I had a great conversation this morning with Bob Schettino from BuzzLogic, a company that provides an application to track conversations in the blogosphere. We were talking about the Social Media bandwagon--all the hype and buzz that in many ways obscures the real trends that are effecting marketing and that won't disappear when people get tired of hearing buzzwords. It's kind of like Marketing ROI--it was off the charts as the flavor-of-the-month trend way back in 2002. But guess what? It's a fundamental part of the marketing mentality today, despite its annoying trendiness as a buzz topic 5 years ago.
We were talking about various ways in which social media is changing the marketing landscape. I've been talking a lot recently about one of the most fundamental new realities of social media that's very easy to understand and experience: Your customers are comparing notes on every meaningful aspect of your business. Word-of-mouth has always been a critical aspect of marketing. Social media just adds a huge amplifier.
A lot of people in social media have also been talking about how social media changes the relationship between businesses and customers, by making information more democratic. It's no longer a one-to-many broadcast reality, where businesses transmit carefully crafted positioning messages to a market audience. That still happens, but now customers can dramatically impact and even alter the brand image of a company through their own communication channels. Since many consumers now begin their purchase decisions with online research, they're likely to hear a lot more about you from the market community than from your latest campaign.
I was talking last weekend with Russ Baker, one of my former business partners in the brand agency Cymbic, and he put a fascinating spin on the notion of how the identity of businesses is changing. Corporations have been classified legally as persons for generations. That's an interesting theoretical notion with a lot of realworld implications. But it's also a fascinating metaphor. Since the high cost of broadcast communication effectively restricted the information available to consumers for decades, consumers for the most part only saw what companies projected. Their brand. Their image. In Russ' estimation, it's the equivalent of only seeing the face of the person, and with a whole lot of makeup. But now that communications channels are wide open and everyone can dialog and discuss every aspect of their experience with business, it's like we're suddenly seeing the whole person. We see how they behave to employees, to other customers, to suppliers, to entire communities. We see how they conduct themselves everywhere in the world. In a very real sense, companies are becoming more like persons than ever before--persons that are functioning members of a market community, with all the repurcussions and accountability that implies.
But I want to leave off with something Bob Schettino said. It's a very basic and very applicable idea about one of the most tangible ways that social media is changing marketing, and it brings a lot of these broader notions together in a simple truth. In a world of social media, marketing communications no longer ends with the publishing and distribution of your message--that's now where marketing communications begins.