A generation of marketers no longer understand the levers of marketing power and the young are taking over.
Middle aged business people have, mostly, become completely confused about marketing. Middle aged I may be but I'm not one of the confused. From many years' experience in marketing I've learned that all the rules have changed, and have done so remarkably quickly. How? Well the things that once worked, like TV advertising, posters, print advertising, now cost more, deliver less, and often they no longer pay back. Why? The customers have moved elsewhere, and the young people know where they are.
Marketing has been evolving for a few thousand years ever since humans became farmers and over- produced for their own needs.
Initially it was just their own surplus that was taken to market and trade, later people aimed for a surplus to be able to take to market. The consequence was a need for selling, learning how to push more of what you make to people who do not necessarily need it. Later, as the process became more sophisticated, marketers began researching customers. They produced specifically for consumer needs and used advertising and PR to make them aware those needs could be satisfied. All of these were outbound marketing - techniques that tried to capture the customer's attention when they were involved in some other activity - like reading the newspaper, watching TV or out at the cinema.
Now, the explosion in media and things to do has meant a huge body of people moving away from fitting in with pre-determined schedules. Cinema, TV, radio, theatre no longer controls what they do, they now choose what and when by using technology. Think of the iPod and iTunes, recorded TV that automatically extracts the advertising, the so-called 'mobile phone' that does everything except make it easy to call.
Above all, of course, there are the PC and the internet. These are the main source of the marketing revolution that is inbound marketing. This essentially means people, customers, are ignoring your advertising but searching you out when they want something. Today over 85% of new purchases for goods and services, private and business related, begin with an online search. There are people looking for you wanting to buy right now.
Are you hiding from them? Your website was built 3 to 5 years ago and has only been updated once since you built it. If you search your product and town the website is not on the front page of results. Effectively you DO NOT EXIST, you are invisible and your customers are going to your competitor.
There are five key things you must do: - reinvent your website with remarkable content - begin to write and upload items of interest that will encourage visitors to return - make certain you are found by search engines - get involved in social media - measure your marketing's effectiveness and stop spending on what no longer works.
Be honest, look at your website. Is it a confused online brochure? Reinvent it as a hub of interest for your customers. Tell people what you do and how to engage with you. Regularly add short articles about using your products and services, add a blog and talk to them, let them talk to you. It is good to link with other interesting sites with related ideas, products and services, to aid their research. Visitors also love free stuff, free downloads of user guides or research are things you would happily give anyway, so position them as free. Give your website a clear purpose and make it obvious what that purpose is. If someone lands on your website for the first time you have perhaps only 4 seconds to engage them before they are gone to your competitor.
You may find it an alien concept, but millions of people have online social lives, including many relationships with people they have never met. They are avid readers of what is happening through an informal web version of a diary or log, 'blog' is shortened from 'web log'. You would be amazed at the interest there is in regularly-updated but random thoughts from your business, or, perhaps easier to grasp, the opportunity to comment on short articles. Your business needs to be active and get found on the so called 'blogosphere'.
Get found by search engines: in the UK Google has about 90% of the market but Bing, owned by Microsoft, is working hard to change that. A process called search engine optimisation (SEO) first makes it easy for search engines to visit and find your site in order to rank it, then builds your site a reputation by checking the site is active (there are regular changes to its content) and by ranking for specific key words and phrases. Top ranked sites get on to the front results page of a search for your best key words, the words people search for you by.
Social media is perhaps the hardest concept for older and established business people to grasp. How could it possibly relate to business? Well, for starters close to 30% of the 17 to 35 year olds visiting one of these sites several times daily and close to 70% subscribe to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Dig, StumbleUpon, YouTube. They use them to connect with friends and friends of friends. They form groups and discuss, for hours. It is amazing the variety of things people are interested in, and that includes you. It need not be daunting to access them. Once you have worked out where you want to be and what you want to say, managing it can be simplified and centralised.
The great thing about web marketing is its immediacy and measurability. That age-old problem for marketers of 'knowing that half the advertising spend is wasted, but not knowing which half' has gone. To measure your results from the very first day there are good free tools that put you in control. It makes split testing techniques and continuous improvement easy. Quite simply you keep the best and run a trial next to it; if the trial performs better then you make that your standard and replace the old with a new trial.
I recommend that you take inbound marketing very seriously. Those that do are still growing their businesses despite the recession whilst those that are letting the change of focus from outbound to inbound marketing pass then by are losing business and market share day by day. Find an up-to-date marketing expert, not a web designer, and put new life into your business.
About the author Tim Meadows-Smith is a hands on investor in early stage and turnaround businesses. He works as an experienced non-executive chairman, director, business advisor, and mentor. He has a classical marketing background gained internationally with famous global brands He helps business leaders take the jargon out of online marketing.