Tuesday, December 4, 2007

New Media Model

The Internet changed the way marketers interacted with their customers. Permanently. Irrevocably. The social media of Web 2.0 are doing it again. That’s the theme of this blog.

Don Schultz describes the old model of how marketers use media as “linear.” It looks like this.“Linear” is a good description, but we all know the old way no longer works. There are a lot of suggestions, successful experiments and terms like “engagement” floating around. As far as I can tell no one has yet successfully put it all together.

Here’s my perspective on how it works. Notice that it does not use the terms “advertising,” “promotion,” or even “communication.” That’s intentional. Those terms are becoming as irrelevant as the linear model. So here’s how I think it works. Note that the overall context is one of trust—trust in the brand, the message, and the company that sponsors the communications.
Attention. We first have to attract the attention of the prospective customer. Television has always been best at doing that because of its huge reach. Between ad zapping of all kinds and the fact that television simply doesn’t reach some consumers like young males, it has lost much of its effectiveness. Online often works. Marketers can use many techniques to attract attention, from video clips to relevant content on websites.

Engagement. The next step is to engage them in our content to the extent that they not only spend time on our site but return to it. Advergaming is one way to reach the young male and the constantly expanding universe of gamers. Videos and interactive content work. The interactive content ranges from “build your own ” to “comment” to “rate this product.” It keeps people on the site longer. Even more important it draws them and gives them a feeling of ownership.

Commitment. This gets to the attitudinal component that is key to old models of media use and branding. People need to form positive attitudes about products, brands and businesses. Continuing to interact with them in a way that is relevant to their interests and respectful of their time and intelligence is essential. It adds to the context of trust in which all interactions must take place.

Conversion. Attention and interaction are wonderful, but at some point marketers have to create a customer. Online marketers often follow the direct-response model, using incentives to convert the prospect. That works, but there are other techniques that are potentially more effective and perhaps less costly. They range from word of mouth marketing to product ratings to viral content of all kinds. These techniques have the common advantage of coming from trusted personal sources not from advertising or any obviously-marketer-sponsored communications. Marketers must also be mindful of the fact that much conversion still takes place offline and integrate their strategies accordingly.

Loyalty. Old models stopped with the exhortation that marketers must create loyal customers. That’s still true. A quality product is a large part of that but this is an age of mostly parity products. If the product is not the keystone for loyalty, what is? It is the customer experience—from a consistently user-friendly and customer-responsive site to all the elements of the offline user experience. Think JetBlue. A reasonable business model and outstanding customer service created strong customer loyalty. That loyalty allowed them to weather (pun intended) the experience on Valentine’s Day, but customers made it quite clear that continuation of major customer inconvenience was not an option. David Neeleman, JetBlue CEO apologized publicly and insists that he is listening to customers. A touch of humanity never hurts.

Evangelism. Loyal customers are likely to be evangelists anyway. Give them tools to be more active. “Post your,” “Share this with your friends,” “Join our community discussions” all leverage the incredible power of WOM.

Evangelism and social media tools complete the cycle. They attract the attention of new potential customers. The marketer has to be ready to start the cycle over again, not when it’s convenient to broadcast a marketing message, but at the moment the individual customer enters the process.

Inside the process circle are two elements that keep it going:

Content supplied by marketers is the “new advertising.” It is informative, relevant and available on demand. It is presented in ways that engage as well as inform.

Contribution by customers (and others) is the immeasurably valuable input from the previously-voiceless “mass market.” They have found their voice and it’s not going to diminish. The “voice of the customer” will only increase as time goes on and more people become comfortable with the interactive techniques of Web 2.0. It adds to marketer-supplied content—a highly credible addition. It’s the voice of the customer, spoken directly to the marketer. What more can we ask for?

Trust is both the beginning and the end. Without trust other marketing efforts will have little impact.

That’s the way I see it! How about you?
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