"The goal of the consumer is to avoid hearing from the advertiser."Quite right. In the days when we still watched TV for a couple hours each night, "commercial break" was code for "toilet break". We learned to view newspapers so that the ads in the corners were little more than colourful margin space. We threw almost all junk mail straight into our recycling bins; now that most of it arrives via email, we have filters that process it for us, so we don't even have to touch it before it goes to Spam.
As our everyday world becomes more crowded with messages, we become better and better at tuning them out. I think the younger generations are better at it, too. My mother still has trouble mentally filtering out the ads on her Facebook page. Personally, the only FB ad I have ever noticed was this one -
- which appeared beside my News Feed not two weeks after I had ended a long, serious and deeply unhealthy relationship. Sure, clever targeted advertising - but so very, very unwelcome. I'd normally have ignored it, but my defenses were down. Even having noticed the ad, I didn't follow it, but screenshotted it and posted the image back to Facebook with a message of indignation.
It seems obvious to me that this kind of marketing (Godin calls it "interruption marketing") is a dead horse still in its reins. I don't trust or respond to taps on the shoulder from strangers. I either do my own searches or I rely on the recommendations of friends, and this, of course, is where social media marketing comes into its own.
Social media has ushered in a new age of trust. We trust our friends to give us good advice, to recommend quality products, to give us honest opinions.
Can most people be trusted?
Internet users are almost twice as likely to believe that yes, people can be trusted, according to Pew America's latest report on the impact of social networking. That is: 46% of internet users think most people can be trusted, but only 27% of non-users agree. But not only that. Facebook users are 43% more likely to trust people than other internet users who aren't on Facebook.
Why? Because Facebook is full of real people, using their real names, communicating with not only their friends, but their family, their colleagues and members of their extended networks. Believe it or not, Facebook keeps the bastards honest. It actually has a no-pseudonyms policy. (Frequently broken, of course, but still, how many members of your friends list use a fake name on Facebook, and how much does it irritate you?)
It's starting to become a marketing cliche, but marketing specialists are constantly encouraging their clients to become involved in social media. Connect with your customer base. Engage with your customer base. Create a dialogue.
But that's only the seed-planting moment. In the social marketing world, you have to be able to plant something just right, let it go, and watch it grow on its own. If the conversation about your company is limited to a dialogue between you and your customers, you're not doing it right. Your ultimate goal is to let go of that conversation and let it spread. You don't want to be the advertiser that's still interrupting people with "these messages". You want to be cool; hang back; not talk so much as be talked about.
The wonderful thing about this way of advertising is that companies will really have to listen. They can't just autofeed us whatever they've got, because we won't eat it anymore. If we're not interested, we ignore - we have plenty of other things to talk about.
Example? Johanna Blakely gave this TED Talk last December, in which she argued that social media will help destroy outdated gender stereotypes, such as those being perpetuated in traditional advertising - say, the 1950s housewife who worries about nothing so much as feeding her in-laws, pleasing her obnoxious children by stocking their lunchboxes just right, and washing stains out of her husbands' filthy work gear.
How? Well, a majority of social media users are female. Social media allows us to vote in what is awesome, and vote out what is weak or offensive. I don't know a single woman who likes those stupid laundry detergent ads. 'Sif we're going to watch them voluntarily, much less recommend them to our friends, when on the web, we have so much else to enjoy.
(Do watch Blakely's talk, if you've got time. It's just eight minutes long. Her points have more substance than mine and her implications are broader.)
Isn't it a wonderful thought? The digital age is also a revolution in consumer democracy. Yeah, okay. We do vote for a lot of cat pictures. But we're also voting for a better, more open, more relevant marketplace.
We've got the power.