"So what's it gonna take? Silver shadow believer..." -Shiny Toy Guns

Monday, April 27, 2009

Interaction Can Rebuild Trust

Oh yes, Marketing. The glorious field is also an undeniable curse. Once interested in it, there is no going back. Every consumer product is up for subjective criticism, and you can longer watch an ad without having an opinion or go to the movies without pointing out product placement. I had professor in college warn me that such a day would come. He was my Media Criticism teacher, a smart man, who taught me how to decide which way an ad was skewed and to recognize underlying messages in story content. In one sense I am grateful, in another cursed. No longer interested in TV and barely relaxed enough to get through a whole movie, my subjective criticism haunts me.
I now notice if there are only Audi's featured in a film or that Snapple changed their packaging. But, are consumers noticing? Maybe. But are they influenced to buy because of it? Probably not. I find consumer behavior fascinating. But let’s face it, the good ol’ consumer just isn’t as fun to watch anymore and isn’t as easily motivated either. While the behavior is still interesting, it’s very different. We have found ourselves in the midst of uncertain times where consumers, myself included in this, aren’t spending the way they used to. What once worked in ads before doesn't anymore. Or maybe it does, but just not for right now. The best ads these days feature a very simple quality that most advertising was lacking for a long time: Honesty.
I think about my fellow consumer often. Mostly because I am one and it’s my job. My first thought is, “What would I want to hear and why?” The “what and why” are the trickiest part of a system I had adopted from Journalism early on. In trying to comprehend a target audience, I embrace the 5W's, the “who, what, when, where, and why.” And really, when you think about it, this rule can be applied to any situation involving people and communication. In the case of Journalism it's a structure for an interview, or maybe simply an outline to better understand the audience reading. In the case of Marketing, apply them to your product, and again to simply understand your audience's buying behavior. Merely knowing your audience and what they are about is the key to any act of enticement.
This is where I believe we failed so long ago, not only media but society at large. There is no trust anymore, only skepticism. If social media has taught anything about marketing and promoting, it's that people trust their peers. WOM (word-of-mouth) is still a very effective vehicle – now more than ever, consumers rely on people they trust for the answers. Companies need to become a part of the conversation but must do it in an honest way. Start caring about your customers again by practicing a little CRM (customer relationship management) in other words: interact with them. Still aren’t convinced? Consider this, in a time so riddled with ads, where some consumers are immune and others out of tune, and everyone and everything is uncertain, wouldn't it be nice to just be able to trust?

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