Can you really talk about something as “way back when” when the “back when” is really just 20 years ago? Well, you can when something as significant as the rise of the internet sits in the divide. So here we are, talking about “way back when” in the late 90’s…
Way back then, marketing was mostly physical. You printed collateral, produced mailers, shipped things around the country, crafted beautiful product packaging, wrote ad copy for print, purchased advertising in magazines and newspapers. All very tangible outputs, and all very expensive to produce. Actual materials like paper, specialized printing services, shipping, etc.
And because it was so expensive, great care was made to get it “right” – you would only have one run with the printers, or one chance to update those data sheets for the year. And since the production stakes were so high, every detail was scrutinized. Attention wasn’t only to prevent errors, but great care was applied to get it “right”, ensuring that the branding was perfect, the messaging well honed for the audience, the details all current and up to date, and that the money spent would be a sound investment.
And then in the early 2000s, something big happened.
And this was the advent of the internet as a primary marketing vehicle, and things changed virtually overnight. New channels (like email) emerged that had very different production models. Emails do not have to be produced physically, they do not have to be produced all at one time, and the delivery costs are a small fraction of snail mail delivery. New technologies like email marketing tools and marketing automation platforms started to drive the practices of modern marketing.
The content floodgates were opened, and a new breed of marketer emerged. These marketers could now blast a seemingly endless stream of emails, tweets, and promotions to their audience. This new generation was less familiar with the tried and true practices of marketing (like messaging) to get things “right”, and much more technically savvy. Tactics like A/B testing to “optimize” digital communications became more important than practices like messaging to get it “right”. And the new problem wasn’t how to get your content to your audience, but how to standout within the deluge of the total content overload in the market place.
There was also a major shift for buyers during this same time period.
As the internet provided new opportunities for marketers to connect with prospects, it also gave buyers new means for learning about and buying products. Buyers began more self-education about products and services, choosing how and where to learn, and leveraging online content as a key factor in making purchase decisions. And thus the buyers journey shifted – the buyers gained the power in the relationship, and delayed working with sales people for longer and longer in the process.
In order to gain market share, or even to stay competitive today, companies need to address these two challenges:
- Content overload for buyers
- How to work with buyers that are in control of their own buyers journey
These can be addressed by a strategic focus on the buyers journey and the delivery of an outstanding digital experience. And it requires marketing execution incorporating yesterday’s marketing principles to “get it right” infused into today’s modern marketing practices.
As a first step, marketing teams must truly understand their buyers and how they buy. These buyers journeys may be a few seconds to a few years in length depending on the type of products and services. And buyers have specific needs that must be fulfilled each step of the way. This is what content is all about today – it isn’t just about demand generation and creating leads, it is also about fulfilling all of the buyers needs.
Armed with the in-depth buyer knowledge, companies can then work to develop and provide exceptional experience for their buyers, leveraging relevant content that fulfills the buyers’ needs each step of the way. The experience of the content is just as important as the content itself. Is it in the preferred formats and channels? Is it presented in context or does one have to work to find it? Is the brand consistent and engaging? Is the messaging targeted and differentiated?
“Way back when”, companies may have been differentiated by their glossy brochures and comprehensive marketing packages. But today, companies will be differentiated by the experience they provide in the buyers journey – success will be through holistic, content-centric digital experience that truly support and facilitate the buyer’s journey.