Is This an Ad?

That’s the question most people will start asking themselves before reading or clicking on something online (if they have not already). The convergence of content and advertising is nothing new, of course. But in the last few years, and even the last few months, the two are accelerating toward each other at an alarming speed.

Three things to think about, whether you’re a marketer or not:

1. Advertisers want their ads to look like content.

That is what’s behind the content marketing movement. Advertisers want to get into the business of content production and distribution, because we know that users are wary of ads. They trust content producers. So if we can produce content that interests them, we might sucker lure entice them.

Like the advertorials and infomercials of yesteryear, ads disguised as content are meant to attract people to your brand without direct advertising. And the internet (and social media) has made this even more attractive and effective for companies.

2. Content producers are increasingly borrowing techniques from advertisers.

Traditional content producers and distributors - newspapers, magazines, television, radio – and new age content producers – blogs, websites, online media companies – are all fighting for attention. They want readers, viewers, subscribers. Just like advertisers, they are fighting for the attention of consumers. And so many of them have started to borrow such things as headline writing and placement from the advertising world.

Take Upworthy for example, a site that figured out that writing a headline that got as many clicks as possible was the best strategy for attracting ad dollars (making money).

3. Users, already wary of advertisers, will start to grow wary of content producers.

It just makes sense that more consumers are becoming hesitant to do anything we want them to do. They don’t trust advertising, and they see content and advertising coming together.

What constitutes an ad? It can’t be the fact that it’s paid for, because companies pay to place content now too. It can’t be that it’s designed to create a sale, because companies use content for that too now.

In my opinion, the proper definition of an ad is very hard to arrive at in today’s world. And it’s only getting more difficult as the convergence of advertising and content continues.

The next time you see something online (anything), ask yourself, is that an ad?

How Companies Can and Should Act Like People

This particular marketing blog was started to address new trends and offer advice to companies marketing in a new age of consumers, digitally savvy and connected consumers. And in the digital age, the rules for how companies “should” act are changing. And the companies that are beginning to act more like individuals, people with their own personalities, are winning.

The old school rules stated that companies had to be “formal” and “professional”. There was a distance between corporations and their consumers. And there was a clear hierarchy.

Today, consumers are on the same level as the companies they purchase from. There is a stronger sense of ownership and familiarity with the brands we encounter every day. And companies can take the lead in creating that bond by employing some common sense approaches to communication in the digital realm.

Companies can:

  • Interact directly with consumers on Facebook and Twitter
  • Use less formal language in all web copy
  • Personalize all emails with subscribers’ first names
  • Promote employees and use the real names of executives on the website and in letters and other online copy
  • Share stories and content from their fans and customers
  • Involve customers in new product discussions
  • Inform the public of updates and news from the company in a timely manner

Companies should:

  • Do all of the above

How to Lose Respect and Alienate Customers

Want to lose your customers’ respect, refund lots of purchases, gain a negative reputation on blogs and social networks? It’s easy to do, a lot easier than you might think.

Here’s how: Don’t keep your promises.

The disconnect between marketing and every other division within your organization needs to stop. And it needs to stop yesterday.

Marketers have a job to do, drive sales. Whatever you’re responsibility is, whether it’s brand building, email, lead generation, website design, etc., the end goal is driving sales. You’re only as good as the business you bring in.

Because that is the case, marketers tend to over-promise. We make claims that our company does not support. We lie.

But in today’s world, those lies will come back to hurt your business in a bigger way than before. Negative reviews spread like wildfire. Unhappy customers are handed megaphones.

The rest of your company needs to know what marketing is saying, and marketing needs to know what the rest of the company is actually doing. When both sides are on the same page, sales will lead to happy/satisfied customers who will help you market your company instead of inhibit it.

When Marketers Lead: Customer Service

Customer service is one of the most overlooked part of successful companies. That fact is based on an old way of thinking, an outdated view of customer service as low level problem solvers and people who can stand to be yelled at on the phone for hours at a time. And companies (or at least the executives of those companies) that are run based on that way of thinking are quickly falling by the wayside and making room for companies that emphasize customer service as a key factor in growth and success.

Today, customer service is as much a part of marketing as anything else. Good customer service means happy customers. Happy customers mean positive reviews (or a lack of negative reviews, which in today’s world can be just as good). And positive reviews mean the marketer, whose job it is to convince the consumer of the value of his or her product, already has the word of mouth element on our side.

Marketers need to embrace good customer service as a function of marketing. Products and services, no matter how good they are, will never be perfect. And even a perfect product will run up against a less than perfect process; a shipping mishap, a lost order, a glitch in the system. Somewhere, someone will be upset. And that’s where a good customer service department, who believes in what they are doing and are empowered to make it right, can be a marketers greatest ally.

When marketers are in charge, the customer service team has power. They can do anything within reason to make a customer happy. They have the power to go online, find a negative review, and reach out to the person who left it. They have the power to offer a refund, offer a replacement, or make requests of other departments in the company to fix problems identified in the process.

  1. Does your customer service team have access to social networks?
  2. Does your customer service team have access to key members of the rest of the organization at all times?
  3. Does your customer service team have the power to offer a refund without seeking approval?
  4. When the customer service team identifies a problem, does the rest of the organization react accordingly?
  5. Is your customer service team incentivized to fix problems/help customers/answer questions/address negative reviews in a timely manner?

Customer service is a function of marketing, and it’s time we showed them some long overdue respect.

The Difference Between Consumers and Sellers

…it’s not as big as it used to be.

In the good old days of mass marketing, it was very clear to everyone who was a consumer and who was a seller. The sellers marketed their products to the consumers, the consumers bought the products, and everyone was happy.

Than the internet had to come along and screw everything up. It made the world a smaller place. It opened up new markets of consumers for new kinds of products and services. But it also put much of the power that sellers and marketers had into the hands of the masses.

Mass marketing has taken on new meaning. The masses now have the ability to market themselves and their services online. The barriers to entry to begin selling something online are minimal.

Consumers are sellers, and sellers are consumers.

Sites like eBay and Etsy have opened up large markets for anyone to sell their own products. PayPal and Google Checkout have made it easy for anyone to take payments for services. We’re all buying and selling from each other.

So the question is, are you a consumer or a seller? And if the answer is that you’re a consumer, why aren’t you both?