In my last column, I covered the changing digital landscape, and how it is requiring marketers to engage in a more fluid and agile approach to marketing (I highly recommend reading "Marketing in the Moment" first -- Slideshare presentation also found here). It is not only imperative for brands to become highly connected, but to also become more
present in a human and digitally triggered way. In short, the many "possibilities" and potential of the Internet promised back in the 1990s have hit a critical mass online in the form of
networked media and core search behaviors, which is quickly moving into the physical world. The time is now for strategists to get beyond the siloing of these various search and social strategies as
a mere digital strategy, and to also begin radically rethinking their approach and philosophy about core marketing strategies.
So what does it mean for a brand to be "present" or "alive"? The last decade has been an age of connectedness for society and brands online, and the ability to maintain one-to-one communications with an audience is now evident in many different channels across the internet. But while brands have become increasingly connected, they have fallen grossly short of the goal when it comes to maintaining an ongoing live presence and relationship with their audience; the general consumer is more comfortable in doing so.
Think of it this way: While the average user is totally comfortable acting in the present while online, most brands do not have a compatible voice that mirrors the same kind of freedom, and the brand suffers because of it. This is due to a number of reasons that I won't detail right now, but fall into the general categories of organizational failure, legacy marketing philosophies, failure to properly allocate budgets, and sometimes even generational issues. What brands need to do now is identify and acknowledge the chasm that exists between a brand's live presence and connectedness with its audience, and begin to start navigating across it in order to become more alive in the digital realm.
To acknowledge the changing landscape (in that society has become socially and search-sophisticated both online and offline), here are some of the basic strategies and considerations that brands must embrace in core marketing philosophy, in order to act in a more in-the-moment, fluid and agile manner:
Brands must accept that they are now
publishers. Brands will ultimately have to start viewing themselves as media companies to resonate in their core marketing efforts. The definition of publishing is wide and varied.
Depending on the brand, the best publishing and media solution might be text, images, video, conversation, status, CRM, or applications, etc., and could include all, or any combination of the above.
The challenge for brands is in identifying their audience, and becoming a publisher of assets suited to that audience on a massive scale.
Brands must embody the spirit of their audience. Brands must engage through the spirited and like-minded voices in their organizations, in a meaningful and sincere manner. This is essentially the core reason that messages resonate and travel through the digital consciousness. Your audience already owns part of your brand, so making the audience a codified part of the brand will bring the conversations in sync, and echo through in a direct, meaningful and synaptic way.
Brands must engage with audiences and networks in a meaningful and present manner. Whether it is connecting via content in a profound way, or talking directly with your audience in the network, the engagement must be defined, sincere, purposeful and long-term. Engagement can mean many things, from passive connectivity through content and search intent, to active and direct conversational one-to-one dialogue.
A brand's identity is both "what it says" about itself, and "what others say" about the brand. If your company fears losing control of the brand, I've got news for you: It's too late. Maybe your brand has already been swung around by its tail, or maybe it hasn't -- yet. Just get used to the fact that from here on out, your brand is a combination of both what you say, what you write, and what you do -- from a publishing perspective, and also from the perspective of what everyone else on the Web writes and says about you.
Brands have an obligation to listen to their data. Brands no longer have the option of mining data - it is an obligation to their audience. This data, on both internal and external sources, tells you what your audience seeks, and may or may not already be finding. The best example of a company that has an obligation to its data is Google. Matt Cutts spoke to the importance of data on the personalization panel at SMX Advanced Seattle in 2007. In answering the question of "why personalization," he said it very succinctly: You, the user, give us valuable data, and we, the company feel a literal obligation to make something useful and provide value back to you. The result in this case is personalization, and the statement reflects a much deeper ethos around the obligation to manage data, and for Google to provide extended value to their audience. Brands also have this obligation to mine the data to determine who their audience really is, what they want, and how to engage with them.
Brands must recognize their
primary networks -- both their target audience, and their own organization. Keep in mind that your audience is not your only network. Your organization is also networked, and
empowering advocates throughout this existing network can pay huge dividends.
Why now is the right time for a change to a "live in-the-moment" view of marketing
Some of these strategies have been addressed by digital marketers for years, and have been a core element of various types of online marketing strategies. But the point now is that the Internet has come full circle to a degree that these elements can no longer be ignored. Those brands who fail to embrace the present may not only just fail in their marketing efforts, but they may even fail in their business. And for those who are ready to embrace fluidity and agility in marketing, there is an opportunity to not only be successful, but to also transcend marketing and branding efforts to an entirely different level.