The challenge facing marketers in the 21st century is cultivating meaningful 2-way relationships with consumers. The rapid advances in technology, most notably with social media, are putting pressure on brands to connect with and engage consumers like never before. Although there are more tools available today than ever before to facilitate this, it is often difficult to drill down how to actually go about developing interactive relationships to deliver value. So why is this such a big issue in marketing today? Basically, this pressure for brands to interact has been consumer-driven. There are two reasons that this is the case.
First, today’s consumers are much more discerning and ‘picky’ with their consumption of marketing messages. This is simply a result of the amount of advertising that is out there. Some studies have revealed that we are exposed to 5,000 advertising messages daily! This means that there is so much advertising ‘noise’ out there with thousands of brands competing for our attention. Realistically we can only take in so much, so therefore we as consumers only respond to the advertising stimuli that cuts through the noise and is most interesting to us. Because there is so much advertising through the traditional marketing communication media like TV commercials, print ads, billboards etc., marketers have been forced to turn to other avenues to grab and hold our attention. Enter social media marketing and online advertising.
Secondly, consumers are becoming increasingly sceptical of the traditional forms of marketing communication. This only compounds the issue, as what has always worked for marketers historically is now fast becoming redundant, or at least not as effective. Academic studies have found that consumers do not trust the traditional marketing media as much as they used to, so this has been another cause that has pressured marketers into pursuing different communication media. Brands cannot simply send out advertising messages and expect the market to blindly ‘buy in’ to the message and walk through the shop door.
Instead, consumers today are looking for brands that they can make their own and affiliate themselves with. It is so often the products we buy that define who we are, the interests we have and the activities we engage in. Therefore, along with designing product offerings that can be personalised and customised to the individual’s needs, brands need to ensure they provide ‘contact points’ with consumers to encourage engagement and repeated brand interaction. Brands do this by offering subscriptions, forums, fan pages, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, or just amazing products that fit the lives of consumers perfectly. This 2-way flow of value between the brand providing inherent value beyond just slick advertising, and the consumer engaging to create ongoing opportunities for marketing exposure is the ‘holy grail’ of modern marketing.
I heard an Apple Marketing executive speak via podcast the other day about when he was working on promoting new-release Apple products. For Apple, engagement with the consumer was not enough. Instead, Apple’s product marketing was designed in such a way that it was interactive and integrated, which led to the ultimate objective of consumer entanglement. This meant that once the consumer was hooked into the Apple brand via one product, the seemingly only logical next step was to buy the next product, then the next product and so on, until they felt satisfied that the brand was an integral part of their daily life. Think for example the iPod, which led to the iTunes program, which fitted in with the Mac’s other easy to use programs. And just look at the brand now – there is a level of integration across all the products that has created not just consumers, but Apple fanatics. The culture around the Apple brand is simply astounding, and shows the benefits of pursuing a marketing strategy that goes beyond ramming advertising down the throats of consumers, and instead invites them to be part of a brand’s culture.