As economies slow around the world, marketers are starting to realise that the old way of selling is dead, or at least mortally wounded. Melissa Wilkinson reports.
In the glory days of mass consumption, marketing was about getting consumers to believe they didn’t just want the latest and greatest product, they actually needed it. In a robust economy fuelled by excess and greed, consumers couldn’t resist being swept up in the wave of campaigns promoting ‘bigger, better, faster and newer’.
It was relatively easy for marketers to push products in an environment where consumers could afford to regularly replace and upgrade their goods. The job of marketing was to simply generate awareness and sell products; adding value to consumers was unimportant.
However, in today’s era of post consumerism, the function of marketing looks quite different. While it is true that marketers are still responsible for getting consumers to buy more stuff, it’s the way they go about it that is changing.
According to a report in The Economist, we’re now experiencing a ‘backlash against bling’. As consumers tighten their belts and rein in spending at the prospect of losing their jobs, companies are being challenged to market to consumers who don’t buy things the way they used to.
With less people spending money overall, marketers now need to be smarter and more savvy about the way they target consumers and demonstrate the value of their offering. It means they need to look for ways to reach customers who are more empowered, connected and not interested in consuming more. This new age of frugality and thrift is creating significant changes in the way marketing campaigns are designed and implemented.
For example, more marketers are now focusing on ways to enhance a customer’s overall experience. Social media experts like Matt Rhodes, Head of Insight at UK research firm FreshNetworks, posted a blog suggesting that customer service is the new marketing.
“Listening to customers and having a direct dialogue with them is a form of marketing. Responding to customers is a powerful way to build relationships. You can amplify word of mouth and build loyalty with customers by listening to what they say and responding.”
That’s why social media sites like Twitter and Measuredup.com are attracting the attention of marketers: because they allow consumers to complain, ask questions and connect directly with companies. Some of the tech-savvy marketers are taking advantage of this new medium to build their company’s reputation and brand.
These new trends suggest that marketing is starting to look less like marketing and more like a type of service and value add. After a period of overconsumption and overcommunication, consumers now want to behave and be treated differently.
The global financial crisis and the collapse of some of the most solid banking institutions around the world have shaken consumers’ confidence in big business to the core. Consumers are now relying on their own networks and research skills to make purchasing decisions. Industry experts predict that the downturn is accelerating the use of blogs and online networking sites as consumers do their own homework on firms and products they can trust.
This means that marketers must improve the transparency of their campaigns in an effort to rebuild relationships. Consumers are looking for authenticity in this post-crisis world and they’re placing more value on recommendations from friends and word of mouth. They are now reassessing the value that their traditional brands are promising to deliver, and if they don’t meet their expectations, they’re out.
This means that marketers will no longer be able to blitz consumers with broad messages to ‘buy, buy, buy’. As consumers are changing their buying habits and questioning whether they need more, marketers will need to focus on providing better products, better experiences and services that add value. They’ll also need to carefully target and segment consumers in order to reach them and convince them to buy.
David Armano, Vice-President at interactive marketing firm Critical Mass, says in his blog that “inferior brands, services and marketing strategies are going to fall on deaf ears and wither away while superior brands with more relevant and meaningful ways of connecting with their customers will prevail”.
With consumers not buying as much anymore, it also means that marketers will now be pushed even harder to be accountable and deliver tangible results to a company’s bottom line. Traditionally, marketing as a function has struggled to justify its expenditure and in today’s era of thrift, marketers may have to measure other metrics like consumer loyalty and positive word of mouth.
Tips for marketing:*
- Seek growth through your existing client base through cross-sell and referral arrangements.
- Promote your brand in your centre of influence. Use advertising, networking, sponsorship and sales material in networking forums your clients attend.
- Conduct dual-marketing campaigns with alliances. Expand your distribution channel and share marketing costs with an alliance partner.
- Refine your product packages to reflect changing consumer purchase behaviours.
- Support your client’s businesses by inviting them to write editorials in your e-newsletters.
- Develop a pricing strategy to protect your prices and attract new clients. Offer clients a ‘good, better and best’ pricing option.
- Change your positioning and messages. Make sure your positioning and key messages talk to your clients’ current emotional drivers.
*Source: Maria Anderson, Sustainable Marketing Services Australia.