Advertising, PR, and all that, continues to be big business. More money seems to be spent (percentage-wise) on a product’s marketing than on its development, let alone manufacture (e.g. with the iPhone…). PR has even been reaching into politics and international diplomacy, where spin doctors and experts in “nation branding” roam.
Meanwhile, even as online marketing is trying to target its audiences ever more exactly and bring that same personalization into the public (think Minority Report), many a customer is getting better at simply ignoring the onslaught of ad messages. (When was the last time you really noticed one of the ads on Facebook?).
In their desire to make sales, companies get ever more obtrusive, try to make you “like” and “follow” them, push ads at you – but more often than not, blow the chance they get. Customers, even as “friends” and “followers”, don’t want marketing messages fed into their newsstream. There is some reaction to comments made on company pages and to their twitter handles, but much of the content actively put out by companies is just that, content. The same marketing messages that go on billboards, the same pitches that go everywhere…
There is a reason why it is the “social” web now, though. Many critics see it as all just a playground of narcissists, but a lot of what is put out by people, for friends, are things they found of enough interest they wanted to share those thoughts and links with others. Companies are just other participants in those conversations. Or rather, they should be.
Just pushing out marketing pitches, a company may still be “liked” in order to profit from coupons or get in touch to express dis-/satisfaction, but otherwise tuned out (if not unliked and felt to be obtrusive).
There is a chance to show that there are actual people working at a company, guiding corporate practice, using the products themselves. This would give the whole enterprise a human side that has so often gone missing. There is also a chance for a brand to be a meaningful and continuing part of its customers’ (and fans’) lives, if it is another “friend” or “follow” that presents interesting information, useful insight, tips for and stories of using the products.
Just hunting for profit, just looking to produce cheaply and sell to suckers stupid enough to fall for the product’s promise is probably, and hopefully, not going to work so well anymore in the future. Admittedly, even spam still appears to have enough of a cost-benefit ratio to be worthwhile for the spammers, but if you want to have success over more than the short term, that shouldn’t be your guide. There increasingly are too many voices of actual people using something and talking about it for marketing to be effective in spinning its story if it goes in a direction different from that shared experience.
To become a conversation partner, though, companies need to quit advertising, and start to be and do good, present their story, and answer questions – from why one should even consider buying and using their products, to probably unasked uses they could be put to, to the background of whether the whole enterprise is one a customer, as a whole human being living as part of this world, would want to participate in.
What’s your story? Do you listen, and reply meaningfully? Socially?