What the New “Marketing” Paradigm Means for Marketers

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I’m often asked why I left a great career at Dell to join (yet another) startup. It’s not just for  lower pay and a less stable future…those are perks. 🙂

There are many professional and personal reasons, but one primary consideration is to be an early adopter in a high velocity area that I’m passionate about — and the resulting opportunity to be challenged, learn, and be a pioneer to "figure it out".

I’ve spent my career crossing between  business and customer perspective as it relates to marketing, ecommerce, community, word of mouth and customer centricity. So it’s natural that I’m in the middle of a new marketing paradigm centered around customer

What do you call this new paradigm? Choose your term or terms: customer empowerment, customer conversations, ‘open source’ marketing, consumer generated content, customer collaboration, user generated content (UGC), social networking, customer evangelism, word of mouth, community, customer centricity, or several other terms. Put them all together and you get the essence of this paradigm. The semantics are less important than the tektonic shift beneath us.

To me, marketing has always been about matching customer needs to the company value proposition and how to get the word out that yours is the best match. Through startups and Dell I’ve experienced just about every way to do that…from etheral PR or product strategy to hourly online metrics that predict customer behavior. 

But now, the marketer’s perceived control of customer behavior is shaken. Levers no longer work they way they used to. Marketing is not scaling because it’s not as effective — and ironically it’s getting more expensive!

Customers are cynical, overcommunicated, oversupplied, and over stimulated. Corporate and trust in advertising is at an all time low — even Jonah Bloom, Senior Editor for AdAge will tell you that. Customers want the truth, damnit! But some companies can’t handle the truth! (I couldn’t resist 🙂 Read Cluetrain Manifesto, it’s coming true.

For many reasons (above) there is a growing trend of customers turning to each other. In fact, Edelman Group released a study that suggests ‘trust in someone like me’ has grown from 20% to 68% in two years. That means, if I can identify with you, I’ll trust you more than my doctor! And definitely more than any marketer / brand.

CMOs are trying to figure this out. 43% of CMOs have Word of Mouth as a key strategy for 2006 (CMO Magazine). And this is for B2C and B2B companies. This paradigm is not just relevant for B2C companies because we’re increasingly cynical in our B2B roles as well. As a CMO of a small B2B company, I think our our marketing strategy in terms of WOM. I manage marketing AND products — the best marketing strategy is a great product, and that’s what we have. 

What does this new paradigm mean for marketers?

  • It means there’s no where for sucky products to hide. They are doomed.
  • It means as marketers we need to sell less and ‘facilitate’ more.
  • It means we need to help connect like minded customers.
  • It means we should focus more upstream and how to market ‘with’ the influential minority (My first book was How to Market WITH Computer User Groups).
  • It means marketers need to think in terms of relevance, credibility and authenticity…obstensibly soft terms amidst an increasingly mathematical-, ROI-driven marketing perspective.

Quite a paradox. Very exciting times, as a marketer and a customer.

And this is just the beginning. 

2 Responses

  1. Jer says:

    I think a great example of customer-centric (unless I am understanding wrong) is the whole idea of Web 2.0. Examples such as myspace.com; the structure of the website is there but there is no content. It is simply empty space and the only content that has grown the site to it’s enormity is the content you, your friends, your enemies, and I upload to the site.

  2. Linda Ford says:

    Yes, Sam, I agree with these implications. And, all of these (especially the last two) suggest significant changes in the way we think. Most organizations do place more value on numbers than on stories. What you are describing here is a shift in thinking – a recognition that stories are as “legitimate” as numbers. In fact, stories are much MORE legitimate as data than numbers if you are looking for insight, wisdom, understanding or empathy,. And since those qualities are what marketers are generally after, we’ve simply got to learn that “anecdotes” are as valuable as numbers. In his latest book, “A Whole New Mind,” Daniel Pink, goes into much more detail about this. It’s an important shift and marketing needs to lead the charge!

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