When it comes to change, the online world is often the first to adapt. As a matter of comparison, look at the progression of traditional businesses over the last century. The physical store model still exists, big-box retailers are still using the same basic store design, and distribution networks, while significantly more efficient, still run using the same basic principles.
Then look at the online world. In the space of ten years, the entire landscape of online business has changed. In 1999, the most powerful online properties were owned by major software companies and those that had a head start in the online world. Today, Google, a company that is not even fifteen years old, is the biggest brand in the world. As a microcosm of commerce, the online world moves much more rapidly than any offline industry. With the recent move towards open social media platforms, marketers are left with a new question: where will the next turn be? For years, internet marketing was about banner ads and pop-up commercials.
This was a version of the traditional, outbound marketing model. Inbound marketing is the next step in the evolution. It is about connecting with users directly and building communities. Social media is not yet fully developed and the next few years will bring many changes and developments. I feel these four changes could stand apart from the others. Social media will make marketers more accountable. There is a certain risk that comes with giving everyone the power to broadcast their thoughts and feelings about you, your business, or your product. For great companies, it’s something to embrace—they have people marketing for them, a dedicated following, and a long-term solution. For marketers that get by on deception, it is certainly not good. If social media changes one thing, it will be accountability. When anyone can publicly post their opinion of your business, priorities change. It is no longer about the short-term profit but about long-term perception and greater customer satisfaction. Consumers will gain more power, and smart companies will embrace it.
The power dynamic is rapidly shifting between company and customer. Twenty years ago, the only way to get a message out was to invest in direct advertising and mass media. Now, all it takes is a post on a message board and a public message on Twitter by your customer. Smart companies are embracing the low cost of communications and are encouraging their customers to talk about them whenever possible.The truly remarkable will outlast the big and standard. Mass media allowed large companies to bully the small into compliance.
Without a big advertising budget, it was impossible to communicate, and without that communication, the market leaders set the terms. Now, a more important currency than size is remarkableness. Businesses that attract attention naturally can coast by on free exposure, while large companies lacking innovation are at a permanent cost disadvantage. Viral will take on a new meaning.
Today, viral means something that spreads throughout a few million people quickly, allowing a company to piggyback on exposure and generate free marketing. 20,000,000 views aren’t viral. Not for long. Social media is spreading wider, and, as more people become connected, the value of a great viral marketing campaign will swell exponentially.
We all know that the oldest form of advertising is word of mouth. What I find most interesting is how we as a society have found a way to come full circle, albeit much faster and on a much larger scale. I say it is time to embrace it, and start getting back to our authentic selves.