It’s been happening for a while. Have you seen it? Of course you have. You just didn’t know it.
Traditional marketing has been about a top down approach somewhat militaristic in style (campaigns, market penetration, target audiences). Executives and managers, both at companies and at ad agencies, try to dictate what a market segment or user will believe. Their hope is that the user understands the brand message they are forcing upon them and that their final understanding is no different from what was intended. It’s this kind of mistake that brings about a radical change.
In the early 1500’s, the rule of the Catholic church was unprecedented. It dictated the thoughts of the people in a similar authoritarian style to dictators, kings and monarchs. In 1517, Martin Luther set about to change all of that by pinning his 95 theses on the wall. In the years to come this caused a monumental shift in the thinking of the people and allowed them to think for themselves. It was the people spreading the word with the help of others.
Today, in the early 21st century, product marketing is seeing the power of the people shine once again. Only this time it’s the ad agencies that bare similarities to the church in their power. The shift started in 2000 with people like Doc Searls when he co-authored the book The Cluetrain Manifesto. In the book they even have their own 95 theses. Ironic? Not really. It’s not about being told what to believe. It’s about conversations and relationships, both personal and anonymous, and helping each other form our own opinions. Something we do everyday as humans but rarely think about how it works.
Seth Godin expanded on it in his series of free online PDFs entitled Flipping the Funnel. Instead of forcing a belief down upon the masses and seeing what sticks, seed the masses and let the sneezers tell the story for you.
Like most people, my thoughts haven’t been changed quickly. It’s been through a continuous cycle of reading, listening, analysis and execution. These thoughts have been building upon each other until I reached my own personal tipping point of sorts. Let’s just say that the light switch of creativity has been turned on.
Once you’ve done your own reading, listening and analysis, as I encourage you to do, look at the costs of social marketing. It’s next to nothing. No costly mailing campaigns, ineffective advertising or expensive ad agencies. The biggest challenges you will face are seeding the idea of social marketing with your peers and finding the right places to seed your product or idea. It’s radical, but it works. Apple does it with beautiful simplicity. Dell does it efficient processes. T-mobile does it with customer service. Seth Godin talks about how to do it in Free Prize Inside.
Corporate America is afraid of it. Agencies are afraid of it. That’s because it’s radical.
Small teams embrace it. People do it without realization. It’s viral marketing and it works.