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Chicago Conversations

Last month I spoke on a panel at a Marketing conference at Electronic Arts in Redwood City with several marketing professionals speaking about innovations in marketing.  The panel was set up a bit around brand marketing as well as social media so those on the panel spread across a large group of marketing functions as well as types of companies.  After all, marketing for a consumer packaged goods company is not the same as marketing for an online gaming company.  We have a much better educated consumer these days.

The questions were pretty basic about our own particular experiences.  I always think that each industry, product and company has its own challenges/barriers to overcome.  In the entertainment business where I have run affiliate marketing partnerships for the last 10 years, the challenges are very unique whether an established brand such as Ticketmaster or a hot new start up like Reel.com was back in 1997.  It is hard to give advice when such antedotes do not apply to other situations.  In the end the basic principles of managing your brand are still the same though and  times have changed in brand marketing, product, promotion, placement, and pricing (the 4 P’s) are still very important and fundamental to the marketing of a product or service.

There did come a point during Q&A though when the panel was asked about what is the new hot thing or what is innovative in Marketing today.  Many on the panel hesitated and I started to agree with some of the responses that there is nothing really new and innovative.  Maybe there were new channels such as the internet and social networks where placement was just more timely and pricing is more discounted and services and browser based products seemed to succeed better than physical products.

Just as the conversation stopped I asked everyone if they knew who the CEO of Electronic Arts is (this panel was taking place in their building after all) and a few hands were raised.  I asked the same about Proctor & Gamble.  Again hardly anyone raised their hands.  I then followed and asked if anyone felt either of those brands knew who they were.  Silence.  When I asked the same of Amazon, Microsoft and Zappos, the names Bezos, Ballmer and Hsieh were blurted out and hands were raised and people agreed those companies sure knew a whole hell of a lot about who their comsumers are.  For years, companies have been wanting to “own” the customer so that they could market to them as efficiently as possible on a 1 to 1 basis.  Well the big deal and innovative piece is that these companies are now able to do this.  Faces now represent the brand more than ever.  Sure we all knew Lee Iacocca, but he never had a dialogue like new companies do today.  The opportunity to get to know your customer is there so that the dialogue is no longer about nameless faces and people talking to you from a call center in some 3rd world country asking you about the weather.

Sending an email or letter to a company CEO used to be hard enough as nobody gave you their information.  Now people like CEO Tony Hsieh of Zappos have their own public Twitter accounts where you can have a public or private dialogue with him about how much like his company or your favorite pair of shoes that you want him to carry.  Now while that may not be quite that personal and while Tony might not respond to everyone, it is quite empowering to the customer that at least their voice will be heard.  In this day and age our society always wants to air their grievances and praises publicly.  Things just aren’t that personal anymore. 

That said, in the world of music, there is a lot of impersonalization going on when it comes to music discovery.  It always used to be that you had one or two good friends who you could rely on to recommend a hot new song.  You would also rely on your favorite DJ to introduce you to something cool.  Nowadays, radio stations are being condensed, Djs are now replaced online by music sites where you self select and program your own radio station and or get recommendations from perfect strangers.  I personally find the recommendations on iTunes to be very off-putting.  Artists such as Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) and Matt Morris (@Mattmorris) are getting personal on Twitter, interacting with their fans.  Backstage passes mean a whole new thing with artists granting you the opportunity to meet them before a show and take photos for just a little more money.  Gone are the days when the artists were held on a pedastal like gods and you swayed in a mosh pit of 50,000 people barely able to see the band.  People want to touch and feel the merchandise.  My 7-year old daughter now believes that every concert starts with getting together with the band for a photo shoot.  She doesn’t root for people on the awards shows because of the music they play but rather on how nice they were to her when we went to see them play.  She wants me to text them during the concert to win an after concert meeting as well.  Of course my job affords me these luxuries occasionally, but as this example points out,  people have a tendency to have an affinity for those things which have a little more touch in their lives.  People don’t want to just have a photo or a poster of Lady Gaga, but they want to be in a photo with Lady Gaga and they want to put it on their Myspace page.

So here’s the point.  Social media now allows us to do what we used to do on a more realtime basis.  We used to get advice from the 3-4 resources in our lives that shaped our tastes.  Now we still can, but we are able to share more information and on a more timely basis.  We’re also able to get more information in your hands so you can make a better decision.  Sometimes the brand, or serice or product is presented to you in a way that is more personal as well.  Your friends who told you about the next great thing, now can just send you a quick note via Twitter to your cell phone.  Why is this important?  Because you’d rather hear that advice from a face and name you know rather than a person you’ve never met.  We learn more about each other and sometimes we get to give feedback that someone will really use.

In the end its all a personal sale, a personal purchase that means more to you than it probably would have 10 years ago.  Its a real change in marketing evolution.  It’s about at least three things that help social media to change the way we make our buying decisions today: 1) More product information 2) More Personalization/customization and 3) more timely interaction. But remember,  it’s not that new.  It’s just that the social media world just makes us more social.  It’s just not a good social in my mind.  Playing games online through a virtual network rather than in the same room, sharing music through file sharing rather than having listening parties around a turntable, and sending someone a virtual rose for Valentines as opposed to handing a real rose is social, but just not the same.  We run the risk of building very loose relationships.  In the world of customer acquisition, the cost of those relationships should not be as high as those we have paid for in the past.