Mal Fletcher
Discover iSolutions

Turn Marketing "Targets" into Friends

‘It takes a long time to grow an old friend,’ said the American cultural critic John Leonard.

In the wake of the digital revolution, ours is the age of We-Think, the ‘hive mentality’, or what online gamers call the Architecture of Participation.

In the cyber-world, with its ubiquitous social networking, collaboration is everywhere. NASA has its remote, volunteer ‘click workers’ who help map the surface of planets. Lego allows its users to reinvent its toys online and Nintendo chose the name ‘wii’ because it sounds like ‘we’.

Yet many people are starting to look to the digital experience for much more than arms-length collaboration. They want connection.

Absent Presence

Over the next two to three years, society will face a huge growth in the social phenomenon known as Absent Presence. Imagine a room filled with people, none of whom are wholly ‘there’ because they’re busy ‘talking’ online – often to people just across the room.

In the face of Absent Presence and burgeoning digital footprints, people are looking for the benefits of high touch.

What people will increasingly seek from the cyber experience is probably best described as a form of alliance, a relationship built on the possibility of symbiotic benefit and growing interdependence.

This has huge implications for the marketing industry and particularly for digital marketers.

Discovering ‘isolution’

Marketers will need to discover what I call ‘isolution’. This is the ability to respond to the aspirations, needs and desires of individuals or small groups of individuals via unfolding conversations, rather than ‘pitching’ to demographic target groups.

Social media are here to stay; they will continue to play a significant role in our cultural conversation. But many users are discovering their limitations – and their true potential benefits.

Spontaneous flash-mobs, supported by texting and social networking, are cleaning up the streets of cash-strapped cities like Naples. The same thing happened in the wake of London’s riots, where broom-and-brush brigades took to the streets and restored not just the urban environment but some of London’s battered international image.

These phenomena are driven by more than collaboration for the sake of civic pride; they’re about people searching for opportunities to form personal connections using digital media as a platform.

Over the next two to three years, digital marketers will need to recognise this growing sensitivity to making connections. They will need to provide opportunities for people to progress quickly toward higher levels of connection over time.

Benchmarking and best practice norms stifle innovation

Recently, I tweeted a comment about my favourite UK bookstore, an historic venue in the heart of Oxford’s university precinct. The company immediately responded on Twitter, asking if I’d like to be involved in a rather exclusive after-hours store tour.

In the online conversation that followed, I asked whether they’d be interested in having me write reviews for books featured on their website in exchange for sample copies. This offer opens up an opportunity for something more than occasional book-buying; it offers a partnership of mutual interest – in essence, the beginnings of a friendship.

At the time of writing, the offer is one week old and I haven’t yet received a response. This tells me two important things.

First, it suggests that their marketing strategy is reactive. If they are serious about building on my existing love for their service, they should be seizing the initiative, offering to deepen our connection in ways I haven’t even imagined.

Secondly, it shows that their approach is static, that there’s little or no room for them to manoeuvre to accommodate fluid situations.

In the age of digital connection, stasis is death. Benchmarks and best practice norms are anathema to digital culture because they stifle innovation.

The age of connection

In the age of connection, the best marketers will abandon pie-chart thinking and be willing to kill sacred cows on an almost weekly basis. At times, they will cannibalise their own past successes, their own best ideas, to produce new strategies and methods as relationships change.

At the height of the recent recession, I did some media work on behalf of one of Britain’s leading healthcare providers. A survey they sponsored showed that there was a huge upswing in the number of people who were shifting major service providers, including banks, insurers and home utilities providers.

According to the survey, their number one reason for doing so was that they wanted to work with companies with whom they felt they had a partnership, a connection.

In tough times, people want to feel they have a friend at the local bank and not just an account manager.

Digital marketers will need to get on the front foot in offering people real connection and the opportunity to increase the level of that connection in mutually satisfying ways.

In the digital media age, success is about friendship, and benchmarks and demographic pie-charts don’t produce friendship.



Mal Fletcher (@MalFletcher) is the founder and chairman of 2030Plus. He is a respected keynote speaker, social commentator and social futurist, author and broadcaster based in London.

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