This morning I went to the Houston Interactive Marketing Association's regular breakfast event, and the speaker was Mary Bermel, HP's Director of Interactive and Emerging Media. Her presentation covered a lot of material about interactive media and HP's activities in that area, but there were two themes that I thought were worth mentioning here, both related to changing the way we think about how we communicate with the outside world.
The first: as marketers we have spent a lot of time thinking about how to develop messages and push them out to our audiences. The way that people are using the web these days changes that. "Markets are conversations" is a phrase that's been used a lot, but it hasn't been taken to heart; in many cases, it seems like marketers think that markets are conversations in which they talk a lot and the customer listens.
But the reality is that our audiences have a lot of control over whether they have to listen to us... and they can create their own content to displace ours. Marketers' messages become just one voice competing in a media universe where the costs of creating and distributing content are approaching zero.
That means that your advertising has to do more than highlight your marketing messages: it has to engage the user and respect the user's response to it. It has to interact with the user. And most of all, your marketing and advertising are content products in their own right that must offer some value to the person on the other end. Does yours pass that test?
Another point that Mary brought up: we've all been focused on getting people to our web sites. Email drives them there, banner ads drive them there, search optimization drives them there... but does bringing people over the moat into our own web fortresses really fit they way the customer wants to use information?
Sometimes it's fine, and it provides all kinds of useful metrics (and is critical to engaging a customer in dialog). But not always. And so one recommendation she had for marketers: detach and distribute. Don't hold all of your content so close that people can't get at it. To use a crude analogy, you might have to start the conversation elsewhere before you can invite the customer to come visit you.
All in all, a good morning program from a fast-growing local marketing group.