As a college professor, one of the courses I teach is marketing. Considering that I own a small business marketing and branding firm, it’s a good fit and I really enjoy teaching the class. However, I was struck this semester when the latest edition of the marketing textbook came out jam-packed with the same old lessons we have been teaching for the last 30+ years. Honestly, up until around the mid-2000’s, marketing had not changed all that dramatically. But today’s marketing environment compared to that of, even just 5 years ago, is almost unrecognizable.
The old school marketing method was all about Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. Marketers called these the “Four Ps” or the “Marketing Mix.” The concept was that all you needed was the right product, for the right price, in the right place combined with the right promotional message. Companies would spend millions of dollars each year trying to find new customers by using the marketing mix. Today, everything has changed. Marketing is no longer about finding new customers. It is about letting the customer find you. Semantics? No, not at all. The old way focused on telling prospects the value of the product and advertising was all about attracting new customers and enticing them to check out what you were selling. This worked well for a long time, but then something drastic changed everything.
You may be quick to jump to the conclusion that it was the entrance of social media that changed marketing. In part, this is true. But social media is really a byproduct of a much bigger cultural shift. Sure, social media made the individual much more accessible to organizations, but companies that try to use social media to attract prospects quickly fail. I am not talking about simply adding a new marketing venue. It’s not advertising that changed; it is the consumer.
I believe that one of the reasons that social media has been so successful is because people were ready for it. Keep in mind that Facebook spread 100% organically. It was never meant to become the empire that it is today. It was built to be small and targeted. But, the word got out and it took off. Other companies soon followed suit, but none of this would have mattered if the people were not ready for a change.
It’s About Taking Control
For most of history, information flowed down a one-way street. A select few dictated the information, and the rest of us swallowed it. Newscasters told us what to worry about, politicians told us what to care about, marketers told us what we wanted, and teachers told us what we should know. Even with the advent of the Internet, information flowed in much the same way. The Internet just become a big free encyclopedia. It still was merely a database of information passed down to us from someone else.
Then one day, someone realized that they could use the Internet to send information back up the chain. For the first time in history, information could flow from the people. Ideas, thoughts, knowledge, opinions could be blogged about, discussed, rethought and defined from the people’s point of view. This was the day that social media was truly born. It was also the day that changed marketing forever.
Don’t Tell Me What I Think
Now that the people have a voice, advertisers can no longer shout loud enough to be heard. More importantly, people are now informed. They no longer want to be sold to, but that does not mean they don’t want to buy.
Getting back to my original point, marketing in today’s world is about allowing customers to find you. Today, the consumer is in control. They are saying, don’t call me, I will call you. The problem is that if they don’t like the first date, if you come on too strong, they’re not going to call. They’re going to stand you up.
Today’s consumer wants to be able to find information, make an educated decision, and then start the buying process (notice I don’t say the sales process, but that’s another article coming soon). Your job as a business owner, in terms of marketing, is now all about putting yourself out there to be found: having a great website, being engaged in social media, and having a mobile-friendly presence. This, combined with having a clear message about how your product can help the consumer. Not a spec sheet or dry presentation, but real-life examples about why your product matters. These are the things that entice consumers to buy today. People want to be able to find you, get the facts, understand what you care about as a company and then engage with you. This is the new era of marketing.