Two examples of what I mean. Both illustrate the realities of what can only be called a new, skeptical age of marketing.
1. An entrepreneurial young man starts an executive dating company and it takes off. So much so that he is invited to speak on “The Today Show,” a stalwart national morning TV program that’s watched by millions of Americans. He’s excited and expects to pick up a lot of business. The result? A few more visitors to the web site, but that’s it. Are you kidding? National TV and not one new customer? Only months later, after his company is mentioned in various blogs related to online dating, does my young friend realize a significant amount of new business. These blogs did not talk about his company directly… they were speaking about the problems of online dating and, ‘oh, by the way, there is a company that supposedly helps executives find dates’. That simple line delivered by someone other than a company spokesperson is all it took.
2. A now best selling author releases his first ‘how to’ book and does the usual talk show rounds. The response? Same as above… not much. But… the release of the book is blogged about on a very popular lifestyle site – ‘oh, by the way, has anyone read this book’? – and sales go through the roof. Literally 10,000 copies fly out of Amazon.
You see a pattern, don’t you? Cynical consumers do not believe most of what companies and their agencies say about a product. The idea of speaking directly to a possible consumer about your product is seen as ‘sales,’ as hype, as one step up from snake oil.
(One very important caveat: if you have the money to run with enough frequency, forget all of the above. Frequency works and it doesn’t matter if the creative is good or not. Keep showing the ad and people will eventually get on board – like Goebbels’ ‘big lie’ theory of propaganda.)
Today, consumers believe something when they get the message in a more round about way… which is the beauty of social media (because it’s the engine that powers ’round about’ information distribution). When design engineers, for example, are exchanging ideas on LinkedIn about robotics systems, and one of them says, ‘I saw a machine today that used Brand X flexible cables’, that kind of talking around the product is seen as real, unbiased, truthful and leads to sales.
If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months, I know what you’re thinking: “You always say that social media allows you to talk directly with customers, now you’re saying that companies shouldn’t do this?”
No that’s not what I’m saying. You can and should talk directly to potential customers, but about things like new technologies, problems and solutions, general industry developments. This seemingly ‘direct’ communication is actually a form of talking around your product. But as soon as the discussion turns to, “our product is the result of years of research, making the new XB-1000 a world class walnut cruncher,” you’ve lost the sketch and the customer’s attention.
It’s tricky… there’s a fine line… this is not direct response so new business isn’t going to develop overnight, it rarely does in B2B. But talking around your product (and getting so-called unbiased experts to give you the nod) is the way to go these days, unless, as I said, you have very deep advertising pockets!
What a tome I’ve written. I apologize. Let me put it simply.
If I walk into a party and say “Hi, I’m Nick and I’m very cool,” people hate me. If I walk into the same party an hour after two women were talking about how interesting Nick is, well… I’m golden.