Up-and-Coming E-Marketing Channels

Last week, the “eCommerce RSS Radio Show” asked me to talk about new online channels available to marketers: podcasts, RSS (define) based subscriptions, and the offshoots of the consumer self-reliance trends, such as consumer-generated media (CGM).

That got me thinking about the fundamental shifts in how savvy marketers are approaching e-marketing through these new channels.

Yes, Consumers Are in Control

We hear this all the time, yet very few marketing campaigns actually demonstrate anything approaching this. We refer to consumers as targets and label them acquisitions when they do what we ask. Online, a combination of a banner and a skyscraper is typically dubbed a roadblock. Skywriters refer to beachgoers in crowded spots like Rio de Janeiro or Fort Lauderdale, FL, as captive eyeballs as there isn’t enough room on the beach to roll over; you pretty much have to look up! Ditto for theatrical ads. Doesn’t sound to me like consumers are really considered to be in control.

But they are. Foremost among the indicators is consumers’ increasing sophistication, whether in business or retail, when it comes to researching and validating information for themselves. Beginning in the early ’90s with what was called the “self-reliance movement,” people have been looking to answer for themselves questions such as, “What should I buy today?” The Internet, in particular the connection between people and information about potential purchases, hugely accelerated this notion of self-reliance.

A River Runs Through It

Amazon.com capitalized on this when it built reviews, and reviews of the reviewers. Platforms such as Amazon now firmly place the consumer in control. They’ve given rise to marketing communities that form a counterpart to the social communities that get all the press. These market-centric communities are links between people interested in a product; people who would otherwise never have met helping each make smarter purchases. Marketing platforms such as Amazon are important because they break barriers and allow truly diverse information to flow between people who normally would never have been connected, much less conversed.

Physical location is the most obvious example. Online communities let people around the world gather as if they were neighbors. But physicality is really the low-hanging fruit. The more interesting dynamic is the way in which people who normally wouldn’t have communicated begin to do just that. The prejudice thing is tossed out. This brings a whole range of new opinions and experiences that affect the purchase process.

The New Channels

Traditionally, available channels have been TV, radio, print, outdoor and direct mail. No more. Not only have at least some consumers rejected these traditional channels (though they do still work for others), what consumers use now are more complex, more finely tuned, and in general off-limits to mass marketers, such as blogs, vlogs (define), podcasts, and games.

The challenge for marketers is actually simpler than it probably sounds. It’s what I’ve been calling “social media,” something I’ll speak about at ad:tech in San Francisco next month. Social channels exist alongside traditional channels. They provide the persuasive power, the validation in the sense of self-reliance, that ads used to do all alone.

The key to using social channels is to recognize that as a marketer, you can’t push your way in. Interruptive marketing is checked at the door. When I was with GSD&M, we talked about raising the creative bar in support of the “uninvited guest,” the notion that since we’re interrupting you, we’d better make it worth your while.

Problem is, marketers can’t even dependably interrupt consumers any more. Consumers possess the technical wherewithal to block an ad before it’s ever seen. Consumers are in control and they know it. The social media channels that make this reality an upfront proposition are gaining favor. For smart marketers tapping these channels, this means their message has a chance of not only being heard, but being internalized, thought about, and passed along to someone else. That’s a major marketing win.

It’s All About Content

Increasingly, marketers must be carried in. You must create content consumers will adopt and bring to their social networks. It must legitimately address consumers’ needs: they’re far too smart to carry an infomercial into a friend’s birthday party.

HearThis.com did a 28-episode podcast series for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) in conjunction with its conference in Orlando. Not surprisingly, people learned about the show via the podcast. That was expected. Remarkable were the people who said, “Even though I’d already planned to come, because of the podcast series I got more out of the conference. Having listened to the podcasts of keynoters and selected panelists, I came to the conference with a much better understanding of what I’d be learning about. It was a like jumpstart.”

That’s the advantage of social channels; more quality time with customers and an enhanced probability of actually creating a sustainable relationship.

Talk About Something Your Customers Care About

How do you create this kind of content? Understand the issues that face your customers. This isn’t the same as understanding the reason why they should buy your product. It’s deeper than that. It’s about who they are and what concerns them. Think about global warming; people are interested in that. BP, for example, has created a new series of communications that talk about it’s commitment to proactive solutions. What can your firm do — regardless of what you actually sell — to reduce your carbon footprint? Talk about that instead.

Social channels such as podcasting give you 10 minutes with your customer. You can use this time to build a relationship rather than pitch a one-sided call to action. You can’t always do this in a :30 spot. A complex message about your response to global warming delivered in 30 seconds often comes off as disconnected from the brand. But you can do it in a podcast, over broadband video, or through an advergame.

Summary

RSS and its compatriots are the up-and-coming channels in e-marketing. They put consumers in control: RSS, for example, doesn’t require consumers divulge personal information. Together, these channels provide smart marketers with as little or as much time as they’d like with consumers, time that can be used to build a relationship. In the emerging marketing environment, those relationships are key. Build them and consumers will come.

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