In my last post, From Advertising to Engagement, I outlined the three crucial transitions that organizations need to go through when implementing social as a core competency in their marketing activities:
From Interrupting to Connecting -- the new marketing style starts with the curation of communities
From Entertaining to Collaborating -- your customers have things they want to do and when you connect to them instead of interrupting them you have a chance to work with them on what they what to do
From Informing to Supporting -- finally, the goal of the engagement must ultimately be the creation of value for your customers -- supporting them not just giving them the message you want to give them.
In this post I will cover the first, from interrupting to connecting.
The old ideas of interruption marketing are being challenged by a new set of customer expectations. Information overload is one of the core reasons that interruptions are not working. So many interruptions are competing for our attention that we have developed strategies for avoiding them. But there is something else happening here as well, something deeply anti-social.
When advertising was presented as part of the one-way stream of information arriving on our porches, radios, or televisions we accepted that advertising as a part of the total experience of the medium. But once the medium for information becomes two-way, interruption advertising becomes disrespectful or even rude. Imagine yourself in a conversation with another person:
You: How did you like that episode of Heroes?
Friend: It was great, I really liked the special effects --
--interruption-- Buy Heroes T-Shirts NOW --interruption--
You: Anyway, as I was saying...
This conversational example is an anecdotal way to illustrate what happens when the directed engaged communicating online user is interrupted with advertising - even when it is "contextual." To expand on this illustration, consider two shifts that contribute to the downfall of interruption --
(1) Freedom of Choice -- more and more information sources are emerging which have the relevant information that we may want. Sources which are free of interruption and easy to navigate will be preferred over sources which are choked with interruptions. In addition, we have an increasing array of strategies to eliminate the interruptions from the information we consume - Tivo, pop-up blockers, etc. This expansion of choice also leads to the second shift...
(2) Seek vs. Browse -- when we received a bundle of information which happened to include advertising, we would browse through all of it and select that which was most interesting (sometimes even advertising). Now an increasing amount of our media diet is search-originated and it is much more difficult (and unfriendly) to interrupt someone when they are pursuing information in a directed mode. Even how we browse is shifting with more of it happening in social spaces in which we are browsing what our friends are doing, thinking, watching, reading.
When we learn about something interesting to read from a friend it is much more difficult (and unfriendly) to insert interruptions.
CONNECT vs INTERRUPT
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.
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.
In the old model a marketer would identify a target audience for a message -- young men watching football will be interested in pickup trucks for example. After that the activities of the marketer were to create a message that this audience would pay attention to and then buy space in a place where that audience aggregates. In a certain sense the TV audience watching Monday Night Football is a community -- an unintentional and disconnected one, but nonetheless a group of people who have a common interest.
Instead of buying into a community though, companies will now need to participate in communities or better yet curate their own communities - the pickup truck company needs a place to which the target audience wants to come. There are many ways to go about this -- in my prior article focusing on the Information, Media and Entertainment industry I gave one example of how these companies are being transformed into organizations that build communities --
if you are a book publisher, do you have a community of people who like science fiction mysteries with a romantic twist? There is a market and if you have built a community around this niche you can be of enormous value to the authors of such works, thus remaining in the middleman "publisher" role instead of being disintermediated by cheap or free digital distribution. What is the business of publishers anyway whether books, movies, games or music? It has always been to provide access to markets and social communities are the new markets.
Shifting from interruption to connection won't be easy for a lot of companies. It requires some big changes in how people in your organization think, how your organized, what you measure, and what you invest in as a company. For example, connecting to your customers is only as valuable as you make it by bringing the data of these interactions into your CRM systems. And those customer information systems need to be shared across functional areas and not locked up with separate data and systems in marketing, sales, customer service, e-commerce, etc.
Developing the right voice and process of experimentation for building communities will also be a challenge. Companies are used to buying access to markets and instantly reaching a large audience. But building a community takes time and the upfront investment is only repaid over a long period of continuous focus and development.
And ultimately the communities will only be as valuable to your company as they are to your customers, which is why in the next two articles I will discuss how to collaborate with and support your customers.