Regular readers of this blog know that we’re big advocates of inbound marketing.
But why? What are the overall trends that have led to the erosion of traditional marketing’s effectiveness and the rise of inbound marketing’s success?
Here are four ways the game has changed.
1. Media Fragmentation, Clutter & Skepticism
When I was young, TV had CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS. (This was before the arrival of cable and its mind-blowing 36 channels.) We also had the New York Times, Newsday, Newsweek and People Magazine. On the radio, we listened to Z-100 and WPLJ.
Basically, those were all the available channels that advertisers had to reach people. Sure, we got some direct mail, and the occasional telemarketer interrupted our dinner. But that happened a lot less than it does today.
The typical consumer has hundreds of TV channels to watch, plus endless amounts of online video. She can read millions of blogs, listen to thousands of podcasts, and the entire world’s history of literature and news is at her digital fingertips.
She also blocks 350 spam emails before breakfast.
So much for a captive audience.
2. Uncontrollable Conversations
Years ago, marketers could keep secrets. They could limit the available information about a product or service to just what they wanted you to know.
But those days are long gone. Now consumers can talk to each other whenever they want, however they want, and say whatever they want – and marketers have no direct control over any of it. And we all know the seemingly small actions of individual consumers can have major consequences online (remember the butterfly effect?).
3. The Self-Sufficient Customer
In ancient times, marketers tried to reach consumers while they read their morning newspapers or watched the evening news. But information has clearly shifted from a push model to a pull model, and this has large consequences for marketers.
The Internet is always open for business, and it’s quite mobile. Nowadays, sellers and marketers may not even get to speak with buyers at the start of a sales process. Instead, those buyers may do their research on Google. They may read blogs. They may get recommendations from their peers on social networks.
By the time they finally do speak with your salespeople, your customers may know your products and services even better than you do.
4. Cheaper, Faster, Better
The cost and complexity of creating and distributing content has become unprecedentedly low. Now anyone can develop niche content that attracts a hyper-targeted audience without regard to availability or geography. As production costs come down, forward-thinking companies are acting like traditional publishers, creating content that’s actually useful, engaging, and shareable for their customers, anywhere, anytime.
Google and Facebook have democratized business opportunity. Twitter lets people share information faster than any traditional news group or advertising agency. And YouTube enables everyone to become their own individual TV channel.
Poor marketers… It’s great to have so many more channels to utilize now, but how can you break through all that clutter?
What Does It All Mean?
These four evolutions in business and consumer behavior have diminished the effectiveness of traditional marketing. But they also help explain the rise of inbound marketing, which benefits from the same circumstances that cause traditional marketing so much trouble:
- Endless connectivity
- Consumer empowerment
- A wide open playing field
Today’s marketers know that traditional advertising is in peril, and they’re adapting in order to survive and succeed.
What Are the New Rules of Marketing?
Today, we find ourselves in a world where our customers are in control, easily exchanging information about pricing, customer service, or product quality. We know that a single negative comment will be archived forever on Google, and has the potential to be discovered by the masses and spread virally on Facebook and Twitter before we even have our first cup of coffee.
We know that deeper and more honest engagement with our customers is the only way to communicate. Gone are the days of obfuscation and “controlling the message.” Today, we go with the flow and adapt mid-stream, because to cling to the shore is to be swept away in the current of someone else’s conversation.
We’ve seen how breakthrough marketing campaigns can achieve spectacular results practically overnight, but we also realize that those successes are the exceptions to the more general rule of clutter. When everyone can create media, standing out becomes increasingly difficult. “Viral success” may get the media’s attention, but it’s not the only way for modern businesses to connect with customers, build relationships, improve service and increase profits.
The marketing world has changed. It’s time to invest in what works now.
Note: A wonderful resource that gets into a lot of these themes in greater depth is the book “Life After the 30-Second Spot,” by Joseph Jaffe. The book was published in 2005, but has become even more relevant in 2011. Thank you, Joseph, for inspiring this blog post.
Just for fun, here are some vintage 30-second TV spots to remember the “good ol’ times” for advertisers: