Get Down with the People

    March 21, 2006

Today I participated in a meeting with a group of senior marketers from one of the largest global companies in the world.

At one point the exec who convened the team asked me point blank, “Steve, what’s the most important thing we need to do as marketers in this new world?” My answer? “Get down with the people.”

The time for analysis is over. Cluetrain is no longer a concept. It’s reality. Consumers are forming their own “mecosystems.” They’re fusing matter from all corners of the consumer-generated and traditional media universes into a solar system that revolves solely around them. With this shift, the best way to persuade is now to engage with them one-on-one as individuals, not as demographics, targets or markets.

Thankfully this is top of mind among marketers. Stuart Elliott says that engagement was the theme of the day at this week’s Advertising Research Foundation conference. Consumers are turning away from media and, instead, tuning into each other. So engagement is the buzzword of this new era. The problem is marketers are looking at engagement in a very one-sided way.

Engagement is not just about how to get more consumers interacting and bonding with you. It’s also about you creating ways for individuals to meet and engage with each other in a house that you built. It’s about coalescing communities, as another exec told me last week. It’s about forging a deeper relationship with small groups, rather than superficial ties with larger ones.

The problem here, however, is that this is very difficult for marketers to swallow. We’ve been trained in going after big numbers; the PR hit in the Wall Street Journal, the ad on the Super Bowl. We like hitting consumers over the head so they remember a message. These days are waning and it’s changing the economics of marketing. Some are even saying getting a marketing MBA will work against you today. That’s a big change, folks.

Marketing is evolving. It’s now more about creating a deeper relationship with the few, or even the one. This is good for all of us involved. Still, I am concerned that more marketers are concerned with forging a deeper relationship with consumers than helping them do so with each other. The companies that can bring together communities and get then out of the way are the ones that are going to be the most successful in this new world.

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Steve Rubel is a PR strategist with nearly 16 years of public relations, marketing, journalism and communications experience. He currently serves as a Senior Vice President with Edelman, the largest independent global PR firm.

He authors the Micro Persuasion weblog, which tracks how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the public relations practice.