New marketing > old marketing.

January 19, 2015

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Ahhh, the past. Agencies long for the days of the past. When there were three major networks, a couple of relevant magazines, and one local newspaper source available. Media was simple. Just saturate more than your competitors, and you will dominate. You were all angling for the same limited real estate. It was the Mad Men world of limited choice, limited agencies, limited tools and unlimited drinks (or so it seemed).

What happened? Even us relative newbies long for the simpler time before Big Choices and Bigger Data. Four channels have fragmented into thousands. All of those channels, replaced by on demand and digital offerings. I watch my kids’ media consumption and it is the opposite of what mine was as a kid. I was force fed content, and they actively seek theirs out. And they have no patience for ads of any kind – why should they? That model is going away quickly, short those of us who are stuck in our old ways.

Ah yes, it’s all about digital, right? Well, consider that banner ads are rarely clicked – and often only by mistake. Consider that social media is largely an activity that a small percentage of people are actually engaged in, and those who are may never see your activity. Companies spend countless hours and dedicating staff to court a few thousand fans and followers, which is largely proving to be a waste of resources (if we’re being honest). We are living in a world of digital information, which also means we are living in a world of easily ignored digital noise.

In the thousands of conversations I’ve had with customers across dozens of industries, no one has ever told me they made a decision based on a TV spot, banner ad, tweet or the like. No one. They are influenced by other things: knowledge, conversation, reputation, magnetism. Advertising may get their initial attention, but it doesn’t have the power to seal the deal.

The good news? Your media budget should really be less. The bad news? Your appetite for a more difficult, more comprehensive, more engaging approach should be a lot greater. Where media dollars used to dictate market leaders, the currency is now ideas, brand positioning, and unique execution. You must create a brand that people want to be a part of, not one that is standing by the old formula of frequency times reach. Give them a reason to come to you. Be a brand that earns, not just spends. Here are a few ways you can achieve it:

1. Participation
The first step in any marketing process has got to involve your customers. Ask them questions. Understand their wants. Get to know what they will respond to. Make them feel a part of what is being built – or rebuilt. By involving your customers, they are doing more than just passively seeing your ad – they are absorbing your message as part of an experience.

2. Storytelling
Make your brand a story. One that people will want to tell one another. What is unique? Different? How do you go about your business? Is it compelling? Are there case studies that bring in more than just results, but also human interest? Stories have always been currency, and nothing is shared faster. This is where social media becomes the greatest opportunity. Stories are shared with immediacy.

3. Knowledge sharing
These days, to become a market leader, you must be willing to share your secret sauce. Transparency to your customers and to your competitors shows a bold confidence – but also positions you as THE source of an industry. This type of content is always sought out, and it leads potential customers directly to you. That is well worth the minor threat of a competitor copying you. By then, you’ve already lapped them.

4. Social good
Connect your brand with something larger than the good or service. What do you provide the world? What more can you offer? What social problem can you help solve? What good can you bring? Why should someone pay attention to the way you are running your business? Are you about numbers, or are you about something greater? Those who position themselves as a cause will thrive. Those who don’t? The fast road to commodity.

5. Make your audience(s) smaller
Counterintuitive? Maybe. But to grow, try reducing your audience and focusing on fewer people… but be more concentrated, more direct, and more meaningful. Claim your ground before you expand. And only expand if you know you can make a dent. Stop casting nets. Start throwing spears.

So go ahead. Let go of the past. Being addicted to media commissions (and probably alcohol) was fun, but it’s time to sober up and treat the world as it is. Not as it used to be. Personally, I like this world better. It rewards the doers. It relies on feedback. It encourages sharing. It promotes social good.

It is a world where great ideas can defeat grand budgets. As they should.