Friday, April 03, 2009

Replacing ANTI-Social Marketing (part 2 of 2)

(Part 2 on the replacement of anti-social marketing) In the developed world, and increasingly throughout the population of the emerging economies, we now have a mass-connected social information space. This is in contrast to the one-way broadcast information space which was the dominant model of the past century. That mass media model, of course, replaced local community information networks (word of mouth) as the primary way that we learn about our world. In doing so it allowed people to have a broader view of the world and be informed by a much more educated and diverse set of communicators. That is to say, there was a lot of good that mass media brought to communities and individuals by comparison to the local, parochial, and often xenophobic news gathering that we engaged in before mass media.

It is too early to say definitively that the technology which enables a mass-connected social information model has similarly improved upon mass media. I am not an adequate student of history to readily have examples of the critique that may have been made of mass media as it began to transform society. But there are certainly many critiques in our own time of the emerging "social media" from how our society will continue to have adequate watch dogs for various institutions (government, business, etc) to a general dismissal of the vast majority of "non-professional" content as being of low quality.

With respect to the first of these two complaints, the concerns are centered on the economic model which emerged over the past 100 years for supporting investigative reporting, namely advertising. A symbiotic relationship developed in which the high ideals of the fourth estate became dependent upon the corporation, or even the managers of the corporations (a sort of modern second estate). While this symbiotic relationship provided some illusion of independence for the individual journalist, the history of the media business has certainly been rife with examples of complicity between the owners of media and various elements of authority within society.

And so it may be that the coming change in the relationship between "advertiser" and "media" presents a similar opportunity for improvement over the old way. While such analysis will come year in the future, one thing we can be sure of today is that the change is upon us and that there are a set of new behaviors (as illustrated in this diagram) in which companies must elect to engage as a replacement for old marketing styles. Each of these deserves (and will get) a blog post of their own in the weeks ahead, so these descriptions are intended to simply introduce each of the three.

Just as the fundamental behavior of the old marketing was interruption, the fundamental behavior of the new one is connection. It is increasingly ineffective to purchase space in broadcast media in order to insert the interruption of a company's marketing message.

image from John Willshire's terrific slide presentation on the future of advertising
Instead companies, and more importantly, their employees need to connect in meaningful, interesting, and authentic ways with their markets. And companies need to facilitate connections between their employees, customers, and prospects. The new information space is governed by the connections that we chose to create. Companies have to earn the right from individuals and communities to be a participant in these networks of connections.

Earning that right requires that companies create a context for the connection which is relevant to the individual or community. Under the old interrupt model, it was quite easy for companies to focus only on their own objectives -- "call now, operators are standing by..." Instead companies need to begin to think about how they create value for the people they want to reach.

Collaboration can take a number of forms - companies can co-create content with their customers, encourage customers to create content, or foster other kinds of collaboration. Where entertainment was an attempt to add value to interruption, collaboration can be an activity which adds value to connection. Collaboration can engage companies with their markets around new product development, marketing a product, selling a product, or extending a product experience through some new activity related to the product. Starbucks, for example, asks people to work together and with the company to develop ideas that improve their stores. Cadbury created Jivebrow09 in order to invite fans of their chocolates to create new versions of their television advertisement. And Lego has supported a number of independent collaboration communities around its "toy" bricks, including BrickWiki which offers detailed information, all collaboratively created, on building elaborate projects with Legos.

As outlined in part one of this post, one of the key problems when a company seeks to "inform" the marketplace about its own products is the inherent conflict of interest. Why should I believe the company which clearly wants me to buy its products? Instead companies must learn to support customers in finding the information relevant to them about the company and its products. Third party sites such as Yelp, with service reviews or GetSatisfaction with customer service offer interesting examples to companies for how their customers can provide trusted information about them in venues where the companies themselves are also welcome to participate. Taken broadly, any activity a company engages in which supports their customers or prospects in obtaining relevant information is far superior to one in which the company itself tries to authoritatively be the source of that information.

What's next for media?
Throughout these two posts I have looked at the transition from anti-social to social marketing from the perspective of the companies engaging in these marketing activities. But there is of course a really important warning and opportunity for those media companies which have grown up symbiotically with companies. Media companies need to start thinking about how they can help to facilitate connection, collaboration, and support instead of seeing themselves as vehicles for companies interruptions.

A media experience that contains interruptions will be worth less than one that does not. And a media experience that connects its readers/viewers/listeners is one that will be worth more than one that does not.

The magic here is for the media to start thinking of themselves as being facilitators of community -- of being a part of the mass connections that are bringing us all together online. In doing so they could become enormously valuable intermediaries in the activities of companies to engage with their markets.

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