E-commerce Link: So Hot, You're Cool
Opportunities presented by experiential marketing are exciting, but the task of shifting gears—staffing, allocating budget, retraining, prioritizing tactics—is daunting for marketers. How can social marketing “believers” work within the confines of corporate bureaucracies and convince superiors to begin experimentation under a sense of urgency? Where is the low-hanging acquisition 2.0 fruit?
I decided to pose the following question to experts who are truly in the trenches:
Is traditional, interruptive marketing dying?
We Aren’t in Searchville Anymore, Toto
First, experiential marketing doubters must be given the chance to appreciate how the Web is radically shifting power away from companies and toward customers. As a result, customers ignore and distrust advertising.
Media firms cite growing distrust of advertisements and marketing ploys among customers. In 2007, Nielsen noted that more than two-thirds of survey respondents from across the globe cited “recommendations from others” as the most helpful, trusted form of advertising.
Even search engine marketing—now widely practiced by most Web marketers—is taking a hit. Nielsen says only 34 percent of customers ranked their experiences with search engine ads as trustworthy and reliable.
A new study from the University of Southern California cites a growing number of people characterizing search results as unreliable and inaccurate. Only 51 percent of people trust information provided by search engines, the university reports, down dramatically from 62 percent in 2006. Even almighty Google isn’t trusted by nearly half (49 percent) of people who use it.
What’s the point? Customers realize that Web advertising is beyond interruptive—it’s pervasive, obstructive. Separating ads from information is a chore, and people don’t like chores.
The Low-Hanging Fruit
How do you get your company fired up to make this customer-interaction shift? Sam Decker, CMO of customer review solution provider Bazaarvoice, recommends bringing in industry experts to present social marketing research and ideas to your key stakeholders. He also advises marketers to send negative reviews/blog posts to their customer service teams to get acted upon (making the company accountable for customer satisfaction).
“Create ‘lunch and learn’ sessions with management to show them social networking tools, and show how people are talking about your products online already,” says Decker, who cut his social marketing teeth at Dell. “The low-hanging fruit is to bring user-generated content (UGC) into your site, right next to your brand. This could be reviews, community Q-and-A, stories, polls or other forms of UGC.”
By bringing “customer voice” into your site, you raise the visibility and impact of this strategy to cross-functional teams and senior management. Decker says that while others in your company surely know word-of-mouth is occurring on the Web, putting it on the site raises the cultural awareness of the “customer voice.”
It’s About People, Not Tech
Media-saturated, always-on customers are showing preference for new forms of non-interruptive marketing like “alternate reality” games, branded entertainment and permission-based lead generation. They want to know when an ad is an ad and show a strong willingness to play along … but only on their terms.
“It was never about the computers. It was never about the applications. It was never about the sales channels. The Internet was always about the people, which is why e-mail, IM, multiplayer gaming and similar developments have always been the ‘killer apps’ of the social Web,” says Brian Clark, founder and CEO of GMD Studios and brainchild of Audi’s award-winning “Art of the Heist” campaign.
Clark is a leader in creating what’s being called “alternate reality” games that immerse willing consumers in brand-sponsored experiences. These bold brands are literally using every form of digital and traditional media to create authentic, transparent experiences for customers who want to play along.
While it’s fair to question if forms of experiential marketing are fads, it’s dangerous to ignore the
Not Dead Yet!
While newspapers and broadcast media trail behind various forms of word-of-mouth in terms of the customer trust factor, traditional forms of interruptive media are not dead yet, says Rok Hrastnik, e-commerce manager for European direct television powerhouse Studio Moderna.
“I’m working in the most interruptive ad industry of them all. My idea of ‘cool’ marketing would be injecting the latest infomercial directly into the consumer’s vein,” jokes Hrastnik. “Seriously … I can tell you that direct response TV advertising is not only alive but kicking, thriving more and more every month.”
Hrastnik admits that infomercials are interruptive, but the reason they work is “because they interrupt consumers in ways they welcome … entertaining them, educating them, thrilling them and just simply giving them a great story … which then actually goes on to sell something. Yes, we interrupt, but we also provide value with that interruption.”
That, says Hrastnik, is how marketing should be.
“Most of us will always depend on interrupting consumers and pushing our message in their face. No way around that. But if we want lasting attention, we need to interrupt in a valuable manner. ”
Marketers as Publishers
Here’s where it gets both dicey and exciting. Hrastnik and others believe that if marketers must start providing serious value to consumers, then they must become publishers.
“Contract publishers have been teaching people this for decades—they call it ‘branded entertainment,’” says Clark. “Advertising tries to make a point, marketing tries to induce an action and experience design tries to shift perceptions.”
Experts suggest that content doesn’t necessarily need to be product-related and may only be loosely brand-related. Essentially, marketers won’t be depending on that content to sell.
“The content is your way in … your bargaining chip to win the consumer’s attention, the first step to a relationship which someday may result in profitable sales. The emphasis being on ‘some day,’” says Hrastnik.
This “marketing as publishing” model is not a short-term marketing vehicle, as evidenced by companies like Drs. Foster & Smith, which internally produces audio-video content for its PetEducation.com site.
“It’s the long-term things you do to gradually convert your prospects into customers in ways they may actually welcome,” says Hrastnik.
Stated plainly, he suggests that if you’re selling mattresses, don’t limit yourself to talking with customers about sleeping—talk about sex, relationships, health, productivity, motivation, success and other things that people actually care about.
Although Bazaarvoice’s Decker is invested in the concept of customer-generated content, he admits, “Customers won’t create content in all the places you need to reach the market and at the times you need to hit your goals. The key is to leverage their voices, either in the creation of your marketing or by using their words directly, to make your ‘talking-at-them’ more authentic, credible and relevant.”
Just Do It
“Get operational, not conceptual,” says Decker, who worries that too many marketers invest time in planning and not executing.
He also suggests creating a “council” focused on forward-thinking ideas—working to drive them forward across multiple functions. This will foster the required cultural shift that crosses multiple departments.
All of this can be scary. Yet, by tying even the smallest baby steps to their impacts on profit and loss, progress can be made. Marketers simply must take a little risk.
Jeff Molander is CEO of Molander & Associates, a digital marketing and media consulting firm. He can be reached at email@example.com, and he blogs at www.jeffmolander.com.