|By Jeev Trika||
|September 29, 2016 06:00 AM EDT||
The Context of Digital Marketing and the Consumer Conversation
One look at the comments section of an April column on digital marketing in TechCrunch, and it becomes obvious that contributor Samuel Scott, the marketing and communications director for data analytics software firm Logz.io, pushed a few hot buttons with his take on marketing tech.
Scott argues for a back-to-basics approach to marketing that roots digital strategies firmly in old-school tradition and PR principles. He calls out the communications industry for its reliance on "an echo chamber of meaningless buzzwords" in a piece now shared nearly 16,000 times, with more than 140 comments from passionate supporters, equally spirited detractors and yawns in between.
Yes, I know there are lots of people who studiously avoid the toxicity of the comments section on many posts, for good reason. I tend to think of them as user-generated content in their own right, which serves much the same purpose for ideas as customer reviews do for products and services. One of the delicious ironies about Scott's seeming exasperation with catchphrases like "content is king" - second only, perhaps, to discovering a 20-year-old post on content by Bill Gates recycled in the comments section too - is how we create content and engage with content about his content.
Sifting through the semantics, though, is to miss the point about digital marketing and its power. The evolution of digital marketing, especially for tech companies, has long since shifted away from that unidirectional approach that delivered information "packets" to the marketplace through corporate gatekeepers. Sales and other customer-facing staff, along with vendors, who once worked within the model navigated that environment on the basis of carefully crafted and controlled marketing and PR.
It's not that well-crafted messages have become irrelevant, but today's messaging is designed to connect with existing and potential customers on the basis of direct engagement and real-time communication, as evidenced by Scott's own experience with readers and their comments. Among them was Chad Pollitt, vice president of audience for Relevance in Indianapolis and digital marketing adjunct professor at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business. Pollitt was quick to articulate how the shift to real consumer control has evolved, so that brands no longer hold informational power.
"Brands are forced to either try and steer their story or let others tell it online," Pollitt concluded, adding that the change "has substantially impacted marketing fundamentals forever." So on the one hand, there is this compelling argument for time-honored strategies that resonate because human behavior in markets is foundationally the same. On the other hand, all these trends and buzzwords aside, it is now the customer at the center of innovation that has forced the evolution in marketing.
That's especially true in tech, because these consumers are likely to require more information, and have higher expectations about the quality and utility of that information, than other consumers. For one thing, the investment they're making in software and cloud-based products and services is likely to be significant. Tech companies that recognize what that value looks like to these customers - and develop their digital strategies to affirm that search for value while cultivating customer trust - are best positioned for success because they've begun by basing their messages in a relational context.
What's important to remember about that context is that the sophisticated tech consumer isn't just connecting with your business. The IT research that they're doing to compare product and service advantages, to evaluate integration and related cost savings, to make decisions that deliver success while demonstrating a rationale for the spend - that all relies on the experience and referral of their peers. These customers want to connect with a community that offers them meaningful insights, and that means they're exploring corporate sites, user reviews and recommendations of colleagues.
In the new era of digital marketing, it's critical that this user-generated content is credible and the information is valid. Consumers are driving the process, but community managers need to facilitate that process on social media and guide the user-review content - and that's not a passive role. Rather, cultivating a community means making it easy to participate, and engaging with experienced users or potential clients by active listening means real people, backing a brand-centered presence.
Tech customers may be methodical and thorough about their research, but they also want to talk to those real people - and not just at your call center. Most clients want a "reality check" that goes beyond even the best information they find online, and their unassailable confidence in review-data transparency that ensures they're getting that best information in the first place. Whenever it's possible, consider an offer to facilitate some face time for potential clients who want to connect with companies already using the products they're considering, and walk through their operations.
Beyond the digital marketing, and within all that digital marketing too, it's that personal connection that is a final step before finalizing a decision. Connecting customers, both in physical meeting or a mediated space, can deliver the win. But closer to home, it's important to remember that the core of your digital marketing strategy needs to answer the question of how customers connect with you.
One of Scott's strongest points in his controversial TechCrunch piece is that when digital marketers enter the field from the technical world, the language of algorithms and automated best practices can become the "coin of the realm" in which connecting with customers is understood. That's never really the case for the client though. Your customers expect responsiveness, and they want a sense of personal experience when they do. Their expectations for immediacy and positive resolution are higher, and these considerations are priorities when developing a smart digital marketing strategy.
On the other hand, the best tried-and-true practices of traditional marketing principles haven't disappeared - but they have dramatically changed the marketing department and, increasingly, the business processes and practices of the entire enterprise that's making that journey with them. What both do well is keep the customer in focus, and tomorrow's digital marketing success means continued investment in messages to connect with customers and keep them in user communities.
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