Sunday, June 18, 2006

Social Business Networks and Marketing

This article is about Personal Branding and the Marketing revolution.

I've been reading a few informative books and articles over the last few weeks and I am no marketing expert, but as an expert in business change I thought it might be fun to share some thoughts about the developments and hopefully promote some challenging debate here about Ecademy's role as a supporting toolset for developing out own personal branding to support our marketing needs.

When mankind first started trading he developed markets as a place to bring people together and allow them to demonstrate what they had and what they did and decide, there and then, whether to trade. Marketing was via experience of the product at the market, Of course they didn't have the means of communicating in the way we do today.

Marketing version 0.9
Originally, no printing, no email, no Internet, nothing. But by word of mouth and travelling some markets became popular and ultimately international. Where East met West markets for Spices and rare eastern goods sprung up to satisfy an increasing demand from the west who were prepared to travel long distances to buy and to sell.

Marketing Version 1.0
Printing came along and then the postal system and Marketeers began to put the technologies together. They had spent time developing advertising copy, collateral to describe their products and services and now they could start to send information to people they didn't know. They talked about what they knew to people who they didn't know in the hope of persuading a purchase. More and more Marketing became about putting the product in front of as many people as possible, of taking the known product to the unknown masses. One thing to many people.

Some have called this Marketing version 1.0. Marketing departments the world over controlled the message and the channel. They knew their target audience, but not their audience, they know the message they are sending but not the message that is received. They left the closure of the loop, the sales themselves, to the sales teams whose motivation was the deal and not feedback on how the message was working.

It works, don't get me wrong, it works, but it continues to involve huge sums of money.

New technologies (and new regulation) brought us to a new place - a place where email and phone marketing simply magnified the numbers and reach for products and services beyond expectation or our capability to control.

Marketeers realised (at about the same time as the regulators) that blanket mailing, emailing and calling, in the hope of finding the customer with the need and the desire to buy might be counter productive. Perhaps if they could engage in what looked like conversation and deal with individuals they might make more progress. Segmentation and channel focus became important. Companies started to talk to tighter subsets of their potential customers through controlled channels in a way that made the message look more personal. Ultimately, with full permission based marketing (and it's worth reading Seth Godin's seminal book on this subject - see here) it became possible to talk to individuals about their needs through a segmented advertising and marketing campaign structure. Potential customers effectively told the company about their preferences and chose who to be sold to. Marketing became dealing with selling the known to the known.

Collateral moved from paper to static websites (brochureware) and a web presence became a hygiene factor for businesses. Most people now look for a company and what it offers on the web before they make a decision.

This might be called Marketing version 1.5

The Dawn of Marketing v2.0
Blogging, network interactivity, chat, electronic rumours and the rise of social networks are forcing marketing to develop and evolve. What is being launched now is a whole new version with new ways of doing old stuff.

Social network sites with high blogging and electronic interaction do something that companies have never had to worry about. They allow customers to talk in real time about how the company is doing. They work around the globe around the clock. A rumour can become reality before you even know it was a thought. You no longer control the message you are just a part of the message machine with as much capability as everyone else, and as little. Even a short search on ecademy brings up some favourite enemies in the corporate world.

There is a big impact here, if a company does something new and radical it's often communicated very fast, especially if it is not liked. We now talk about experiences, and we talk about them in places where the words remain long after we have moved on ourselves.

If we do have a bad experience and we do blog about it, then within a few hours it's been picked up by the search engines and cached, whatever the company does and whatever we do to blog news about their great recovery, (even deleting the original post) we cannot remove the evidence of of our original posting. Perhaps others will have quoted from it, and, more importantly, cached copies exist for a long time and are easily found.

Socially networked marketing (Marketing v2.0) allows anyone to talk about you and your products to anyone without your permission and without your knowledge. Marketing is now about the unknown message to the unknown potential customer. It has become about conversations and communities.

There is only one way to be connected with both and that is to take part in them, to listen and contribute to the conversations and to support the community. In the long run corporates will get the message (and few have done so already) and join the fray, expect it to change. Because that is inevitable, but for a while we hold all the marketing cards for the corporate world.

Smaller businesses and the self employed have taken to Social Networks for support and help and gradually also to enhance their marketing. Your business may be small but your need to compete in the marketing pool for the attention of your clients is as real now as it was 30 years ago. It's just that right now, we have the tools to do this and we have the knowledge, and we have it way ahead of those with the money to drown out our message. It's the best time ever to drive personal brand to the forefront.

It's risky and that's why the corporate world is slow on the uptake. It's risky because companies no longer control the message that is being distributed about them. Perhaps the most famous example of a big corporation beginning to get the idea was General Motors who provided the tools and a load of snippets for members of the public to create their own advertisement for a Chevy Tahoe SUV. Many people started taking potshots, but many more enjoyed the opportunity and in the round GM reported significant success from the campaign. Here's a piece from the New York Times about it.

General Motors recognised that they could not censor the content that people came up with, They chose to let them all run and people respected them for their transparency and openness. The contest generated 4 million page views and 400,000 unique visitors. By most measures it was an outstanding success. Some of the results of this consumer generated material (CGM) can be found here - Although GM controlled the output they chose to use for traditional advertising these ads are not hard to find and GM have acknowledged that this is an important source of consumer feedback too

Mastercard ran a similar campaign too, for the 'Priceless' ads. Some of the submissions were, frankly, hilarious, but totally unsuitable for television.

The consensus is shifting, before too long the risks of not seeking consumer generated material might be higher than the risks of doing so, in any event it's likely that consumer generated material will be generated whether asked for or not.

Marketing 2.0 and Ecademy
Everything we do here we open to comment and challenge, we encourage people to talk about us when we are not there, we make it easy to be found by people we don't know and have them say things about us we cannot control, but based on what we are, what we do, how we come across and what we write. It has never been more important to be consistent, and it has never been more important to be open and transparent and accepting of others views.

My business works with senior people working for corporates and business executives and owners - I know that whenever I go to see them, whether to sell to them (and increasingly when being sold to by them too) I see that they have been to my company's website and searched for me (personally) on Google. They have my Ecademy profile. I expect them to check me out. The message is that we have to be consistent, we have to know what they will find, and we have to manage our image, our brand as well as we can.

This opportunity to gather material and build brand and knowledge and reach is here now and available for us to leverage through the Ecademy platform, for a tiny cost. Our opportunity to advocate others without being asked, of building and supporting the efforts of others is something that the corporates are only now beginning to invest in. Right now, when it's done right, people here can reach further and faster than their corporate competitors and those competitors can't move fast enough to catch us. Fantastic.......

William M Buist
Accelerating business success by making dysfunctional teams or newly formed teams effective - fast.
T: 01291 622598 E: W :

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