Marketing in the digital age: Consumers as collaborators

25 June 2014| by Paul Avery

Marketing in the digital age


Marketing has changed at an unprecedented pace with the advent of the internet and society’s near ubiquitous integration of both social media and a hitherto unparalleled access to information.

In the minds of many, the consumers have seized control and marketers now have to think like publishers, delivering high quality content and engaging consumers across a variety of platforms, i.e in their language and on their terms. Consumers are now in the driving seat, so maybe it’s time to starting collaborating with them rather than selling to them.

Let it sell itself

The often-quoted Peter Drucker said that, “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous”. By this he meant that the goal of those involved in marketing should be to make the product or service so interesting, so engaging, so relevant, that it literally sells itself.

That may sound like an impossible task, but just take a look at a company like Apple. Apple have a near cult-like following and have no need to actively sell their products. Each iteration of their laptop, desktop and portable products has been exquisitely marketed to elicit such an effective response from people that classic sales techniques are almost entirely redundant. All Apple need to do is point in the direction of an outlet and people will arrive, having already decided in the comfort of their own homes, in front of their web-connected devices, that they want to make a purchase.

Content marketing

Now that consumers are armed with so much knowledge (thanks to the internet) and have total freedom of choice (through global supply chains), you really can’t afford to spin ‘salesy’ hyperbole around a product, because they’ll quickly expose you.

With a wealth of knowledge, 'tech specs' and customer reviews at the fingertips of millions you can’t just say that your product is great – you have to prove it. What’s more, the ‘decision making’ step in the buyer’s journey is no longer a personal process, it’s driven by crowdsourced information, so you have to account for that. Never has content that illustrates your expertise been more powerful for drawing customers in and proving your worth.

By maintaining an online presence and frequently delivering information and valuable content on your chosen specialist area, you’ll create awareness – of your products and your brand. Nobody wants a salesperson invading their space – either physically or online – and so providing people with engaging and relevant content that provides real value makes them come to you, actively seeking you as an expert on the topics they’re interested in. As the late British adman Paul Arden said, “Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you”.

Monitoring your brand

Wait, Stop! Before you start churning out content, remember: the internet is not a broadcast medium. It provides an opportunity for a multi-way conversation between all stakeholders, where anyone can have their say and be heard by the masses. Credibility is not earned by shouting your expertise to the world. Instead, you have to listen and actively engage your customers in an ongoing dialogue about topics that they find interesting (not necessarily the ones that you want to talk about!). If you can get this right, these consumers will become brand advocates, effectively becoming a part of your marketing machine and drawing new prospects into your sales funnel.

Does 24/7 really mean 24/7?

While all this may be the perfect opportunity to interact with your targets on an ongoing basis, many businesses are put off by the 24/7 nature of interacting with consumers via the web and social media. However, this doesn’t mean you need to have someone on ‘social media standby’ ready to respond to a negative comment at 3 a.m., but rather being seen actively online and frequently engaging. Of course, respond as fast as you can, but In the B2B world 24 hours is still an acceptable time frame to respond to a tweet, Facebook post or LinkedIn comment, reducing some of the risk (and stress) of starting to engage online.

Moving with the times

These days, people are active, savvy consumers with direct access to information about your products, services, team and company. It’s now more important than ever to invest in developing an integrated marketing and communications strategy designed to help turn this new breed of consumer into an ally rather than a potential foe.

To stand out as a valuable member of the community, we now have to be as active online as the customer/consumer has become, combining new and innovative modes of engagement, from blog posts and interesting tweets, to tried and tested approaches such as whitepapers and networking events.

The purchase is no longer the end point, it’s the relationship afterwards that's important; you need to build trust to establish that relationship, all the way through the sales cycle and beyond. If you provide the consumer with the information they want and need early during the process, you’ll establish your company as a smart and trusted member of the industry. Trust us, you’ll reap the rewards later on, as you’ll be top of mind when the time comes for the customer to look for solutions to their challenges.