Marketing is changing incrementally, but the outside world has changed a lot more. It’s time for a radical marketing rethink.
I’ve been in marketing for over twenty years, and there’s NOTHING I hate more in the world than phrases that make marketing something to be ashamed of, such as “oh, that’s just marketing” or “we want this to be real content – not just a marketing piece.”
That’s not marketing, it’s BAD marketing. I consider myself a marketing professional, and I’m proud of what I do, and passionate about trying to do it right.
In the 1960s, advertising guru Howard Gossage observed “People read what they are interested in… sometimes it’s an ad”. In other words, content has to be interesting first and foremost. Marketing should be something that customers WANT, not run away from. This essential truth has been missing for too long, but it’s now firmly back on the agenda, since it’s the foundation of what the industry now calls “pull marketing.”
Technology marketers talk a lot about new innovations allows customers to transform the way they work, knocking over old conventions. This applies to marketing, too! The new social world isn’t just a way to reach some new people in new ways. It’s an opportunity to rethink how we do marketing from scratch.
This means working differently. We need to deliberately attack the underlying default marketing assumptions that persist even as the rest of the world moves to new vision of the future.
What Changed in Marketing?
Products speak for themselves. Big chunks of what marketing used to do is now done by search engines. Good products will be found and promoted by customers with little or no “marketing” support. Bad products will be caught out and publicly flogged on social forums. Your products “are” your marketing. Globally, organizations need to shift more of their spending to providing a great customer experience, and less to telling them how great that experience is.
Your marketing isn’t done by your marketing team. Your brand image is in the eye of your customer. Your customer-facing employees and customers are now more important in shaping how your company is perceived than ever. Customers, armed with social media, have huge influence how people view your company, products, and sales staff. And employees other than marketing, such as developers and technical leads, can directly answer customer questions in forums and help move deals down the pipeline. Marketing now has to be about aligning all that marketing that isn't being done by the "marketing" team.
It’s about the ROI: Return On Interesting. There’s a deluge of information available for customers and prospects. Only the very best content will make it through. The impact gap between interesting content (shared, retweeted, reused) and not-so-interesting content (“delete!”) is huge. Invest in ensuring content is truly interesting (not just professional and slick) to reap large rewards.
Don’t over-plan. Since campaigns evolve from content and community, you can’t tell what’s going to be happening six months from now. Old-world marketing looked like soviet central planning, trying to decide months in advance what people would be interested in. Marketing now has to be a lot more entrepreneurial and flexible enough to adapt fast to changing conditions.
Pull Marketing is about Building a Machine. Pull marketing isn’t about the content, it’s about creating organizational processes that ensure that the marketing you do create is interesting. Social technologies make it possible to to experiment, then have mechanisms in place (i.e. analytics) so that the good stuff rises to the top, and the bad stuff disappears as fast as possible.
What's Different About Marketing Today?
Campaigns are obsolete. The world is no longer “batch driven.” Marketing activity must be a constant stream of “always on” activities around communities. Calling these “campaigns” prevents people from understanding that this is a different way of working.
Start small, iterate. Don’t come up with an idea in an ivory tower, pay an agency to create expensive content, and then launch it at people. Start small with germs of ideas and content (e.g. via blogs, tweets), then iterate with audience feedback to make it great.
The best content isn’t From you. Anything that companies say about themselves is naturally suspect. Blogs and other content from customers, partners, and press, are more credible and more powerful than anything you can create. If the most compelling articles about a product is written by a partner or analyst, why wouldn't that be the very first thing you show people when they go to your web site?
Hire journalists. Marketing needs people that can quickly gather information, find the interesting human angle, and write it up, from a neutral angle – fast. These people are called journalists, and there are lots of them losing their jobs in the newspaper/magazine industry.
Hire evangelists. Evangelists live and breathe the same air as your user community. They talk to them on a regular basis. They follow the same media they do. They know what is boring and what isn’t. They present regularly and can test and iterate messages that might be of interest, in real time.
Hire community advocates. Some people are natural connectors, who excel at keeping communities together and interacting.
Build evangelism teams. In the new world, people who have something interesting to say don’t need a vast machine to get the message out – they can do it themselves, directly, and (if they’re any good) get a big following. But that takes a lot of skills that aren’t always found in the same person. Marketing must be about building teams that combine people who really understand a business area with people that are really good at turning that knowledge into stories, with people that can keep the community engaged.
Let the community tell you what is engaging. Engaging content is created by engaging with customers. Get evangelists to iterate potentially-interesting content, from you or from others, with the your closest customers. Generate a conversation. Once you’ve discovered and nurtured something compelling, a “campaign” is simply the act of inviting other people to take part in the conversation.
Get your marketing from the front line. The people that deal with customers every day have useful opinions about what their customers and prospects want to hear more about. Ask them!
Marketing is about building community. One of the offers of every marketing campaign should be to get people to join and participate your community.
Every web page should be a blog post. Blogs are the ideal format for content: they are timely, constantly updated, rateable and commentable, and you can easily include (or “curate”) effective content from others . Good posts go viral, uninteresting posts (that just dilute your marketing) fall down from search rankings. All product announcements should be just blog posts. Why would you waste such a great opportunity to get people to sign up for more news in the future?
Business needs are not interesting. Every customer of yours is aware of the current problems they face, and every company in your industry is trying to address the same business needs. Talking about them is not interesting unless you have some truly new angle to discuss.
Build materials for customers, not sales. Sales people should be experts in doing deals, not your products. Don’t produce product presentations and product training for sales. Instead, create materials directly for your customers, and post them to the web. If they’re any good, your sales staff can and should use the same materials.
Internal repositories of external materials are a marketing crime. If you’ve built material for customers, it should be put directly out on the web where people can find it. Allowing internal repositories of external materials wastes all the clicks from staff that would push content up on search engines.
What’s Stopping Us Changing Marketing?
The fundamental skills required to succeed in marketing today are not that different from the past. The difference is that resources have to be aligned in new ways. Instead of monolithic departments such as communications, corporate marketing, and field marketing, you need smaller, more flexible teams that are empowered to react fast to changing conditions. As ever with new innovations, culture and organization lags far behind the new technology capabilities, and are the biggest barriers to change.
Marketing is once again a brave new world, and best practice is being created as we speak – let's be the pioneers!