It’s time for advertising to reflect the change in how we communicate.
As someone who has worked in the advertising and marketing sphere since 1987 I have borne witness to a seismic shift in the way people communicate. While technology has been instrumental in providing new means of reaching each other it has been the change in societal attitudes that have brought about the most fundamental changes in the first world.
The core values that bound traditional communities have eroded. The church and intimate extended family relations no longer drive who it is we socialize with and work with. Class structures are less predominant, along with cultural differences, especially in new world countries settled by migrants.
The nuclear family has eroded leaving a generation who’ve grown up in blended households. They open up to their peers online in order to bond. We are adrift, making our own way, seeking out others with whom to traverse life’s path, through work and play across a significantly larger pool of other people. Our voices can be heard globally.
The instrument that we are increasingly using to seek out others with whom we share common interests and values is the internet. Rudimentary online forums and basic blog rings have evolved into online communities founded on mutual interests. The title Web 2.0 was coined to describe movement towards this user generated content online. Now Social Media has taken its place as the buzzword.
The social media landscape is dotted with many villages that cluster like minded groups of people both locally and globally. Going a step further, Facebook is said to have so many users that were it a country, it would be the third most populous in the world.
Word of mouth recommendations within these online communities hold as much sway now as those of the traditional ‘wise man’ of the village. And so marketers are now turning a keen eye to these communities. After all this is a natural and obvious space for businesses to market themselves to the public. However it’s also a place where traditional advertising has no place.
The transition in advertising
In the late eighties, pioneering Direct Marketers declared that to advertise broadly to the general public was not enough. Why trawl the ocean when you can shoot fish in a barrel? Go directly to the people who are exactly your audience. Later, they instigated Customer Relationship Management, which reached even further into the pockets and minds of consumers to sell brands and products. Traditional advertising agencies then had to change gears, with marketing dollars now being shared with DM agencies.
Then after the dotcom crash came the rise of digital advertising agencies and digital media agencies, who could service marketers with websites and the various forms of adspace now available online. DM embraced email and e-commerce websites as part of their offering. The pie split again and in order to consolidate the shrinking ad dollar, traditional ad agencies annexed both DM and Digital as part of their offering. Now brands are choosing to divert funds into Social Media and ad agencies are struggling to get their heads around the medium.
Social Media combines all the advertising tactics mentioned above, yet it slipped under the radar of advertising agencies, initially allowing Public Relations agencies to move into this space. But in the main, traditional PR agencies are being shunned by online influencers. Why? Because online communities have their own unwritten rules, their own voice; they’re savvy and anti establishment. They can’t be approached as you would a Journalist or a TV Producer.
Why pursue Social Media?
Today we are aware that for many consumers, word of mouth drives more sales than traditional aspirational brand advertising. The term ‘Dead Tree Media’ is affected disparagingly by a time poor populous who want variety and news in real time, and on demand. Today our markets increasingly turn to online citizen journalism unbound by editorial guidelines and legalese, turning away from magazines, journals and newspapers. With PVRs in many homes many no longer even watch TV ads. Conversely, billions of pieces of video footage are viewed online, on demand, and smartphone technology is amplifying this growth.
A different strategic approach is required to corner this market. It has to come from within the social media space. But unlike DM and PR you can’t buy lists and issue a blanket email to online influencers.
You can’t build a social media platform and demand that influencers supply free positive commentary for your website or for them to produce glowing advertorials for no return, because online influencers are driven by their own passion. They’re not media professionals, they’re in their communities because it allows them freedom of expression within the safe confines of a tribe that share their attitudes and opinions.
You need a Trojan horse. Once you’re on the inside you can evaluate what that community wants from your brand. And that fundamentally, is the crux of Social Media Marketing.
In this next wave of marketing, consumers direct exactly how they wish to be addressed, they’ll tell you what they expect from your business and how you can improve your brand. And that kind of information is invaluable, but it will take a fundamental mind-shift to break from traditional corporate practices in order to embrace it.
Welcome to the brave new world of communications.