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(AP Photo/Reed Saxon) The author says Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is one of a new breed of smart marketers.
Business Insight: In marketing, what’s old is new again

Existing model’s end means return to community based feedback and information, author says.

First Published Apr 10 2013 05:50 pm • Last Updated Apr 11 2013 03:21 pm

Bill Lee, author of The Hidden Wealth of Customers: Realizing the Untapped Value of Your Most Important Asset, says traditional marketing is on its way out, such as dinner-time phone calls from noisy call centers and glossy pictures of fashions worn by models who barely look human.

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Why isn’t traditional marketing working?

Because prospects and buyers today have too much access to relevant information. They no longer depend on, or pay as much attention to, traditional marketing and sales communications. They want to hear from their peers, and the Web and social media are making this increasingly possible. Smart marketers — such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos or Salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff — are working to make this more so.

What else is replacing the old model?

As usual, a lot of companies are looking to technology — such as big data and social media — to usher in the new world of marketing. But in fact what we’re actually seeing is a reversion to the small town, "community" style of marketing. If you need a refrigerator or a smartphone or a good personal physician or a computing device of some sort, chances are you’re not going to look for a salesperson to talk to, or for marketing materials to read. You’ll want to talk to your friends, trusted colleagues, family members, professional associates and the like. You want to get a sense of who or what they use, and why they like it. You want to get "real" information from people who are in a situation similar to yours. That’s the community buying experience smart companies are replicating today, on a large or even global scale.

How can firms cultivate a local buying experience?

By participating in their communities, online and live. These can include communities of interest, professional communities, user groups, what have you. And give some serious thought to forming a customer community. In the process, identify your "rock star" customer advocates, those who say great things about you, and who have a desire to build their own social capital. That is, they want to expand their affiliation networks, build their reputation in those networks, learn and grow, and have a say in what you do. These people can do remarkable things for growing your business.

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Other tips?

Well, don’t make the mistake of expecting customers to form a community around "our brand" (particularly the type of brand developed by long, internally focused discussions). Instead, ask, "What does our product or service mean to our customers?" And a good way to help you figure that out is to listen to their conversations. Also, use some creativity. More companies can form vibrant customer communities than they think they can. After all, Procter & Gamble formed a highly successful community of teenage girls around its feminine hygiene products — called BeingGirl. P&G realized that, to young women, its feminine hygiene products meant the exciting, scary transition into young womanhood, opening up a broad range of topics they could talk about.

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