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Have marketers been pressing the right buttons in 2015?

14th Dec 2015

What I’ve seen in terms of trends in marketing in 2015, is what I see every year, if I’m honest. That is, what’s celebrated as new and ground-breaking is almost always an attempt at taking us back to the feeling of simpler times.

In fact, the nirvana for many of the most sophisticated marketing technologies and techniques is to replicate, to some extent, an experience akin to that our grandparents might have enjoyed in yesteryear. The complexity we see in marketing seeks to create the simple things that humans have always wanted.

Simple things like:

  • Wanting to be noticed.
  • Wanting people we’re thinking of spending our precious money with to know and care about us as individuals.
  • Wanting to chat informally to people with similar interests and goals.
  • Wanting to look them in the eye when we do so.

The irony is that us wanting these things has led marketers to create ever more complex systems and technologies. The question is, whether a balance can be found.

Four complex signs of a yearning for simplicity in 2015

1) Marketing automation goes mainstream

When I was seven, my Dad wanted to buy a derelict cottage. He needed a mortgage. I distinctly remember him making an appointment with the Bank Manager at NatWest on the high street. Living in a small rural town, I have no doubt that the chap in question had seen my father around, knew what he did for a living, and that he had two daughters. I also have no doubt that said Bank Manager called my Dad when he said he would, and remembered his name when he did so.

Trying to replicate this sort of personal human interaction… on a mass scale, has been the promise of CRM systems for about twenty years.

Over the last 12 to 24 months, the technology that was once a seven-figure investment, backed up by shoals of data analysts, has become affordable and accessible by businesses of any size.  The ease with which automated sequences of follow-up to a given action can be set up means that everyone is doing it… often without mapping out the full customer journey. The results range from fantastic, to funny, to downright infuriating.

As was ever the case, most marketers would be better equipped with a large wall, a pack of post-notes and a large dose of empathy, than by thinking the ‘system’ has the answer.

2) Live-streaming video as a latest social media shiny thing

A marketer with their wits about them will have noticed Meerkat, Periscope and Blab making a mark this year. What all these systems have in common is the ability to see the human face. As we’ve seen with Skype, and other VOIP services, in the last few years, looking someone in the eye is definitely back in vogue. As internet speeds, 4G, and other technical advances have made this a less frustrating experience, it’s no surprise that human beings are showing a fondness for looking at other human beings in their social media interactions.

3) Facebook as a business platform

Facebook has increasingly become a hive of business hangouts. Now, this one did take me a little by surprise. But, if I’d just extended the logic of replicating normal human interactions, it shouldn’t have.

I’m currently an active member of 26 business-related groups on Facebook. Three of which I run. They are livelier, and more human, than any group I’ve seen on LinkedIn, or any forum I’ve been part of over the last decade. There’s something about the platform that means people are in a different place psychologically. It’s much more like being down the pub with a group of colleagues, than in a more formal networking setting – which is what LinkedIn feels like. Yet again, the technology is replicating human interactions of old.

Moreover, business contacts are almost as likely to connect on Facebook as on LinkedIn these days. The Listing feature in Facebook that allows you to determine which of your ‘friends’ sees what, means business contacts feel more able to connect via the platform, without opening up their whole profile. A development that the guys at LinkedIn Towers are no doubt pondering!

4) Social media and content fatigue

This one makes be more than a bit sad. But, it was almost inevitable. As with all good tools that have come before; the phone, the fax, email, etc. there comes a point at which lazy marketers spoil it for the rest of us.

When I joined Twitter around six years ago, I made some phenomenal contacts and formed deep and trusting relationships with them. The frequency with which I now do this is vastly reduced. As the platforms have become mainstream, and automation that accompanies this, the intimacy has vastly reduced.

There are simply more people, doing less interesting things. A few years ago it was rare to see a Twitter feed made up purely of broadcast messages. It’s now pretty commonplace. The burning desire of being noticed has taken us down a well-trodden path. Just as once-elegant high streets became cluttered with bigger and flashier hoardings, we now see billboard equivalents in the image banners of social updates, and animated Gifs mimicking the rotating and flashing signs of shops desperate to get our attention.

What are the practical implications?

The way this most commonly manifests, in practical terms, is in the job roles we see for marketers. There has been a surge in businesses looking to recruit or outsource to people who know how to use the technology. I’d argue that this has been at the expense of choosing people with a little more worldliness. People who know what buttons to press in the human mind, rather than on the latest bit of kit!

© Bryony Thomas.

Bryony Thomas is a professional speaker on marketing, the multi-award winning author of ‘Watertight Marketing’, and the founder of the UK’s only directory of quality-assured independent marketing consultants watertightmarketing.com

Grab your free digital copy of Watertight Marketing here

Replies (4)

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By juliemitchellmehta
15th Dec 2015 15:49

Good points, Bryony. CRMs have always been about trying to make the customer feel like they are getting 1 to 1 communication while saving time and money by not really giving them 1 to 1 communication. It is getting better but it's not there yet. I'm looking forward to Twitter finding its way back into our hearts next year and I'm going to make more effort in 2016 to have the sort of conversations that made Twitter great in the first place.

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By rachaelwheatley
15th Dec 2015 16:01

Very interesting post Bryony. Marketing - for me - is, and always was, about developing relationships with existing customers and winning new ones, delivering value by the business doing what it does really well. But marketers are often (usually?) one step removed from customer contact so are in the odd position of looking at how to engage with customers in a more personal way but not necessarily having enough direct customer contact to understand what will press the right buttons for the right people, how that might differ for different people and then developing a marketing plan to deliver to as many customers as possible when, where, how and what they want!

What’s really striking is that the current trends you mention seem to be about making those connections more personal and direct, when you can’t always meet your customer face to face. One-to-many systems and technologies make it more possible for one-to-one marketing to happen – and for that to happen with any customer, anywhere.

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By Joshua Morse
16th Dec 2015 14:47

Very valid points about the state of social media Bryony.

LinkedIn still feels dry and stuffy, whilst Twitter bombards us with unfiltered, un-prioritised noise. Neither represents a real life experience. Facebook does a much better job of showing the content we want. Yet all can learn from Google when it comes to serving the best content first.

We now speak to search engines in plain English rather than strings of key words, yet in social still rely on clunky hashtags. Twitter and LinkedIn also seemingly fire messages at us without proper consideration of relevance or recency. They need to become better curators and filter away more of the dross, and that way we all might start talking more around stronger content. If they don’t make this happen I can see Facebook closing the gap with business profiles so we can show our professional side in a friendlier spot which understands us better.

And us marketers? Well, we just need to stop shouting and start talking. I’m as guilty as the next person of using social media as my own personal megaphone. Taking the same approach in the pub would be pretty unpopular, so why do we do it online?

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Replying to Joshua Morse:
By Shonette Laffy
17th Dec 2015 15:32

Absolutely agree Joshua - I think too often the focus of social media for businesses is merely to promote products and content rather than actually engaging with audiences; it's strange how much people don't take their own online habits into account when marketing via social media!

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