Hey marketers: we're living through an age of unprecedented consumer power. If you don't adapt to that fact, you may not be in business long.
That's the simple message from Incite Marketing and Communications' recent white paper, "Peacekeeper, Navigator, Student: The Marketer to 2015."
The report was written by Nick Johnson, founder and CEO of Incite, and was put together after hours of conversations with senior brand executives from companies such as L'Oréal, MetLife, Wells Fargo and Sears/Kmart in addition to conversations from 1,000 other marketing executives from companies worldwide.
The Road Ahead
As Claire Burns, chief customer officer for MetLife, told Incite: "Consumers are more powerful, have more access to information and technology, and there's a whole lot more transparency."
The rapid proliferation of social media and entertainment services have drastically altered consumer behavior, and marketers can no longer rely on traditional marketing strategies to grab people's attention. Indeed, the highly fragmented nature of today's digital environment requires companies to be as fast as, if not faster than, their customer base if they hope to satisfy their needs.
The first step towards doing this, according to Johnson, is to shift from a product-centric model to one that is customer-centric.
As the paper notes, "it is far easier [for the customer] to ignore you than ever before."
Technology lets people skip commercials, block online advertisements, unsubscribe from email lists and simply shut down marketing campaigns. Obviously, it's important to make sure that they don't do this — and here's how to do that, Johnson explained:
- Be quick or be dead. Time and again the paper comes back to speed. From responding to customer inquiries and complaints to use of actionable data to deployment on new and pertinent social mediums, the reaction time of a company will be a major factor determining the success of a campaign in this new marketing paradigm.
- Be in the right place at the right time. It's not enough to be fast -- you have to be in the right place also. This can be difficult given the variety of channels available to consumers and marketers. But identifying the right channels is just part of the game. As Johnson notes, "the number of new channels a marketer could use is increasing daily. The number of channels marketers should use is not."
- Customers expect "authentic conversation." Today's empowered consumer expects interactions with brands to be just right. And in the event they aren't, they have plenty of ways to let the world know exactly where you went wrong. "They want their experience of talking to your brand to be akin tot hat of talking with a friend ... not a corporate team of thousands spread across the globe," Johnson writes.
This means paying close attention to past interactions with a given customer, communicating across all channels with a unified voice and doing it all in a timely fashion -- preferably within an hour. Customers also expect service to be individualized: They "expect messages that are relevant, that are personalized, and that engage them specifically." It's no longer about targeted demographics, but personalized attention.
Increased communications between departments can go a long way. Consumers can't be properly captured by simple categorization, and marketers have to expect that customers will use different channels for different products. Sharing information between departments will increase a marketer's ability to meet customers where they are and when they are most receptive.
The shoe is officially -- and permanently -- on the other foot, as it were. The continued growth of social media and entertainment services will only further fragment existing consumer bases, and the company that reacts appropriately stands to gain much.
Being a successful marketer going forward will be about knowing the digital terrain, recognizing which channels are optimal for which marketing strategies, and finding ways to leverage emerging technologies -- and doing it quickly.