It is clear that the web now presents unprecedented opportunities to businesses who want to communicate their messages to their customers. To date ad agencies have focused on migrating traditional forms of mass advertisement onto the web. Banner advertisements, paid-for listings in search engines and even the new Facebook ads have not represented fundamentally different ways of communicating – they are merely the transfer of a traditional model to a new channel. This one-to-many approach to marketing communications is now being supplemented as consumers have found new sources of authoritative information on the products and services they want to purchase; each other. Web 2.0 above all heralds the era of many-to-many communications where the people I most trust are “people like me” and not the marketing comms managers working for large corporations.
Marketers take the entire market and divide into segments based on age, gender, location, social class and so on. They then isolate the segments that present the greatest opportunities for them in terms of likelihood to purchase, segment size and profitablity. Detailed profiling of the typical needs, perceptions, preferences and buying behaviours help marketers devise the right product proposition that should be communicated to these customers to maximise their engagement with the particular product and brand. No prizes for guessing which segment is being targetted with this Lynx Effect ad and what needs, perceptions and preferences are being addressed.
Philip Kotler, a leading expert in strategic marketing, tells marketers that those who win will carefully “define, create and deliver a superior value promise to the target market.” The promise is everything and the job of a marketing communications team is to communicate this promise effectively to the target market.
The traditional marketing approach sees the product owner using a mix of advertisement and PR to help get the message to the target audience. This approach is no longer as relevant as consumers are listening less and less to companies and more and more to each other. A new paradigm of many-to-many communications has emerged causing what I believe will be a sea-change in the way marketing managers will think about how they engage their target markets.
This paradigm sees messages communicated amongst consumers largely to the exclusion of companies, advertisers and PR agents. There are four broad roles within these communications communities; message authors, commentators, distributors and message consumers. (Think of ACDC to help remember…) Authors are the originators of messages, content, promises in these communities. They own and write blogs, podcasts, videos, wikis etc. They are the thought leaders and the most influential in the community. Commentators help to refine the original ideas and give them wider appeal. They are the critics, the hurlers on the ditch and by being more numerous have a wider impact in the community. They comment on blogs, update wikis and post on bulletin boards. Distributors are the ones who watch what is being created by the authors and commentators and pass on and recommend relevant messages to their friends. The are the filters, sending on content by email and through their social network sites to their wide circles of friends. Consumers represent the cohort that traditional marketing considered to be the entire market; passive receptors who will follow the latest trend like the herd. While these are still a significant minority they no longer constitute the entire market.
Product owners, advertisers and PR agencies cannot ignore this new marketing paradigm. The effectiveness of any communications activity will from now on be determined by the authors and commentators in a community. Marketing communications professionals must identify who the thought leaders are within their particular target market segment and find new ways to engage them with their value promise.