Editor’s note: This extract from “The End of Marketing” by Carlos Gil is ©2019 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd. The book is available now everywhere books are sold.
I believe wholeheartedly that as baby boomers and Generation X become supplanted by millennials and Generation Z as the primary economic drivers of global consumerism, that if brands want to survive—and thrive—through the next industrial revolution, then they need to find a way to personify who they are and step from behind the digital curtain.
Going forward, Coca-Cola will need to be a person that I can relate to. A real face that personifies the brand and convinces me to buy Coke instead of Pepsi. Nike will need to be a team of athletes that I and others should aspire to be like. Whole Foods will need to be a series of people who teach me how to make better choices in how I eat. Delta will need to be people who show me the world through the lens of their camera. My local gym will need to be a person who teaches me how to work out.
The fact is, for every fitness influencer, for every beauty blogger, for every travel influencer who exists, that is one more person who is taking market share away from your company. You are competing for digital reach with the same influencers that you are temporarily hiring to endorse your brand. And this model doesn’t work.
This is a New World Order of business. You only have to look as far as AOL and MySpace to see what happens when your audience grows up and you don’t grow up with it.
Thanks to technology, consumers are the media. Today, with an iPhone and an Instagram account, every person is an influencer. This is part of the reason why brands, and the marketers behind them, do not buy into social media: because brand is no longer superior to the consumer in the eyes of the consumer. It is about control—but it should not be. Of course, you cannot control what people say about you—but you can steer the conversation in the direction that you desire, should you choose to engage and be a part of it.
That is the key—brands should be aiming to be a part of the movement and avoid falling into the trap of trying to be the movement itself. To a certain extent, control has been relinquished, not to the entity that has the most marketing budget to spend, but rather to the people whose message goes the furthest.
Brands should not view these platforms as their biggest enemy. They are also your biggest ally, and today, one that you cannot live without. Facebook is one of the most—if not the most—powerful corporations on the planet. Mark Zuckerberg and company have transformed the way that we communicate, consume news and enjoy entertainment. The online social world is becoming more a part of our day-to-day lives and allows us to keep up with how individuals are living their lives, rather than only relying on mass communication media like TV and radio to get a glimpse of what is going on in the world.
“Brands should not view these platforms as their biggest enemy. They are also your biggest ally, and today, one that you cannot live without.”
That leads us to the good news—what is old is new again. Since the beginning of time, relationships have been at the forefront of everything we do. Building relationships is not done through Facebook ads or brand campaigns exclusively; they are formed individually one by one. Social media gives you the power to identify consumers who are speaking about your brand and your competition, as well as the ability to engage them directly.
But these relationships need to be carefully fostered. Importantly, the relationship that you form with your customer needs to be a two-way dialogue, otherwise you’re pushing out content for the sake of creating noise.
There are a few things to keep in mind for engaging digitally connected customers:
Know your audience — Who are they and what channels are they on?
If you are trying to engage younger consumers, you are more likely to find them on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch and TikTok. Whereas if you are trying to sell to a working-class millennial or older, it is most likely going to be on Facebook where you can reach them. You should spend your time on the platforms where your customers live.
What value do you bring to your intended audience?
Do you have a product or service that solves a problem? If so, find people who are openly speaking about that problem and hook them directly. As a consumer, if I complain about a company and their competitor immediately swoops in to help me, I am more likely to take my business to that company or brand. Every company and product or service has a target customer who has needs; your job is to connect those needs by listening and engaging directly.
Who are your references?
If you own an apparel brand and are selling t-shirts on Shopify, who is buying them? Seriously ask yourself: Who are these people and do they have any influence whatsoever digitally? Going forward, start keeping track of your customers digitally to see who they are connected to and form a dialogue with them in an attempt to leverage their influence within their circles. If someone buys from you and has a good experience, they are immediately a reference.
Who has perceived influence among your target consumer and how can you align with them?
For example, when younger consumers think of “Yeezys” they are not proudly representing Adidas, but rather Kanye West. Who are the influencers who exist right now within your industry?
These do not have to be international celebrities, but can instead be thought leaders in your industry or local figures who have important influence within their communities. Whoever they are, you should be finding ways every day to form relationships with them; social media provides you with the opportunity to directly connect with and catch the attention of these individuals, rather than having to connect via a third party such as an agent.
Create your own influence
The power of influencers extends into all sorts of businesses, and brands have a prime opportunity not only to connect with the largest influencers, but also harness the power of smaller influencers, such as employees and customers. Everyone has influence within their own circles and tapping into these networks can help grow your reach exponentially.
Yet consider the travel industry, where a quick YouTube search for “Best places to vacation” does not reveal a single video from Marriott, Hilton, Expedia or even an airline, but rather videos with millions of views from creators—who are hired by brands—to show consumers how a trip to a place like Bora Bora will change their lives, improve their marriage or make them happier.
“You cannot control what people say about you—but you can steer the conversation in the direction that you desire, should you choose to engage and be a part of it.”
This kind of escape from reality is the dream that influencers are selling to the masses. Every brand can do this, and they should. In fact, having an employee or customer share their best vacation stories could be even more relatable and therefore, powerful.
It is no secret that social media offers a competitive advantage to corporate brands who are willing to invest time, money and people in building a community. However, if companies want to thrive in this new era, they must change their approach and be less a brand and more human.