The social web has turned our environment into a meritocracy, a place where effective marketing is extremely hard to perform. Both concepts are, in fact, intrinsically incompatible. The latter is basically about telling people “My products and my services are really (really!) great and you will be truly sorry if you don’t get them for yourself”. Yet a meritocracy grants only power to those who deserve it, on the basis of what they create or share.
Today’s consumers are wary of advertisements or websites dictating what they should do or think. They have their friends and peers for that, thank you very much. And they will only recommend products that actually do what they are supposed to, because that’s what pals do. Sprinkling some marketing fairy dust on mediocre offers won’t cut it in these transparent times. Working for a company with mediocre or even bad products is actually career suicide for a marketing professional today.
So if you cannot just ‘tell’ consumers how great you are, how then should you steer your marcom strategy in a meritocracy? Here are three golden tips. Be quiet. Put your customers to work. Instead of trying to convince consumers, share useful insights and show your value.
Shut up and listen
The best marketers of today know how to pay attention rather than put themselves in the spotlight. Companies no longer dictate markets. It’s the consumers who are in charge. Listen carefully to what they say and do. Better still, ask them yourself. Make sure that you mean it. Don’t ask for feedback and then ignore it. Integrate it, like GE notoriously does when it asks customers for advice.
Put consumers to work
What better way to earn merit from consumers, than by involving them? Starbucks, Fluevog Shoes, Threadless, P & G or Heineken have been doing it successfully for years. While the sharing economy is raging outside and customers are actually turning into the competition, this advice is more strategic than ever before. If you pull customers inside the borders of your company with co-creation efforts, they will make the transition from ‘enemy’ to partner. Give them a reason to fight by your side instead of against you. Make sure your customers trust, respect and value the middleman that you are. The step to cutting you out altogether is very short in this peer-to-peer economy.
It is actually an iron-clad value cycle: you give value to your customer, but your customer gives it to you as well. Understand that your customers are the ‘raw material’ for your products. But always make sure that you focus on the outcome (like speed of delivery and transportation) not on the solution (faster horses).
Show them, don’t tell them
Information is king on the web, and consumers are forever looking for free advice. Brands that share insights and intelligence, earn respect and trust. On top of that, they actually show their merit, instead of trying to `sell’ it with words. They prove their expertise, instead of justifying it. That’s why content marketing is one of the best approaches in a meritocracy. It uses the exact same mechanisms of the social web and integrates them into the marketing approach.
Traditional marketing no longer works in an environment that is driven by merit. Make sure you adapt your strategy before you alienate all of your customers.
(image: Thomas Hawk, Flickr)