Onliners Return to Start

With thoughts on what this means for offline media and planning

I wonder how many of today’s online marketers, and particularly the evangelists in Social, have read Permission Marketing by Seth Godin (1999) or The Engaged Customer by Hans Peter Brondmo (2002).  Why?  Because these two books tell you why Interactive is different, explain how it is different, and provide the background you need to be successful at it.  For example, they explain how Social works before Social even existed in its current form.

How could these books predict the current climate?  Because “Social” – the Interactive behavior and psychology that drives it – is what happens when you create Interactivity.  These ideas are fundamental to Interactivity, they exist regardless of the tools to enable them.

Social, the tools and applications, are simply software iterations around these fundamentals.  Software continues to morph and evolve.  But the emotions and behavior driving today’s Social activity are fundamentally no different from the emotions and behavior that drove the proper use of interactivity for Marketing in CompuServe or discussion boards or e-mail discussion lists.  Community.  Sharing.  The rules and etiquette of good Interactive relationships.

What I’ve come to realize after a lot of discussions and thought is this:

Hardly anyone understood the fundamentals of Interactivity from a Marketing perspective in 1999, despite a lot of input from people like Godin & Brondmo or me with my background in pre-online interactive.

Marketers and enablers like Agencies simply imported all their offline, Broadcast, one-way, “shouting” ideas to the web.  Despite the two-way, listening and sharing nature fundamental to an Interactive relationship, a relationship that thrives on relevance, what techniques became the most prevalent for online communication?

Irrelevant, barely targeted Display advertising and e-mail “blasting”

Because of this, the current Social movement seems like a Revolution to many people involved, a brand new thing.  But fundamentally, it’s not a brand new thing.  No, the current Social movement is simply about a lot of people realizing those before them had Interactive wrong from the beginning, and now the next gen is trying to fix that.

For recognizing this situation, and getting people to do something about it, we should be grateful to the current Social movement.   

However, let’s hope this generation of Socials doesn’t make the same mistakes over again, if by chance they still don’t understand why Interactive is different from a Business perspective.   And just to be clear, I’m not commenting on the personal productivity or enjoyment people get from using Social tools, or use of these tools for marketing Social-specific products.  What I am commenting on is the value of these environments from a broad Marketing perspective.

Take Social business models based on Display ads, for example.  There’s that problem with fundamentals again.  Or Social as a “mass media” model when smaller means more relevant, or if mass is important to the model (?), ignorance of Search as the Interactive enabler of scale.  Software, not business, often still rules the web.

Recently, more people than ever have used the word Strategy in their writings on Social (example).  If one really means Strategy (a whole other discussion, a Tool or Channel is not a Strategy) then that’s a good thing, because it means people are moving to the next step after this realization they’re not using Interactive optimally.

There is a larger idea at work here for those interested, one that affects Offline as well.  It manifests in ideas like “customer centric” and “authentic” and “relevant” but is fundamentally about the nature of Brand morphing from an “image or feeling” to an “experience”, which I have covered in depth before here.

In other words, what you “say” about your Brand carries a lot less weight than what you do – the experience surrrounding Brand – and how you react to problems with your Brand, if any. 

Said another way, (and I mean this from a media and planning perspective, not as some kind of a Tactical war cry) the web, enabled by these new Social tools, is now able to amplify word of mouth to the point where the weight (TRP’s) of Social Content can rival any media weight you can buy against it.  This structural change is largely due to word of mouth being a behavioral segment and media weight being a demographic construct; WOM is much more targeted to end product users, so more efficient than any media you could possibly buy.

This doesn’t mean the “customer is in control”, it means customers can take control if you give it to them.  This choice is literally yours.

Are WOM and Social over-hyped?  Sure.  I’m just trying to point to a tangible, plannable, industry standard reason you might want to start caring about Social beyond the breathless BS.  Social will not be a successful “media” in terms of non-Social Display Advertising (search-driven ads might work) and should not be treated like media, it just is what it is – relevant Content that will be spidered and Searched. 

But Social can have a lot of Public Relations power and you can create influence through planning – an Evolution, not a Revolution.  Unless your product or company is Social, if you want to “do something” about Social, you might want to start with an analysis of  Customer Service.  Then, once you know what you will be likely to run into, and having a plan for acting on or reacting to the community, start the conversation.

Does the GRP-matching potential of Social Content mean the end of traditional media and Brand campaigns?  Of course not.  What these changes, including the rise of Social, do imply are:

1.  A further specialization of media to task if you want to increase spend effectiveness and Optimize the Marketing ecosystem, and

2.  The expansion of what Marketing people could (should?) contribute to a Brand beyond “Advertising” campaigns – call it Service Empathy

Media Specialization

The function, and therefore the content of Brand / mass advertising, needs to recognize much of Interest and Desire will often come from the web, and mass media advertising should facilitate this. 

Some Brands are actually doing a good job with this right now, but for the most part, the efforts tying the Awareness of mass campaigns to Interest and Desire on the web are weak.  If you’re looking for an offline analogy, the direct integration of TV and Magazine campaigns is a similar idea functionally.

At the same time, efforts to generate Awareness on the web through Display Advertising should be evaluated and potentially reallocated towards creating Interest and Desire.  These are the jobs the web does most efficiently dollar for dollar – not Awareness.

Awareness though GRP’s, Interest through Search, Desire though Content, Social or otherwise.  Each to the job it does most efficiently.

Service Empathy

“Service” in a broad sense is now more a part of Brand than ever.  Some companies in CPG get this, and since a “relationship” or Service is a stretch in their world, are doing a great job reinventing Service for themselves at the point of use – Design and Packaging.  You also often see companies working very hard on Usability, including efforts like re-writing instruction manuals from product speak to user speak.

The challenge with this Path is Institutional – how to we get Marketing more involved with Design, Usability, and Service?  What kind of people are required?  How are budgets allocated?  For example, if you thought improving Service could deliver more bottom-line impact than increased Awareness, how would you go about shifting Marketing budgets and people towards addressing Service?

Conclusions and Action Steps

Some of you might choose to name the general idea above Integrated Marketing, and that’s fine with me, though to me Integration is simply the executional end of it.  I prefer to think of this approach as the more structured and accountable Strategy known as Relationship Marketing (RM), because RM requires an Interactive plan for all communications, and is very sensitive to Service issues as integral to the Brand.

If you’re the kind of person who is more comfortable with a Strategic Model you can use to build out this idea for your company, see Framework for Engagement.  If you’re more of a Tactical thinker, an executional map I have found useful – online and offline – is to think in terms of Marketing Bands.

Comments on the above?  I’m not really asking you to comment on my solution (RM), though please feel free to.  Rather, I think it would be more helpful to the widest audience to discuss my description of the situation.  Have I managed to integrate all of the chaos going on in Marketing right now in a way that makes sense to you?    Where am I right, wrong, or misdirected?


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