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This post originally appeared at American Express OpenForumThe marketing world has changed a lot in the past decade-and-a-half. The Internet ramped up, and entire waves of technologies have come and gone. Social networks like MySpace and Facebook exploded onto the scene, inevitably altering the ways we interact with each other.
Not many people have studied these changes as closely as Marc Schiller, founder and CEO of digital agency Bond Strategy and Influence (formerly known as ElectricArtists). He has been in social marketing since message boards and chat rooms were the main digital social networks of the day.
“As a marketer I focus in on behaviours, not technologies,” says Schiller. “We really need to look at and adapt to the behaviours of what people do online—how they express themselves, how they create, how they curate. Then, you have to provide value to that. That is the key to success.”
But through all of these changes, how have people changed the ways they behave? Are the influencers of today still acting as they did 15 years ago, except over new platforms?
I recently sat down with Schiller to talk about those behaviours, influencers and how everything has changed with the rise of the digital world. Here’s what he had to say.
How have things changed in the marketing world over the past 15 years, with the rise of all these new technologies?
I’m always looking at behaviours first, technology second. I don’t think Twitter, as a company, creates the uses for Twitter. It’s from the behaviours of the people who use it. So, from that, technologies have come and gone. The things that have stayed the same is that there’s a fundamental need to be heard, to express yourself, and to find an audience that will gravitate toward your passion and your point-of-view. The Internet has always been a way to have the same opportunities as mass media, but you don’t have access to that. To find an audience, so to speak.
Understanding influencers has always been a focus of mine. Take music, for example. Years ago, we did a thing with Christina Aguilera, and my team determined that to reach nine million passionate music lovers, you actually only needed to market to the 1,300 that had been building these networks and put themselves at the centre. That influence was very much about what music they bought. Determining who the 1,300 were was a really strong focus, and to embrace and empower those 1,300 people and let them become part of the process was always my strategy.
So today, we have that same culture, but what we have now that’s different is a full integration. Before, you would go to a website, or a chat room, or a message board, and they were very disconnected. Now, they’re all connected into one. There was also a big disconnection between offline and online experience, and there was this thing about people getting lost in cyberspace. That never really happened, because of the rise of mobile and the mobile Web. We’re actually experiencing more of our daily lives and sharing it online, than cutting ourselves off from the real world.
The tools have changed, but the behaviours haven’t. They’ve just gotten stronger and more accessible to a larger group of people.
How about the influencers themselves? How have they changed?
There’s certainly more of them now. Access to tools like Twitter and Facebook and podcasting; that whole world has empowered people. Back in 1993, if you wanted to be an influencer you created a fan page and you became a destination. Now, you can create and curate and mix-and-match.
The biggest change is how we consume media. For somebody who is heavy into social media, what that person is doing is curating what reaches them. What they’re doing is pulling from lots of different things—their friends, family, celebrities, blogs, journalists, traditional media sources feeding headlines through RSS—and basically building their influence network. If news or information doesn’t reach me, it doesn’t matter. Because I’ve curated so much around me that if I don’t hear about something, it doesn’t really matter because it would’ve reached me if it was important.
This behaviour is really brand new. This idea of ‘the feed.’ It’s like you prune it, you’re bringing new things in and then you don’t want too much information so you’re cutting off the dead wood. We don’t surf the web anymore; back in ’93 that’s what everyone was talking about. You check out your feed, whether its Facebook or Twitter or Foursquare or Instagram. You’re keeping up with the things that you want to curate into your life.
Why do people want to express themselves so much, and how can brands tap into that?
Most people do not have a validation that they themselves have real worth. And I know that sounds dramatic, but 90 per cent of the population doesn’t have that confirmation that they’re being heard. I think that what drives people to express themselves online is a confirmation of their own self-worth. It’s very much life-affirming. The reason why people write on walls is to say, hey listen, I’m here. I’m a person.
What brands need to do is to recognise that need, and to help fulfil that need. The brands that get closest to their customers are the ones that celebrate the creativity, the presence of the audience. We’re constantly looking at new ways of doing that. In the film space, most marketing campaigns are very one-way. Here’s our stars, here’s our marketing message and we open on Friday. And they just keep pumping you with that same message. The way we market those digitally is to take the audience and make the fans the centre of our campaign. To show that we’re there because of them, and put a mirror on who is going and loving our movies.
The focus is not to use social media as a distribution channel, but to use it as a true community of people that are involved and vested in the product’s success. While some of this might look like it’s obvious, it’s not the norm yet.
Do different industries have different levels of how influential influencers are? Or are all influencers essentially the same?
I’ve found that people who follow creativity, whether its design or fashion, are extremely influential. Any of the passion points can be considered that. The key is to make sure that you pick things that don’t become echo chambers, that don’t become so insular that you’re not really expanding.
Is the digitization of everything making consumers more prone to change who they follow?
We need to work harder now to make sure you stay committed. At the end of the day, it’s choice, and the amount of choices that you have now means that you are going to use your time very wisely. In the past, we could be fairly arrogant because there were only three channels you could watch on TV. Now there’s 5,000, and now there’s the Internet. I don’t think the audience is more fickle, I think the audience is more discerning and more able to move on if they don’t like something.
For small businesses that can’t afford to do traditional advertising, could they do all of their marketing solely through social channels?
More and more, the answer is yes. I think they need a good product and they need commitment and passion. Money cannot buy passion, and that’s the most powerful marketing tool. As a marketer, I want to create the environment for passion to happen, and then amplify that passion. Small businesses are more committed to their product and their customers than any, and I think that the more they reflect their core values and their culture, the more people will respond and become part of that.
We need to tell stories, as marketers. If we document our journey and people come along for that journey, the commitment that they make is huge. The key is to create a narrative and let people be part of it. Let them actually affect the narrative. And that is what social media marketing is. Creating a narrative that somebody can join. Like any great narrative, there are twists and turns and unexpected things, and if you do that well, your audience will come along for the ride and become extremely vested in your success.