Stickier Marketing: How to Win Customers in a Digital Age

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Sticky Marketing describes how companies need to move away from the old marketing system of shouting messages at people, to a new model of customer engagement, where they will attract customers by providing value and becoming 'sticky'.

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01: Printing Press to World Wide Web

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When I became President in 1993, there were only 50 sites on the worldwide web – unbelievable – 50. When I left office, the number was 350 million and rising.

(PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON, 20011)

As alluded to by President Clinton, it is the pace at which change has taken place since the invention of the world wide web that has made understanding its effects so difficult. Many established companies failed to grasp quickly enough how the landscape was altering. Consequently, they have been left behind by new companies that have filled the void.

For example, Yellow Pages was a concept and brand known throughout the world for over 100 years.2 In whichever country you lived, it was often your first point of reference when looking for a product, service or supplier. Quite simply, Yellow Pages dominated search. Surely, therefore, any of the major companies that owned Yellow Pages were in the best position to establish themselves as the major search tool on the web. In the UK, Yellow Pages was owned by British Telecom,3a, 3b a huge company with vast resources. Yet, it was Google that became the major search brand online: a company with no history, launched in 1998 from a garage in California by two computer graduates.4

 

02: Scarcity to Abundance

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As technology and the web play a greater part in our lives, we are seeing a shift in the dynamics of scarcity and abundance. Think back to 1990, the year the first-ever communication took place over the web.1 At the time, most people probably thought that they had a lot of choice and access to information. Yet, relative to where we are today, this was not the case. For example, here are some of the ways in which UK consumers were limited in choice at that time:

   •  Sky TV was less than one year old, having started on 5 February 1989.2 It had only a million subscribers, leaving virtually the entire UK population with a choice of only four terrestrial television channels.

   •  The European air industry was going through deregulation, a process that did not finish until 1 January 1993.3 EasyJet was not to launch until 19954 and although Ryanair flew its first low-budget flight in 1986,5 the choices in low-cost air travel that we enjoy today were not available.

   •  There were only two landline telephone providers, BT and Mercury, with the latter enjoying only 3.5 per cent share of the residential phone market.6 Therefore, almost everybody’s telephone was provided by British Telecom.

 

03: Transactions to Engagement

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The shift from scarcity to abundance has huge implications for marketing. Ostensibly it means that the traditional model of marketing, and the way in which companies acquired new customers, is broken.

Previously, marketing operated as a funnel (Figure 3.1). It worked by companies paying a lot of money to ‘shout’ at their potential customers. The more money they had, the more often they tended to shout, via vehicles such as direct mail, cold calling, leaflet drops, advertising etc. Some people reacted to the shouting. That action was referred to as response. In business-to-consumer marketing, it was hoped that this response would result in a direct increase in sales. In business-to-business marketing, this increase would come by following up the response, with prospects being qualified out, until eventually there were some paying customers at the end. Thus, a process that could have started with 20,000 direct mail shots might end with 20 paying customers; hence the funnel. As long as the income generated by the paying customers covered the cost of the campaign, with some left over for profit, a company would have made a return on investment and the marketing would be regarded as a success.

 

04: Benefits to Problems

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In 1961, at his inaugural address, President John F Kennedy famously said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ This sentiment could be used to describe what marketing should be delivering today: ‘Ask not what your marketing can do for you, but what your marketing can do for your customer.’

Becoming ‘sticky’ and adopting the customer engagement model of marketing, ie turning the funnel upside down, requires a change in approach from other traditional marketing conventions. Among these is the way in which messages are produced. Marketers have routinely focused on conveying the benefits of their product or service to potential buyers. This type of messaging is, by definition, transactional in nature.

Benefits are benefits only when you are ready to buy. For example, a human resources consultancy may communicate an array of benefits in using its service. It may emphasize the protection it can provide for your business against litigation, therefore keeping your business safe. It could stress its ability to make sure your company is compliant with current rules and regulations, mitigating the chances of receiving fines or facing other difficulties. Finally, it could articulate the work it undertakes in establishing efficient practices, saving both time and money. However, if you are not currently in the market for any HR service, or already have a supplier, these benefits are likely to be of little interest. In order to become ‘sticky’ and engage prospects and customers, you have to stop focusing on transactions and find value around the product or service you deliver.

 

05: Products to Experiences

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Before the Second World War, the Western industrialized economies were product economies. More people were employed in the making of products than any other sector of the market. Differentiation, when purchasing, was mainly based on the quality and characteristics of the product. There was very little else to be taken into consideration when making a purchase. In a world of limited choice, customer expectation was relatively low.

After the Second World War, the Western industrialized countries began to develop into service economies. By the end of the 1950s more people were working in the service sector than anywhere else.1 As the availability of products increased, and subsequently prices declined, they became increasingly commoditized. It was, therefore, the service delivery around these products that became more influential when making purchasing decisions. This new emphasis was borne out by companies that started to change the focus of their business. For example, IBM consciously repositioned itself from a manufacturer of products to a service company delivering business solutions.2 Customers were less concerned with the quality and features of a particular product as the offerings became increasingly similar. It was other aspects of the purchase, such as free delivery, home installation or the availability of post-sales support, that became important when deciding on which item to buy.

 

06: Unique Selling Point to Customer Engagement Points

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The idea of the unique selling point1 or the unique selling proposition (USP) started to be used in advertising in the 1940s. It was finally written about and explained by Rosser Reeves, an advertising executive working for Ted Bates and Company, an advertising agency on New York’s Madison Avenue. In his 1961 book Reality in Advertising, Reeves explains what the USP is and how it works.

In simple terms, a USP is a unique benefit that will attract customers. It is ‘unique’ because it is supposed to be an offer that no one else in the marketplace has. Therefore, it is a way of gaining a competitive advantage.

In the ‘transactional funnel’ approach to marketing, the USP was a great idea. If you were going to shout at people about your product or service, having something unique, and therefore special, gave you a greater chance of catching a prospect’s attention. Moreover, your advertising, direct mail, leaflet drops etc, were designed to capture people who were currently in the market to buy. Having a USP gave them a reason to buy from you.

 

07: Messages to Conversations

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Before the web, the major forms of communication – print, radio, cinema and television – left the public as passive receivers of information. The few people who had the means of distribution could convey their ideas to the many, and the rest of the populace had to be satisfied with sharing their thoughts with friends, family and colleagues.

Magazines and newspapers had letter pages and radio shows hosted phone-ins, but most people had very few ways of distributing their ideas to the masses. This being the case, it was something that the ‘silent majority’ accepted (‘silent majority’ being a well-known colloquialism that reflected this situation). In marketing terms, these circumstances gave companies quite a lot of control in their interactions with prospects and customers alike. Companies would create imagery and messages and then pay for distribution in order to put these in front of their audience. Consumers had very few outlets by which they could respond to this messaging and therefore were unable to voice an opinion.

 

08: Image to Reputation

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The Industrial Revolution made it possible to mass-produce products; mass media made it possible to shout about them. It was these phenomena that led to the traditional funnel approach to marketing that became the accepted practice and wisdom.

Goods were mass-produced and distributed. Companies would then shout about them in order to grab people’s attention. Constant shouting would ensure that these goods were very much in the public consciousness. As items were required, people would often trust products that were most familiar. Because of this, it was the products that companies paid to shout about that were usually the most successful.

Traditional mass media meant that a company conveyed its message to an audience, who were reduced to being mere passive receivers of the information. Customers did not often interact with any person from these corporations at all. Companies in this world of one-to-many communications needed to try to re-create the feelings that a person had when they bought from someone they knew and trusted.

 

09: Controlling to Sharing

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The creation of the internet and the world wide web, combined with advances in technology, presents both individuals and companies with unprecedented opportunities. At the same time, however, one could argue that the landscape is more competitive than it has ever been, as many barriers to market have come down and therefore there are more entities trying to compete.

For example, there were 1,186,900 registered companies in the United Kingdom in 1990–91.1 By 2012–13, this had nearly trebled to 3,044,710.2 Similarly, in the United States, registered companies grew by over a million from 6,319,300 in 19923 to 7,396,628 in 2010.4 However, this is only a small part of the story. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the rise of India and China, the Western industrial economies now find themselves competing with literally billions of extra people. As technology increasingly renders geographical boundaries irrelevant for many purchases, this competition becomes even more fervent. Of course, the same facts also present companies with fresh and exciting opportunities. These territories provide Western industrialized countries with new markets in which to expand, as growing businesses and an emerging middle class look to purchase goods and services. In this global market, however, it is the very nature of competition and the way you respond to it that has really changed.

 

10: Advertisements to Content

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When over 8 million people watched Felix Baumgartner become the first skydiver to break the speed of sound live on YouTube, it was not just a triumph for him and his team, but also for Red Bull. The space diving project was known as ‘Red Bull Stratos’1 because it was the energy drink company Red Bull that funded the venture. However, this was just an extension of a strategy Red Bull has followed for many years.

Red Bull Media House, the content arm of Red Bull, was established in 2007 and has since been responsible for producing a plethora of videos covering a wide range of extreme sports. These videos, while entertaining and compelling, also fit with the company’s market positioning of enabling people to live life at the extreme. Whether you are an athlete in training, working in an office or partying in a nightclub, Red Bull, as their strap line suggests, ‘gives you wings’.

Red Bull is a severe example of a principle that all organizations must learn if they want their marketing to be effective in a digital age. That is, that all businesses are now publishers. Quite simply, every company today has media it owns. Whether it is a website, a blog, a page on LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+, a Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram account, a YouTube channel, or any of the other multitude of communication mediums that can be utilized by a company, every business today is a media business, because every company owns a variety of media channels.

 

11: Broadcast to Discovery

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Once an organization is producing valuable content, it needs to be ‘discovered’ by the audience for whom it is relevant. Needless to say, a business will put content on its own ‘real estate’. So some videos may go on a company’s YouTube channel, while others may be put on its website. Some photographs may be placed on a Facebook page, with others located on Pinterest. In order to ascertain which content should be placed where, an organization needs to decide for whom and what they are utilizing each platform.

For example, a car showroom may decide to use Pinterest to place pictures of all the different makes and models currently available. It may also provide a picture gallery of previous models down the years, and their evolution. Meanwhile, its Facebook page may be dedicated to encouraging customers to upload pictures and stories about their own experiences with their vehicles. Twitter may be utilized to re-tweet interesting stories for car enthusiasts and to provide people with useful hints and tips. The car showroom may be running some ‘hangouts’ on Google+, whilst participating in relevant forums on LinkedIn to address fleet managers and business customers.

 

12: Static to Mobile

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Although the history of the internet can be traced back to the 1950s,1 it was during the 1980s that the concept of a worldwide network that was all interconnected, called the ‘internet’,2 was introduced. However, it was in the mid-1990s,3 with the widespread use of e-mail, Voice over internet Protocol phone calls and the maturing of the world wide web, that the ‘internet’ started to have a revolutionary impact on the way we all live and work.

When people started to use the internet and the world wide web, it was something people ‘dialled into’ in order to access information. In many ways, therefore, it was no different from accessing a book, catalogue, newspaper or some other form of information. In fact, in the days of ‘dial up’ connections, it was often slower and more challenging than using more traditional media.

However, as the internet and world wide web have matured, together with the fast pace of innovation in digital technology, the whole nature of these channels has changed.

As broadband became more widely available, starting in the year 2000,4 the web was no longer ‘dialled into’ but ‘always on’. However, use of the web was still static. In other words, one had to be in a particular place in order to access the rich array of information available. With the introduction of the Apple iPhone in 2007,5 the first smart phone to really capture the public imagination, mobile has increasingly become the primary access point to the internet and web. In other words, it is not just always on, but with us all the time.

 

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