Thursday, March 26, 2009

Understanding Influence - Part I

Social media has fundamentally changed the world of marketing and there is no gain in going back. Marketers may no longer consider that they can “own” their brand—if indeed they ever did. Brands exist in the minds of their consumers. And social media empowers those consumers to actively participate in the conversations that define their brands.

To understand just how powerful a tool of influence social media has become, and its potential to further reinvent how we market, it helps to gain a little perspective and understand where we came from—where Part I begins.

A brief history of marketing influence

Mass Market Era. During the 1950s and 1960s, marketers developed a mass approach to selling standardized, mass-produced products to similarly standardized, undifferentiated mass consumers. For major brands, decisions were simple. Advertise heavily on one of the three major television networks and succeed. If success wasn’t automatic, fire the ad agency, freshen the creative and heavy up the media plan. Minor brands were effectively blocked from the game (and turned to more creative solutions).

Communication in the Mass Market era was all top down, company out. Whether consumers had a problem, or wanted to sing their favorite brand’s praises, their influence was pretty much limited to a closed circle of friends and contacts.

Positioning Era. In 1972, Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote a series of three articles for Ad Age that led to their groundbreaking 1980 book, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” now in its 20th printing. It recognized that advertisers and agencies don’t position products, consumers do. It suggested that companies need to determine what position their products occupy in the consumer’s mind relative to other products and then to act strategically to reinforce or change that position.

Communication options, however, did not advance with the theory. Brand marketers fought the battle for consumer’s minds with essentially the same mass media to which they’d long been accustomed. Warily, the book also identified communications clutter—that consumers were being bombarded with more and more advertising messages and beginning to pay less and less attention.

High Tech/Media Options Era. Technology and media advances in the 1980s and 1990s began to shift the tectonic plates of brand power.

Media options began to explode with the advent of cable TV. Video recorders enabled consumers to time shift their favorite programs and skip past commercials. Video games gained a large, loyal following. Special interest magazines experienced tremendous growth as well, their success providing proof of niche marketing’s value.

But most of all, the growth of the Internet and effective search tools enabled consumers to do something they never could before. Suddenly, they could find all the information about brands that they might want. And they could get that information from sources they trust, outside of the brand’s control.

The marketer’s top-down communications monopoly was broken. With the ability for individual consumers to choose when they’ll be receptive to brand communication, consumer’s were at last in control. We demanded legislation that soundly trounced unwelcome telemarketers. And wise marketers recognize us as a market of “hand raisers” who can opt in and opt out the moment we aren’t receiving value from our membership.

Social Era. The rise of social media and the ascendance of the individual alters the game again. Totally. You and I and the folks next door now have the ability to directly communicate with and influence large audiences, decision makers, CEOs and celebrities. Even President of the United States. Social media levels the playing field. Big dollars don’t equate to success as they did in the Mass Market era. Niche marketing Davids can slay their Golliaths.

Blogs. Facebook. MySpace. LinkedIn. Twitter. YouTube. Wikis. Podcasts. iTunes. Hulu. Each of us can customize our online experiences as we wish. Invite friends and business associates into our circle. Participate as a brand fan. Create a group. Launch a business. Support a cause.

And actively converse.

Whereas earlier marketing eras were primarily one-way communication. Brand to consumer or brand to distribution channel, for example. The social era is about two-way communication. Success today is about relationships. Conversations. Give and take.

You can ignore the conversation that’s going on. Or embrace it and participate. And by your participation, influence it.

Tomorrow, “Understanding Influence – Part II” will continue with 7 thoughts on how influence works in brand conversations.


Photo of 1950s family, Raleigh City Museum. "Position: Battle for Your Mind" cover from Amazon.com. Canon A5 review, Digital Photography Review.

Blog content: ©2009 Paul J. Hydzik. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Paul Hydzik grows brand value. As a brand marketer and award-winning creative leader, Paul has more than 15 years of experience driving business success from start-ups to blue chips. His strategic resume covers all aspects of B2B and B2C branding from go-to-market to consumer insight to identity development and all forms of marketing communication.


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