Here is a post from September 2003 about viral marketing and branding.
You canâ€™t lose what you never had: Saturation was never persuasion
In his recent article in BrandWeek Robert Wheatley of Wheatley & Timmons makes an honest and straightforward statement: "Call it media saturation, message overload, cynicism, skepticism or evolution of the species, the groundswell of change now facing marketers of any and every product is what weâ€™ll conveniently call the credibility gap."
With each new gimmick and product launch, consumers are becoming more and more skeptical about the messages they are being bombarded with. Overexposure and negative stimulation have lowered consumer expectations over time. This was fine in the beginning; lower expectations meant easier sales. The quality of the consumers purchase wasnâ€™t in question, the customer only gauged satisfaction at the register. Much like biting into your next double whopper upsized McDeal, we still gauge much of our satisfaction based on what we achieve in the short term with our purchase.
The problem is that the consumer is becoming more than the consumer. Amazon.com has launched their customers into the position of reviewer and, eventually, expert. For Amazon the benefits are threefold;
- Community Building takes place inside the reviews and people attribute the quality and insight of the customer reviews directly to Amazon. The customer feels a relationship with Amazon, much like a star employee can make a customer feel like their friend on the floor, except the costs for Amazon are much lower.
- Cost are reduced dramatically from the high overhead storefront and employee training that traditional shops must employ. Wal-Mart may be famous for cutting costs, but they still employ some of the most cash-draining community building ideas to date. Instead of just using their employees as models each week they should also be reserving 5 pages of their flyer to customer reviews â€“ negative and positive. If Wal-Mart takes their community centered ideas to the web â€“ watch out.
- Customers recycle Amazon.com into their general shopping habits. Because Amazon is both a reputable place to buy products, and they have a large database of customer reviews, they are becoming directly involved in any buying decision that their past customers make. Stores such as Futureshop are seeing some degree of success with this, but poor design and implementation choices are hindering the customers experience.
Have traditional mega-campaigns lost their ability to persuade? Iâ€™m not sure they ever did persuade. What we have seen from campaigns such as Kraft, Incâ€™s $750million+ each year in advertising is not a better product, or stronger customer loyalty, or even a sustainable reputation. What Kraft has built is a lost-cost low-quality machine that pumps in new consumers and pumps out the old. Middle class families stop buying craft products as soon as the idea of buying real cheese and real pasta is more affordable. What Kraft is, however, is one component of a larger corporate machine that produces everything from Cigarettes to Fuel; sustainability is not achieved on a single product basis for them.
Robert Wheatley believes that we are entering the age of custom media development, that companies must employ "Strategies that respect and reach out to the heavy users" and that these heavy users are the ones who can spread the news for you. There is a lot of truth to his statements, but we must be careful to understand the nature of the "heavy user" for what he is: a critical and often cynical ally who wants to be convinced. Bringing this type of consumer into the fold as defacto spokesperson isnâ€™t the job of PR or marketing firms. It is a process that has to take place directly inside the organization. By bringing the organizations competencies to the heavy user, they become engaged on a level that begs their loyalty.
This is already taking place in the development world. Companies such as Macromedia are providing venues for their most talented developers and producers to engage their customers. The producer is no longer a stranger but becomes a part of the community in which the client lives, and buys.
The art of real persuasion probably never existed in the world of Pepsi Vs. Coke, Kraft Dinner or Windows 95. The art of persuasion is about taking a corporate machine and making it a little more real. The only way to do that is to let some of your real assets, your thinkers and leaders, be shown off to the world. How that happens depends on what you are selling, but I have yet to see a sector where there can be no application of persuasion.