must have to help the marketing department generate content. At Dell, the universal Twitter handle @Dell signals an employee who will reach out and talk to customers. The pioneers, Lionel@Dell and Richard@Dell, have been joined by employees in almost every department who are empowered to engage online with customers – at least for 140 characters..
Corporate blogs, too, should be written by empowered employees who are trained to speak for the company by contributing their knowledge to the corporate blog. Intel has been a pioneer in this effort with its Blogs@intel initiative.
Some corporations, such as IBM, have developed full-scale enterprise social networks designed to connect people within the organization to one another. Originally thought of as a frill, enterprise social networks deployed correctly can generate substantial business value. They can create two-way dialog, make business more personal, connect global members of an organization to each other, and make ad hoc task-related or interest-related groups possible.
Once the employees are connected, they can share expertise, transfer knowledge, and improve best practices. Organizations like Deloitte Australia, whose entire organization uses a social network, says it helps them streamline processes and solve problems more quickly, using Yammer as a way to find people in the company with the right answers.
The ability to share information and solve problems using internal resources empowers employees with the necessary tools to speak to customers as well.
Why Produce Compelling Content?
Content must improve if it is going to catch the attention of a customer on the fly. If the organization doesn’t become flexible enough to meet customers where they are, it risks disruption from outside sources of information: think Yelp, Amazon, and HealthGrades, where restaurants, consumer products, and medical providers and reviewed and rated by ordinary customers. In these cases, the customer has already by-passed the brand and gone directly to a trusted network for opinions on what to buy.
To become relevant, brands have to think of themselves as guests at a cocktail party, eavesdropping on the fringes of an already-existing conversation customers are having and trying to think of a witty or informative conversation opener.
That involves monitoring and analyzing incoming customer information from existing social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest, and using the guidance given by customers about what they’d like to see to design campaigns that actually help. Whole Foods’ booklet on how to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner is an example of information generated after listening to questions from customers in stores. Yes, the ingredients for many of the recipes happen to be available in Whole Foods, but the booklet’s main purpose is information, not sales.
In fact, there is evidence that customers, in increasing numbers, do not want to be sold to – which means they can’t be. The declining results for banner ads and the increasing number of ad-blocking tools is just the surface of that evident. In broadcast media, video on demand and time-shifted (DVR) consumption reveals a similar trend. Especially as consumers shift to mobile screens, customers must think of more creative ways to get attention.
Compelling content is the best answer. Think of the Old Spice Guy, Isaiah Mustafa, the main character for a series of Old Spice TV commercials. Or WillitBlend, a site developed by BlendTec that sold pricey blenders by blending everything from SuperGlue tubes to pictures of Justin Bieber.
As with the cocktail party conversation, with the empowered customer it’s best to listen and observe to learn what you truly have to contribute before you leap into the discussion. You don’t really want the customers to be laughing at you when you finally speak. Instead, you want them to find you an entertaining (WIllitBlend) and useful (Starbucks) addition to the conversation.