The face of marketing has transformed substantially.  It’s no longer a one directional banter or broadcast dais dominated by a production line of messages.  The future of marketing has signalled the end of one-way advertising as we know it.  The zeitgeist of post-advertising reigns.

In the concluding stages of the 1800’s, product marketing was product specific, hence product centric.  With the advent of radio advertising and then TV advertising in the 1900’s, the approach to product marketing revolved around the benefits products had to offer.  Through the next couple of decades communication developed an approach of being brand centric.  Soon new technology and mediums to communicate to consumers appeared, and in 1991 integrated marketing reached academical status.  At the commencement of the year 2000, marketing evolved to consumer centrism, which lead us into a post-adverting age controlled by consumers.

Betrand Russel stated, “Change is one thing. Progress is another”.  In a post-advertising age, change is evident as numerous organisations strive to reinvent themselves as consumer-centric.  But what does it mean to be truly consumer centric?  And how will this add value to a business?

To be consumer centric is to understand the heart and the soul of the consumer. Brands ought to strengthen their connection to the consumer and dissect the product offering within the contextual world of the consumer.  This will enable brands to start a brand conversation with the consumer.

Today’s world is defined by technology and consumer control.  Consumers have a complex relationship with media, where they control the messages and ultimately the brands.  The challenge is how and where brands engage with them.  In the latest research survey released by Forrester (see footnote), it is evident that consumers trust fellow consumers more than they trust brands.

Additional data released through the Forrester survey revealed that consumers hate most advertising, and:

  • Only 5% agree with advertising claims
  • 50% say brands don’t live up to the advertising promises
  • 67% complain there is too much advertising

Consumers control our brands and more specifically, the messages of the brands.  They choose how, where and when brands engage with them.  It is vital to listen to consumers.  According to Google, there are 3,5 million brand conversations taking place every day –and all of them in public.  Brands are forced to master the art of active listening to what consumers require and more importantly to what these consumers say about brands.

Although the marketing landscape has changed (it’s time to accept it), people will remain the same, driven by basic primal needs.  But the ways brands speak to consumers have also changed.  Brands have to engage consumers in a two-way conversation and leverage their insights to create worthy and recognisable brands.

Simon Mainwaring encourages today’s marketers to be “architects of the community” or referees of a shared stewardship of brands.  Shared stewardship in terms of sharing the brands’ marketing responsibility with consumers who influence the conversation.  The job to be done is to understand consumer behaviour and to build communities of interest.

Audience demographics and segmentation is not enough when planning marketing activities.  Therefore it is necessary to think of communities.

Liz Strauss states that a social community is “a group of like-minded individuals connected by interaction”.  These interactions and experiences happen daily between friends, families, colleagues, organisations and brands – both in verbal and non-verbal communication.  It is a group of people with a communal interest or connection.  Our individual reference with these groups is the way we associate or belong.  This is a community.

It is a social structure that shares collective values, aspirations and attitudes.  The binding factor is a community culture which its members identify with. Wherever this community gathers they influence each other – it’s an ongoing conversation that is reciprocally interesting or beneficial.

This means that we need to mobilise our fans and followers (and ultimately their followers) to evangelise our brand stories on our behalf.  The consumer is now a creator,a sharer and a distributor.  We have to inspire these stories, which have become an organic, non-linear brand conversation.  This is called storytelling and occurs through time and space in a social community.

In this post-advertising age of neo-conversation – content, conversation and community has to co-exist.  It is imperative that it is relevant and has to be applied across multi-platforms in tandem to create a storytelling community.   People matter as the community, social objects inspire the conversation, and content applied in trans-media is the tool to make this happen.

These are a few guidelines to understanding this zeitgeist of neo-communication:

  1. Collaboration is key.  It starts internally at every organisation with its employees, staff and management.  It inspires a culture of co-creation and delivers true brand advocates/custodians.
  2. Understand the consumers, the way they converse and the technology that drives them.
  3. Don’t follow what other brands are doing.  Be unique and inspiring.
  4. Listen carefully to your community in order to formulate insights to inspire the brand and communication strategy, and finally the conversation.

This neo-conversation is not about an award-wining 30-second TV spot idea.  It’s not about shifting all your marketing efforts to banner ads.  It’s not about activating a social media profile.  It’s not about building a campaign website for the sake of it.  It’s not about applying a billboard to an email.  It is about a simplistic platform with many big ideas, executed in many different marketing channels (transmedia) working together supported by relevant content for each channel.  Start the conversation now and convert your consumers to disciples of your brand.

Footnote: Forrester Research, Consumer Technographics Benchmark, “Understand the digital consumer.  Make better decisions.”

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