I’ve been thinking a lot lately about marketing for two reasons. 1. I’m trying to figure out the best way to grow our business. 2. I just joined the board of directors of our industry trade organization, whose primary focus is putting on a yearly trade show.
Do traditional marketing campaigns (ads, trade shows, mailings, etc.) have a place in the future? If not, how long will they stay relevant? It’s one thing to be right that big trade shows are on the way out, but if you are 30 years too early on that prediction you wasted a lot of time. I think it’s something that has to be reevaluated on a yearly basis to see where the trends are heading. There is, however, some new concepts I’ve noticed in the last ten years that are driving these trends.
1. The User Controls Their Input Stream: Does anyone get excited about receiving an email anymore? 99% of the postal mail I get goes directly into the trash or filed. But post a comment on my website and I will stop the world to read it. Mention me on twitter and I will follow you back forever. I can hide facebook statuses from oversharers and track threads I want to stay current on. I am a TiVo fanatic. Watching live TV is a painful experience. I will only use web browsers with ad blocking software. Notice a trend here? We love communication technology that allows us to filter, tailor, and focus our incoming data and everything else seems archaic. This concept will go places you never thought possible. Wouldn’t it be cool to only see the 3 or 4 items you want to see on a restaurant menu?
2. Our Standard for Relevancy is Getting Higher: Google built the biggest new tech company in the 21st century on search relevancy. It’s taken a while but we’re finally getting that level of relevancy away from the computer. My Garmin GPS will tell me every restaurant within 25 miles, but it can’t tell me which ones are good. Now that my phone can, it immediately makes my Garmin less useful. I have settled countless bar arguments with a quick search on some athlete’s age, actor’s role, or the number of Wawas in New Jersey. Right now we still appreciate these things and have an idea of where the limits are. Soon, we will so take it for granted that we will demand the answer to any question, at all times, about all subjects. Even complex ones like, “Where’s the 3nd cheapest sushi restaurant within 3 miles that has been rated highly by 3 friends or at least 30 people in my extended network.”
3. We Trust Ourselves, Our Friends, and the Crowd. No One Else.: The concept of brand loyalty is overrated. What we’re really saying is that we trust ourselves enough that if we liked a product in the past, our tastes and needs haven’t changed enough to make the experience any different. Try buying a car without “knowing a guy.” ?We constantly ask our friends about their phones, their cameras, and their TVs. Why? Because they have an incentive to make you happy (they are your friend) and no incentive to make you unhappy (they don’t gain anything if you are unhappy). Unless I had to, why would I ever want to make a decision based on a paid advertisement or endorsement? People have understood this on an intellectual level forever, but I think we’ve become so jaded with advertising that it is 2nd nature for us to be skeptical of all ads. The only problem was, if you or none of your friends ever used a particular product, how would you know which one to buy? In the past it was advertising, but now we have the crowd. Amazon, Yelp, and ebay all run on the idea that people will give away their opinions for free and that it will be too hard and expensive for businesses to buy the hundreds or thousands of people it would take to influence the crowd.
So how do ads and trade shows fit into these ideas?
Ads only work if a user allows them into his input stream. They should be highly targeted and relevant to what he wants. Even still, he won’t trust them if he knows they are ads. I think the only real way advertising will continue long term is by fostering your crowd of enthusiastic fans.
A person has to decide to visit a trade show, but once there they have to look at everything. ?It can be overwhelming, especially if the relevancy of what they’re looking for is a small percentage of what is being shown. The trust factor is very high because they can see and touch things for themselves and discuss them with friends. They can also judge “crowd” response by looking at other people who seem to be interested.
Later I’ll try to throw together some more ideas on how ads and trade shows can be tweaked to benefit from these concepts.