People, people, people
It’s ironic that digital media (at first sight so cold, and, well, digital), have released a surge of creative out-pouring and brought people to the fore.
Clay Shirky, the internet writer and thought leader points out: “we are living through the largest expansion of expressive capabilities in the history of the human race”(New York Times, January 15, 2007). Never before have so many been involved in the creative expression of so much!
People as media
Marketers are now familiar with viral marketing. Just as a virus makes the infected person behave in a way that spreads the virus (by coughing and sneezing), so viral marketing spreads by the action of people. Part of the fun in receiving that cute and quirky video is being the first to send it out to your friends.
Marketers love it. People do the work, distributing the message: no media to pay for. What’s more people choose to whom they send the video. They send it to those they think will most appreciate it. No need for expensive market research and complicated media plans: people, again, do the work.
People are becoming the medium by which messages are spread. And as we saw last column, people trust messages from other people far more than any paid media. Of course creating the viral content is very hard. I don’t think anyone has the secret of producing videos that will consistently “go viral”.
People as message
Digital media have made creation of content, and publication and dissemination of content, open to all. In the old days—before we had YouTube—(that’s pre-2005) to make a video and broadcast to almost half a billion people was well beyond the resources of most!
Making videos was thought to be a specialized skill to which only the practiced and creative could aspire. To broadcast that video required access to an expensive TV station.
Now, six years after the launch of YouTube, creating videos and making them available for viewers around the world, is commonplace. To make the video and upload it is almost costless. The sheer volume of creativity that has been unleashed is mind boggling. In 6o days, more video is uploaded to YouTube alone (and YouTube is certainly not the only video hosting site), than was made by the three major US TV networks in 60 years.
Of course the quality of all that video is anything but consistent: skill, training and creativity still make a difference. But audiences are now earned not bought. Everyone, and every business, has the opportunity to have their videos seen, despite lack of budget.
For delivering “how to” information, or service advice, or quick tips to your customers, video is unrivalled and can take some of the weight off your customer support people. This use of video is sometimes call “just in time training”. The information waits patiently until customers need it. Then they search and discover the resource, just when they need it. Conventional education rests on “just in case” training: we learn lots of things that may be useful one day, and hope we haven’t already forgotten them when they’re needed.
People as people
If possible, marketers tend to steer clear of thinking about their markets as people. We talk about “targets”, “seats”, “eye-balls” etc. to try to distance ourselves from flesh and blood people.
Well, the era of mass, anonymous, marketing is nearing its close. Marketing is more and more about people: about individuals. About listening to individual customers and responding to their individual needs. This is what smart marketers have always tried to do. Digital media make this personalization possible, and affordable.
The necessary change in marketing mindset is dramatic. To go from top-down, marketer-speaks-people-listen to interactive, consumer conversations is a leap. No wonder there are so many digital marketing disasters. Digital marketers will never have the control that traditional marketers had (or possibly just thought they had).
In digital media, everyone has access. People can (and do) talk back, and expect their comments, questions, and complaints to be met with timely responses. Marketers ignore social media comments at their extreme peril.
Social media give marketers immediate, candid advice from their markets: the sort of intelligence that was once only obtainable from custom market research. Many marketers are mining the surge in people creativity for new product ideas. Listen carefully to what people are asking for in their social media, you just might find that there’s something you can deliver.
A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the Bangkok Post on April 7, 2011.
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