Marketing Your Business In Our Age Of Mass Empowerment

I don’t write new blog posts every day, as some people do, writes Robert Clay of Marketing Wizdom. But this one is a biggie if you own, run or manage a business, and also an important one if you haven’t fully embraced or adapted your marketing approach to today’s vastly changed business landscape.

The end of mass marketing

For 150 years mass marketing was about the ONLY economical way to get your message out there. If you had a better mousetrap and could gather up enough money to tell enough people, you could push it on the world and you’d probably sell enough to build a good business.

But mass marketing is no longer viable for most businesses today, nor is it wanted or trusted by buyers. And I’ll explain why.

An award winning advert from the 1950’s

Let’s start by turning the clock back 60 years to an award winning magazine advert. It featured a veteran buyer sitting solemnly in his chair facing the would-be salesperson and declaring:

I don’t know who you are.
I don’t know your company.
I don’t know your company’s product.
I don’t know what your company stands for.
I don’t know your company’s customers.
I don’t know your company’s record.
I don’t know your company’s reputation.
Now—what was it you wanted to sell me?

The ad concludes:

‘Moral: Sales start before your salesman calls—with business publication advertising.’

That classic advert was created by McGraw-Hill Business Publications, to sell print advertising. The common wisdom at the time was just to get your message out there. But things have now changed. And how.

Print advertising is in steep decline today for reasons I’ll explain. But this award-winning 60-year old advert is still a great ad and it still vividly illustrates the tasks and challenges that you—and everyone in business—face in turning suspects and prospects into loyal customers.

Or does it?

While the barriers to doing business mentioned in that ad are still as relevant today as they were 50-60 years ago, buyer behaviour has changed beyond recognition in recent years, making mass marketing irrelevant for most businesses. Here’s why …

The escalation of commercial clutter

The first big change was the escalation of commercial clutter. That’s when we all started to be bombarded with sales and marketing messages at every turn. Where for years there were only three television channels, suddenly there were hundreds. And a similar proliferation has occurred in just about every area of the media.

In his book Data Smog, Surviving the information glut, David Shenk states that the average American encountered 560 daily marketing messages in 1971. By 1996 it was estimated that the number had increased to over 3,000 messages a day, with each of us seeing more ads in a single year than people of 50 years earlier saw in an entire lifetime. Today the numbers are believed to be somewhat greater still.

This continual assault of advertising and marketing messages has had a pronounced effect on buyers: There are so many messages out there that most people have become extremely adept at blocking them, tuning out all messages that aren’t highly relevant; or those which take extra effort to process. They also remember ads and marketing messages less and less, if at all. And even when buyers DO remember advertising and marketing materials, their retention is scarred by cynicism or, at best, indifference.

Take emails for example. The average email opening rate in early 2010 was 11%, a figure that has been falling for years. That implies that 89% of all mails are never even opened or looked at. Why? because most of them just aren’t important enough to devote any time to. And email, of course, is just one of many message delivery mediums.

In other words billions of dollars, Euros, pounds and other currencies worth of marketing spend just disappears down the plug hole unseen, unwanted and unappreciated every single day.

Because of this deluge of advertising and marketing messages, people are increasingly sceptical and distrustful of what they read or see. They automatically apply a ‘discount factor’ to the sales and marketing messages they see and they’re far more likely to make decisions based on what they hear directly from other people—friends, experts, their own online research, or even salespeople. While mass advertising still has a role, it should be one of the last parts of a marketing strategy today, not the first.

So commercial clutter is out of control, and it is very difficult for you to get noticed in all that clutter. If you sell business to business the people you’re dealing with are not only dealing with all that clutter, they’re probably also dealing with your competitors.

But clutter is only one of several factors that have changed everything in recent years. The rapid development and embrace of the internet has also turned 150 years of mass marketing on it’s head.

Next came the internet. Then Google.

After commercial clutter came the internet. The internet started to go mainstream in the mid 1990’s. Now, barely 15 years later, and boosted by the widespread availability of broadband and wi-fi, it has become an indispensable part of daily life for hundreds of millions of people.

Google’s arrival moved the game on massively again. Founded in September 1998, Google’s online search first appeared on most people’s radar in 2000. Before long the company had single handedly changed the world as we knew it.

While the internet made information available before Google came along, Google made the world’s knowledge accessible — and that’s a big difference. Before Google it was hard to imagine that anyone in the world today, regardless of whether they’re in an emerging or a highly developed economy, could just go online, perform a search, and gather virtually unlimited information on any subject you can think of.

If commercial clutter was a major factor before the internet took off, you now also have to factor in the volume of data we’re all exposed to every day thanks to the internet and Google. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in 2010 that more information is now produced every two days than had been produced in all time before 2003. That’s a staggering statistic.

This ability to search newspapers and magazines the world over for relevant content has had a devastating effect on traditional media. Google’s revolutionary and much more efficient advertising model—where advertisers are only charged when someone clicks on an ad, and where response rates are completely measurable—has decimated the traditional advertising business.

Traditional media want you to pay plenty of money to advertise with them. But they can’t tell you who your ad has reached, unlike Google. Even mediums that dominated their niches until recently, like Yellow Pages, have found that their business has all but vanished, and their very survival is now in doubt.

When people can find just about any information they need in a matter of seconds just by performing a Google search, they simply no longer need to use printed media like Yellow Pages, and even online directories represent an unnecessary extra step and are largely shunned.

If we want to know anything at all, we just Google it. By late 2010 Google had between 65% and 72% share of all US online searches and around 90% in Europe. The rise of Google has created a massive shift in buyer behaviour, resulting in a new age of mass empowerment …

The rise of the social buyer has turned everything on its head. Again.

Then along came social media, and buyer behaviour changed again.

Online bulletin boards, arguably one of the earliest forms of social media, were around long before the internet took off. And instant messaging burst onto the scene in 1996. But social networking as we now know it started in 2002 with the launch of Friendster and MySpace.

Of today’s big players, LinkedIn started in 2003, Facebook and YouTube started in 2005 and Twitter in 2006. By 2009, hundreds of millions of people were enthusiastically embracing social media. It reached a tipping point and became mainsteam.

Facebook, initially only available to Harvard students, was launched to the public in 2006. Since then it has accumulated over 500 million users, half of whom log on every single day. By late 2010, Facebook accounted for one in six page views in in the UK (one in four in the US), with some users spending up to 5 hours a day on the site.

As I write this in late 2010, a Hitwise report shows that social networking is now the most popular activity on the web, accounting for 11.5% of all internet visits in the UK. That’s more than the combined visits to Google, Yahoo! And Bing. Facebook is now the web’s largest destination, with 55% of all visits to such sites.

A staggering 4 billion messages are now sent through Facebook EVERY DAY. It’s now a major force in online advertising too, with 23.1% share of the display advertising market, more than doubling its share in a year, according to ComScore. In comparison, Google only has 2.7% of that market.

Google, for now, remains the largest driver of traffic to UK sites. But 1 in 10 such visits now originate from Facebook, making it the second largest driver of traffic as well as the most-visited social network, with YouTube in a distant third place. Twitter, with it’s 175 million subscribers and 100 million tweets a day is also an extremely effective driver of traffic.

Social media has given rise to the social buyer, an increasingly large section of the population who use their social media connections to seek advice and guide their buying decisions. With the growth of traffic from social networking sites increasing at an astonishing rate, everything in marketing has changed yet again. And so has the behaviour of your buyers.

Don’t overlook the role of the smartphone …

Alongside social networking Smartphones have also become ubiquitous. An increasing number of your buyers today are empowered by instant online search, social media and enormously powerful, always-on, easy to use mobile devices that they carry with them 24/7/365.

These powerful pocketable computers are now the norm, not the exception. And they have made a huge difference to what can be shared. Phones, ironically, are now used less and less for phone calls and more and more for emailing, texting, searching, browsing the web, taking and sharing photographs and videos, playing games, taking notes and connecting to one another via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Your buyers can now find whatever information they want in a few seconds, wherever they are, and whenever it suits them. And that has changed their behaviour yet again.

We’re now in an age of mass empowerment

Fuelled by the internet, broadband, sophisticated online search, social media, wi-fi and smartphones, we’ve now entered an age of mass empowerment, where your buyers (whether you sell to consumers or B2B), are in the driving seat. You can tell them whatever you like, but they no longer accept at face value what you tell them.

They can easily and instantly draw on a variety of sources for their information, balancing what they see, read and hear from multiple sources and making whatever decisions they feel are most appropriate to them.

And they don’t like, welcome or want unsolicited messages from you. Uninvited messages pushed out to the world may have been the norm for 150 years. But now that there are better, more personal, and more effective ways of communicating, uninvited messages are considered to be spam, and tolerance for them has plummeted. What was the norm is now unwelcome and even creates hostility.

Your buyers delete irrelevant emails, block popups, filter or report spam, and surf away from sites they dislike. They just don’t need these things because it’s so easy today to obtain relevant information from multiple trusted sources wherever and whenever it is needed. In other words buyers are no longer at the whim of marketers. And they don’t want to be.

In today’s age of mass empowerment your buyers decide for themselves who they’re willing to listen to; speak to; or believe. They also decide if, what and when they buy. They can easily locate and speak to people who already have experience of your product or service. And if they ever have a bad experience they can tell 10,000 (or 10 million) people in an instant at the push of a button. It’s a game changer of epic proportions.

In a few short years these new dynamics have entirely changed both your buyers’ habits and the way they do business. What works today is very different to what worked only 10 years ago. And with the pace of change accelerating as never before you no longer have the option of doing business the way it used to be done. That’s because with unlimited information at their fingertips wherever they are, your buyers no longer consume information or make decisions the way they did even 10 years ago.

And if that doesn’t already describe your current buyers, it soon will.

The barriers have multiplied

If the McGraw-Hill ad at the start of this article were rewritten today, it could easily be re-stated as follows:

You’re good at what you do
You take good care of your customers
They love and recommend what you do
You just need more of them …

But your prospects don’t know who you are
They don’t know your company
They don’t know your product or service
They don’t know what you stand for
They don’t know your customers
They don’t know your record
They don’t know your reputation
They’re surrounded by sales and marketing messages at every turn
They’re deluged by people who want to part them from their money
They’re cynical or indifferent to your claims
They’re resistant to new purchase opportunities
They’re more and more demanding
They probably already have a relationship with your competitors
They’re working harder than ever but still falling behind
They don’t need another relationship
They don’t have time to listen to you
They don’t read or respond to your emails
They don’t return your calls for months
THEY decide who they’ll speak to, and what and when they’ll buy
Now — what was it you wanted to sell them?

These barriers to doing business are very real today. They also destroy the economics of mass marketing for most people in business. In addition, your best customers and clients are also your competitors’ most sought-after prospects this very minute … and they’re everywhere just waiting for you to slip up.

You can deal with this as long as you embrace a new way of marketing, based on a new way of thinking.

The new marketing paradigm

Marketing used to be defined in terms of 4Ps. Product, Price, Place and Promotion. But with the rise of social media there is now a 5th P, “People.”

Good marketing today is NOT about interrupting people or blasting them with unwanted messages. Instead it is about building relationships, peer influence, trust and engagement with a self-selecting audience.

That entails precise targeting; finding and focusing only on high potential prospects rather than mediocre suspects; positioning your product or service effectively in the minds of your prospects, which includes telling your story; and building sufficient trust for prospects to elect to hear what you have to say; let you into their space; and, in time, share your story with their contacts.

It’s no longer about sending messages to your potential clients where 98% don’t want to know, but instead, as Internet Psychologist Graham Jones says, it’s about encouraging them to send messages to you. Do that and you’ll know precisely what’s on their mind and can respond with a targeted message that’s much more likely to connect … giving you a dramatically greater response rate, and no redundancy.

Instead of wasting time on marketing campaigns that are 98% ineffective, it’s about encouraging your prospects and customers to connect with you and ask you questions so that you can respond with the exact answers they need.

It wasn’t easy or economical to do this on any scale in the past. But today’s social media tools make it both easy and inexpensive. It’s not hard to do. But it does requires a large shift in mindset, which can itself be hard. You also need to know what you’re doing, and where you can combine the old ways with the new, because one slip up in what you say or how you deliver your product or service can cost you dear.

Doing your best may have been enough to keep you in business in the past. But in today’s age of mass empowerment you have to embrace new ways of doing things and adapt the way you do business. Then do your best. And if you don’t, then I’m sorry, but your competitors will eat you alive as industry after industry can already testify.

I am sure you have thoughts you can contribute to this topic. Maybe you can share examples to illustrate some of my points. If so, please share your perspectives below. We’d love to have them.

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Photo courtesy of: Marketing Wisdom

Originally published on: Marketing Wisdom

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