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The Nature of Things: Web Marketing

For each era, there are new rules. In the web world today, marketing online has new rules. Marketing is no longer about awareness online, but about creating an experience for the consumer or customer.

I propose the new marketing goal with online marketing is about engagement. Personal engagement. Connection from user to company. Customers like what you help them do. Your offerings are appealing and designed around and with them. Customers are delighted because they can exchange usages with one another and therefore find more ways to use your gadget. Joy of engagement brings them back again and again.

What doesn’t work?
In Web 2.0, online marketing that doesn’t work looks like one of these three scenarios:

    • Online brochures
      Companies like Sears, Panasonic, Nikon are all creating websites that are–for all purposes–glorified brochures. You might as well allow customers to simply download a PDF of the traditional print medium and be done with it. These sites do not recognize a visitor for their status as a customer, their interests in particular verticals, or where they are in the decision process. In Sears’ case, to understand a product means that I am also shopping for a product. They assume that’s the reason I’m on the site. But I think there are other reasons for engagement and most companies have yet to really figure that piece out.
    • Blogging as pitchman
      We’ve all seen it, maybe even done it. A company adds a blog section with executive pictures and supposed content. Based on what they’ve posted, it’s clear the PR team had just a wee-bit-too-much influence and it sounds more like a press release and less like a person. Blogs were never supposed to be this clean. They’re meant to be a conversation. Like normal conversations, they’re not “perfect” in their first ideation. They’re a flow of ideas and an exchange of opinions. They are rough, they are unpolished and they are iterative. Like we are.
    • Posing
      Every company has a persona, such as “corporate” (IBM) or “feminine” (Victoria’s Secret) or “technical” (Agilent) or something. But when a company starts acting and posing like the demographic they want to sell to, it’s just icky. Companies need to be real. Great brands, like most people, are more than a flat dimension. People want to know more and engage the company at a different level than just a one-way read of a site. Great companies have figured how to embody their full persona, online. I’ve been collecting distinguished online marketing methods to showcase what can really be done online. It’s the move from marketing and brand as “Potemkin Village” to “persona and personal engagement.” I’m a fan.

Online marketing that rules
There are several ways companies and great brands can do this new form of marketing and enable engagement:

  • Customization
    Amazon enables everything from content to advertising to be context-driven. If I’ve expressed interest, Amazon can track, and propose recommendations. All of us have likely gotten so used to Amazon’s excellence in this domain, we might even take it for granted but do you know one other site that can do that level of customization of content. By driving customization, Amazon or similar vendor is likely to engage me on my interests. I am not likely to feel like I’m being sold as much as have relevant choices about my interests.
  • Co-creation / mass participation
    A perfect and relevant example is threadless.com. If someone could have told me that t-shirts could be so “Web 2.0″ and full of engagement models, I would have laughed–perhaps even smirked. But they did. At threadless, you can submit, vote on, and purchase best of designs. The model is powerful. Co-creating with your customers maximizes your chances of success when releasing your products. Why? Think about it. Category enthusiasts know your products, market preferences and help create products that get picked up by the rest of the market. By joining with you, they extend your brand and your product line. Even better, once your product is released, they will help you sell it because they will feel a sense of ownership in it’s success.
  • Community or user influencer marketing
    Another great example: Lego. Lego started a small group of 5-person key user influencers to shape their next generation Mindstorms product, aimed at adults. According to Wired, four years after its release, Mindstorm still sells 40,000 units a year at $199 a pop – with no advertising – and has become Lego’s all-time best-selling product. User influencers can be co-opted from the ones who critique a company’s plans to the ones who shape and sell the plan to the market.
  • Brand co-creation
    Having deep content that enables a shared obsession is having fun together. Dogster is the prototypical community site–ugly as a Chinese Crested, but it’s hard for a dog lover to resist clicking. It’s all about the subject–not flashy graphics or slick marketing. And advertising is placed as “sponsorship” which puts it in relevant context to the users’ passion or obsession. Tivo is another company that has found a way to create absolute passion and commitment. They find stars to write about movies and tell great stories so that obsessed people who love film and television can bond.
  • Personalization
    Nike and Converse have changed the rules of the game by letting me create shoes exactly the way I want them. The idea is to grab people emotionally and intellectually so that they are sucked into interacting. I started with a few clicks to see what kind of shoes could be made and soon I was in love with the brown, white and orange shoes with my company tag “Win Markets” on them. The purchase was a natural connection. Not because I needed shoes, but because they made my vision real–I wanted those shoes.

The very nature of the web is that it can allow us to be more HUMAN and thus more meaningfully connected.

(For those of you that want even more examples, especially B2B, I’ve been collecting them and would be happy to share my knowledge regarding leading-edge ideas and the results that come from them.)

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2 Responses:

  1. daniel. August 17, 2007 at 6:08 am  |  

    hi, Nilofer, how are you?
    This is my first time reading your work & I love this piece.
    I think Sears, Nikon & Panasonic are great examples & I think they share a similar problem. Nikon & Panasonic aren’t used to dealing two-ways with end users. They’re still selling through channels, but they’re now in a position where they have to interact direct. Sears on the other hand is a sales-only company. You go to a store & their job is to sell to you. You pick up a catalog & it’s designed to sell to you – & nothing else. On the web, customers expect more &, really, all of these companies have a huge amount to gain from offering more.
    I remember reading the question recently “Why didn’t Nikon set up Flickr?” – they have the budget, they have the people, but their strategy just isn’t there yet. They still think of themselves as pushing product direct through channels.
    I look forward to reading more of your stuff in future!
    daniel

    Reply
  2. Julie. August 21, 2007 at 5:18 pm  |  

    Insightful piece as always, Nilofer. Your deconstructions of what it means to be successful in a web environment that’s increasingly personalized and collaborative are always worth the read, and you never fail to come up with great (and fun!) examples of companies that have managed to forge a bond between their brand and customers in new and innovative ways.
    Keep up the great work!

    Reply

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