Marketing and Communication in the Network Era

Finish first and people notice. Take the top position twice in a row and people get curious. I did, when looking at results of a recent report from the Association of National Advertisers. A member poll reported that creating an integrated marketing communications program was the member’s top concern for a second consecutive year. Why the sudden interest in integrated communications? As marketers, the rules have changed. In the past, traditional marketing and communication was about getting people to do things. In today’s Network Era, the emphasis has shifted from controlling every interaction to influencing outcomes.

It all used to be so simple. Prior to the 1990’s, call it the Golden Age of Marketing, represented a time of one-way communication, where marketers were in total control of the message and how the message was distributed. Marketers “owned” the brand and created awareness through mass communications in the form of TV, print, radio, and sponsorships. For example, the Women’s Tennis Association tour gained significant visibility through sponsorship of The Virginia Slims Circuit – a successful sponsorship promotion for women’s tennis, as well as Phillip Morris tobacco.

By the mid-90’s two-way communications ushered in the Age of Internet Marketing. New broadband technology, coupled with faster computers and better software, enabled marketers to solicit input and feedback from customers in ways never before possible. Massive amounts of data were collected to help improve offers and build loyalty across profitable customer segments. Launched only months apart in 1985, Amazon and eBay were companies born of the Internet age.

The explosion of Web 2.0 technology has brought about a new challenge for marketers, the Network Era. The dynamic between customers and marketers has shifted once again. Marketers must recognize it’s impossible to totally control the relationship. Influencing key stakeholders and facilitating the customer experience is the best that can be hoped for. In a customer-centric world, the old push marketing model no longer works. Customers are telling companies what they want and don’t want. The days of companies telling customers what they are going to get are over. In today’s networked word, brands need to engage stakeholders in new ways. Marketers no longer “own the brand,” they must embrace services that add value and participate in the conversation in an open, transparent, and authentic way.

Unfortunately, too many marketers still operate from the old paradigm. They have forgotten a critical lesson: people hate to be sold to, but they love to buy. In the Network Era marketers have powerful new tools that too often disrupt, interrupt, and annoy. But consumers have grown more sophisticated and capable of filtering out the distractions. Consumers have developed their personal “ignore filter,” after being inundated by the onslaught of too many email messages, direct mail promotions, and the latest scourge of marketing promotion, the unwanted text message. Marketers need to understand, it’s not that consumers don’t like a company’s product or service; it’s about consumer fatigue from the constant selling.

In a recent conversation I had with the Marketing Director for a telecommunications company, the discussion turned to the issue of customer contact. As a telecom company, access to customer data was not an issue. The company has complete profiles of each customer. The company has used this information in deciding how and when to contact a customer. If a customer is always three days late in paying their bill, the data shows this. For reasons of customer satisfaction, the company has chosen to take no action. In other cases, they may send an SMS message rather than a more formal warning notice if payment is not received on time. The electronic message is less expensive and improves the customer’s overall experience with their service provider.

In the Network Era, marketers have access to new tools and new ways to communicate. Successful marketers will be those who realized that today, more than ever before, delivering the right message, to the right customer, at the right time is their top concern.

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