(from Fast Company, July 16, 2012)
Marketing has entered a new age: Information is no longer programmed into consumers’ minds.
Since its inception, advertising has been dedicated to the creation of programmed messaging. For nearly 300 years, those who could create the best message and deliver it in a memorable way across as wide an audience as possible won. In less than a decade, the types of content and ways we consume it have completely changed. Marketers have hardly caught up.
Success is much harder to achieve than it was a decade ago. Beginning in the early 2000s, marketers were challenged by the diversification of media choices available to consumers. As Internet usage increased, it also created a new advertising channel and additional competition for eyeballs. But today, the marketplace has become even more crowded. As information has become delivered and consumed in entirely new ways, everything and everyone are competing for attention.
This is the Age of Discovery. But before we examine this new age of marketing, let’s take a quick look at the period that preceded it.
The Programmed Age
The first recorded advertisement dates back to 1704. For the next 300 years, carefully developed marketing messages programmed to mass audiences dominated the way consumers learned about products and services. There was little innovation outside of the introduction of new media channels–radio, TV, the Internet. The game remained the same: find a unique insight about the target consumer or shopper, develop catchy creative, and then buy as much media as possible to program that message into consumers’ heads. This was the way consumers learned about new products. Outside of offline conversations with friends, there simply wasn’t much access to other information.
The Age of Search
At the turn of the century, web search, and most importantly Google, came into prominence. For the first time, consumers were able to easily seek out and research product information before making a purchase. Google ushered in a new paradigm in marketing where consumers started to take control over the information they consume. While branded websites with carefully developed messaging still dominated content, and traditional advertising was still the primary vehicle for marketers to attempt to impact consumer behavior, a shift had begun. With search came more accountability for marketers in their claims as consumers sought out product information and reviews. It also became easier for smaller brands to pop up that could succeed without major spend in traditional media. The Age of Search, however, was just the beginning of a much larger shift.
The Age of Discovery
In 2006, Facebook opened its walls beyond college to the general public, and communications was changed forever. By late 2011, over 163 million people were spending over 15 minutes a day on the site. Add to that blogs, YouTube and Twitter, plus new platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, and other social and mobile sites, and a significant portion of people’s time has shifted to social content. Consumers no longer need to be programmed, or even search for new products. These products are all around them. People see what their friends are listening to, what fashion items they just bought or want to buy and what they are cooking for dinner. When information is everywhere and from sources far more trusted than advertising–their peers– the game is forever changed.
Key Principles for the Age of Discovery
With fundamental changes comes new rules and usually, new leaders. The marketers that will succeed will likely best understand these key principles:
- Your product is your message: hopefully you are proud of what you market and feel it has value over the competition, as it will be increasingly hard to hide from it. Consumer opinions will continue to grow in importance and influence. Successful brands will not shy away from product trial but embrace it and create programs that help happy consumers advocate.
- People are influenced by their peers: in Crowdtap’s recently released white paper, The Power of Peer Influence, we explain why Peer Influence is the most trusted and powerful source of product information. A person’s tight-knit group of real friends is key to product decisions and now, thanks to social technology, peer influence is scalable and measurable.
- Do more faster, smarter, better: while always something to strive for, working smarter and faster will soon be required for success. The Age of Discovery means continually learning about new products. Marketers will need to develop more products, evolve them more rapidly, segment them to smaller audiences and communicate in real-time.
- Real-time data is king: with so much to do, marketers will need to stay close to their consumers at all times. Quarterly studies and focus groups are outdated before they’re complete, so maintaining an open dialogue and monitoring external data sources in real-time becomes essential.
- Tech is the new 30-second spot: perhaps Mark Zuckerberg is not as sexy as Don Draper, but the reality is, a marketer’s job will revolve much more around utilizing and understanding technology than it will be about winning at Cannes. Those with a deep understanding of the interplay between technology and consumers will be well positioned for success.
Just as the Internet has completely changed business models like the music industry’s in a brief period of time, social communications stand to completely change how people make purchasing decisions. While solid ROIs can still be made focusing on the way things have always been done, that will continue to change quickly.
With this new age comes many challenges and many opportunities. In several years from now expect there to be many new leaders and continual new entrants that evolve with a deep understanding of how consumers are now influenced.