Of all the seismic communications changes, perhaps none has shaken things up
like the Internet.
In fact, the Web is fundamentally changing the way we build, position, communicate
and integrate business brands. Not just on the Internet. Across all media.
Because the Web changes everything
For the first time in history, your customers and prospects
control the amount, flow, source and speed of brand and product information.
For the first time, you can learn about individual customers' and prospects'
needs and perceptions and understand what's really important to them. And
how your products and services can help them from their point of view. For the
first time you can connect directly with their heads and respond to them in
And as a result, some business marketers are more rattled than a cocktail shaker
in a Noel Coward play.
Because for the first time, business communications is all
about listening and responding. Not about sending
things out. Not about pushing carefully edited, censored, tailored,
prepackaged messages down a channel. It's about dialogue. Not monologues. (If you'd like to know the difference, click
For the first time…well, except for a few thousand years
ago when markets were truly markets…
Now it gets really bazaar
You remember markets? When traders returned from faraway
places with spices and silks and precious magical stones. When people woke early
and went there for coffee and vegetables, eggs and wine and Doric columns, bloodletting
leeches and soothsaying. For pots. For toys. For love. For rope. For soap. For
wagons. For bleating goats and evil-tempered camels. They went there to look
and listen and marvel, to buy and to be amused.
But mostly they went to meet each other. And to talk.
That's because the first markets were filled with people, not abstractions,
demographic profiles or statistical aggregates. They were the places where supply
rubbed up against demand. Where buyers and sellers met, laughed with each other,
yelled at each other and shared information and connected.
The first markets were filled with talk.
Some of it was about goods and products. Some was news, opinions, gossip and
advice. But all of it was straightforward, direct and real and very human.
And guess what, Sparky. We're shifting back.
Because the Web changes nothing
For thousands of years markets were essentially conversations between people
who sought out others who shared the same interest.
And they're about to be the same again. We are coming full circle. Only this time the marketplace
is the world.
Technology is making markets conversations again. And that
will require us to change those steadfast rules of branding and marketing. And
rethink how we communicate with customers and prospects in all media.
The Internet isn't about information or communications
per se. Rather, it brings one totally unique and transforming thing to both
those functions that nothing else ever has.
Interactivity is the thing
Interactivity is the defining characteristic of the Web.
In fact, in the future, if you can't interact 24/7 with all your customers
and prospects, you'll net about as much as a Philly cheesesteak concession
at a k.d. lang concert.
Interactivity will define what works on the Internet and
what doesn't. The future of brand communications on the Internet revolves
around your ability to present your brand in such a way that customers and prospects
can interact with it. Engage in a give and take with its key product/service
That interaction creates brand experience. And, if done correctly, it can be
used to empower your customers and prospects around your brand. To help them
do their jobs better, faster or more effectively through your offering.
And it's even bigger than
But the communications influence of interactivity goes far beyond the Internet.
Interactivity is a powerful metaphor for the patient/doctor
or student/teacher relationship. You describe your symptoms. The doctor diagnoses
your situation, prescribes the appropriate treatment and gets you in touch with
fellow sufferers as a support group. That is the kind of interactivity, dialogue
and empowerment that's possible on the Net.
More important than that, however, is interactivity's
ability to create this same kind of thought leader/helper relationship with
customers and prospects across the board. It can transform the very nature of
your brand and communications relationship with them in all media.
Beware the digital dump
But despite the Web's awesome potential to bring people
together, to connect, to talk directly, to ask questions, to reply, to respond,
to empower, the business community has managed to turn it into one humongous
barn door that everybody's throwing their communications cow pies up against
to see what will stick.
Unfortunately, this technology gives any business marketer with a PC and some
cheap software the sudden power to speak to the world and populate their communications
with all kinds of irrelevant contents and digital gewgaws. And because they can, they do.
You've got your streaming video. You've got your 7,000 PowerPoint files. You've
got your "lobby cam." You've got your rollovers. You've
got your live audio streaming. You've got your Flash-animated mission statements. You've got trouble. Right here in Cyber City.
Conventions in the birth canal
The problem with all this stuff is it's more distracting
than Marge Schott in a g-string. And people are losing track of the true transforming
potential of the Web.
What's really frightening is if you listen closely you
can hear a lot of business marketers and communicators settling into these conventions
like a fat guy in hammock after Thanksgiving dinner with double-dip yams and
Baskin-Robbins mega-gutbuster pumpkin pie parfait sundaes.
"The Internet is just another medium like direct marketing
or TV. You integrate it into the mix like you do any other channel," they yammer.
It is not
The Internet is a place. We buy books and tickets and pneumatic
drills and computer chips "on" the Web, not over it, beside it or
through it. To call it a medium or distribution channel or a platform denies
its fundamental human hospitality.
What happens on the Web is more than commerce, more than content, more than
push and pull and clicks and traffic and e-anything.
The Internet is a real place where people go to learn and to talk to each other
and to do business. It is a bazaar where customers and prospects look for wares
and advice. Where merchants present goods and services and ideas for display.
And where people gather around topics that interest them.
It's a whole pile of shifts
As a matter of fact, it's a fundamental shift in how we gather, use, evaluate
and communicate brand information. It is a conversation. And that goes much
deeper than technology, technique or media.
For example, brand positioning has traditionally been an
expensive sojourn into corporate chest-beating, backslapping and aspiration
spinning. And the resulting brand communicates no more than a big sloppy corporate
Consultants spend time with one company leader after another, listening to the
company line, the corporate wish list, the market commands from on high and
basically perform the role of corporate shrink. Based on this incestual information,
an inward looking positioning statement is written about what the brand will
become. No matter what people already think.
Bend over and kiss your aspiration
In the new world, brand positioning is about discovering who you, as a business,
are. Discovering your identity, not inventing a new one. In the Internet age,
positioning should help a brand become what it is, not something it is not.
And if you want to know what that thing is, there's an easy way to find
out. Shut up and listen. Listen to what your market says you are.
They decide now
So if the market's view of you is not to your liking,
think long and hard before you assume they're wrong. That they're
a bunch of deaf, dumb and blind dunderheads who don't understand the inner
If you don't like what you're hearing, then the
branding and marketing task is not to change the market's idea of who you
are, but actually to change who you are. (And if you'd like to know more
about how to do that, click here.)
That's because the real power and potential of the Internet
is not technology. It's not a message delivery system. It's not banner
ads or click-throughs.
It's about empowerment
It's like the invention of the automobile. It changed the world because
it empowered individuals. For the first time, people could go wherever they
wanted to go, whenever they wanted to go there, however they wanted to go there.
Because of its unique interactive quality, the Internet lets us do the same
thing with information and communications and brand experience. And most importantly,
It's about them
It invites your individual, unique and diverse customers and prospects in to
talk, to laugh with each other and to learn from each other. Connected together,
they reclaim their voice in the market. But this time with more reach and wider
influence than ever before.
In order to do that your brand must be real. It must deliver
what your customers are looking for in the way they're looking for it.
Your brand must be more about them and their perceptions of the world than it
is about you. (If you'd like to know why that's necessary in this
changing world, go here.)
It's about being real
To be successful in this new environment, your brand is going to have to be
customer-centric enough and real enough to empower your customers and prospects.
Help them do what they need to do faster, better, cheaper or more effectively.
Empower them with tools that make them better at their jobs. Make their professional
lives more compelling or just more fun. Which in turn means you'll have
to empower your customers around your brand in all media.
If you'd like to check out a branding approach that
does just that, click on "Increase your brandwidth."
Check it out. Because Pandora's box has been opened, my friend.
And it's not about sales pitches anymore. It's about two-way conversations.
It's not about sending messages. It's about listening and understanding
and responding to people's needs. It's not about selling a market.
It's about becoming part of the community. It's all about making your
contribution in your brand's unique voice to make the community's