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Eclectic Thought Samples From Larry Burns

The Search for the Holy Grail: One-by-One Marketing

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I recently rediscovered this article, which I wrote in June of 2001, for one of the many trade magazines that have disappeared over the years. At the time, the industry was still talking a lot about one-to-one marketing, back when Peppers and Rogers had first written their influential book, The One to One Future.

Reading my article, I saw that I had used the term “one-by-one.” “With the added credibility of this peer-to-peer communication, the result is a highly effective one-by-one campaign that takes traditional word-of-mouth advertising to new heights because of the speed at which information can be shared.” This statement will be 12 years old shortly – and I still recognize that we’re not there yet. The fact that I used a phrase like “traditional word-of-mouth advertising” just shows me how caught up I was in the excitement of those heady days.

Fast forward a decade-plus, to today. People are even more inundated by data streams and increased marketing messaging delivered in ways I could not even have imagined in 2001. Back then I talked about, “the amount of clutter… as a result of cable, satellite TV, PDA’s, the Internet and other media.” We were struggling with all of those marketing vehicles well before the era of smartphones. There would be no Facebook until 5 years later, no Twitter, Pinterest or any of the myriad marketing options both on and offline that have multiplied exponentially since then. I have to laugh at the naivety of complaining about complexity; yet that is always the way of life – we always see where we are as the most complex world ever imagined – until tomorrow arrives.

Now, as marketers, our real desire and purpose has always been to better understand the people who are buying our products, and why they do so. Why? To create and offer products that people actually want to buy and use. Today, it is becoming common knowledge that the “Path to Purchase” includes some notion of the “Zero Moment of Truth,” so the critical nature of peer-to-peer communication has become an accepted part of our marketing landscape.

One-by-One Marketing = Social Media + Big Data’s Logical Evolution

In 2001, I was describing what started out in trade press vernacular as “viral marketing,” which morphed to “WOM marketing” and now exists under the terribly broad heading of “social media.”     The reality of the ZMOT, coupled with the speed of information transference and the continuing  skepticism for marketing messages so many humans have adopted all contributed to the new environment where our brands live. Our new ability to harness “Big Data” as a valued contributor to the “personalization” of communications should add immensely to our potential to speak one-by-one to our customers. While our tools, techniques and spending are still slowly evolving (and yes, nothing beats awareness building like TV), it is abundantly clear that the way we must communicate with and persuade people to consider our brands has radically changed. So what do we do now?

It’s No Longer About Marketing to People, It’s About Marketing With Them

How do we give advocates of your brand a voice, and how do we let that voice be amplified? You need to find your advocates and learn from them – listen to what your consumer base is saying instead of putting words in their mouths. Understand the context your brand fits in as part of your customers’ lives; every brand has a role, even if that role is something you may discover needs to be, shall we say, ‘repositioned” for the brand’s future health.

This is happening with increasing frequency today, particularly at the retail level, as people shop. We simply did not have mature listening devices back in 2001, when the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) was just being formed. Reading through some of the blogs from the last holiday season, the threads of this theme of treating consumers as a human beings, empowering them to talk about your brand and providing respect in brand interactions are quite apparent, so we are making a lot progress. I know these concepts are not new, but today, I believe we are finally arriving at a place where we can harness effective technology that permits us to execute these ideas.

To me, it can be thought of in very simple, human terms – if I am next in line, if I arrive at your site, if I get your message on a device of MINE, if I open a note from you, if I give you MY time and attention than I expect your total attention. I want you to take care of ME, and when I’m done, you can take care of the next person. You need to treat ME with respect, as an individual and most importantly, as someone you know matters to your business. “I-marketing” is today’s reality – pure and simple.

So, companies need to figure out how to treat each customer uniquely. That’s the new marketing Holy Grail. I don’t think anybody has figured it out completely… yet. Nonetheless, I found it interesting that this concept and theme have resonated with me for a very long time. It is great to be in the marketing world now, when the ability to truly serve people and help them live their lives as humans have always wanted to can be accomplished… One By One.


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