Most small businesses I advise still rely on traditional advertising models, assuming they can create enough media “noise” to get customers’ attention and sway them. You don’t realize that person-to-person noise now dominates all channels through social media, effectively hiding business marketing messages. You now need a personal context in your marketing to get results.
For example, the company GoPro makes cameras, yet now rarely ever talks about cameras in its marketing. Instead, it publishes actual customer “Photos of the Day,” highlighting the customer’s thrill of adventure purpose. This cuts through the competitor marketing noise, as well as social media messages and creates deeper, more contextual customer relationships.
The challenges of traditional marketing and the key elements of the new marketing approach are highlighted well in the new book, “The Context Marketing Revolution,” by Mathew Sweezey, who has lived in both of these worlds as Director of Marketing Strategy for Salesforce. He points out, and I agree, that people now look for experiences rather than noise or product features:
- An experience must be available in the moment. Rather than just reaching the largest number of people possible, the new context marketing must aim to make a single, human-to-human connection at the most opportune moment for the customer. People have to feel they found it on their own, rather than thinking that it was forced on them. For example, the brand Oreo implemented automated “listening” for relevant words in customer social media posts, and automatically “liked” the post and sometimes wrote a friendly comment to the author of the post. These engagements well accepted by all.
- People more readily engage with things they have asked for. This is technically called “permissioned,” and it comes in two forms: implicit and explicit. Implicit permission occurs when an individual contacts your brand first, such as through a Google search. Explicit permission involves an overt action, such as following, friending, or subscribing. Even without direct contact or pinpointing an individual name, brands can use targeted demographic data from other sources to suggest that the person on your website right now is forty-five, ready to engage and looking to buy an SUV in the next sixty days.
- Tailor your brand experience to the individual person. The personal element encompasses every effort you make to tailor your brand experience to an individual person. This may result from customers providing personal data, to an experience that enlists your employees, fans, and advocates to become your platoon of brand extenders. Starbucks personalizes its brand experience through its free mobile app, which integrates the brand’s rewards system with the ability to customize and order drinks. It then makes use of information, such as purchase history and location, to get as personal as possible.
- Make the experience genuine, original, and authentic. This usually boils down to satisfying an expectation: Is the experience using the right voice? Is it empathic with the audience? Are consumers seeing a brand experience congruent with the media channel they are using? Your brand experience must deliver on all three of these measures. Besides getting the voice right and communication empathy for your audience, delivering an authentic brand experience means aligning it with the media channel where people expect to find it. Don’t make the mistake of publishing the same content on all channels.
- Converse on topics of purpose, not just products or services. Purposeful experiences range from corporate social responsibility to themes motivating customers to engage and participate in a shared activity, such as an event or a food drive. These create deeper, more contextual customer relationships, and incent customers to spread your message. Patagonia, maker of outdoor clothing for decades, was one of the first brands to win big by putting a “save the environment purpose” first. Founder Yvon Chouinard has said that making a profit is not the goal, but profits happen “when you do everything else right.”
Even if the traditional marketing models still seem to be working for you, remember that the world out there is changing fast. Thus I recommend that it’s time for you to proactively rethink your model, along the lines of the five initiatives outlined here, for this demand-attention era, before the market flags you as irrelevant. Brands can lose their luster quickly and are a lot harder to rebuild.