Are we in a marketing revolution … Or something even more surprising?

make love not war

Much has been written about the social media revolution and how this “changes everything.”

I have a different view. Is this really a revolution, or is it something even more surprising?

Two technologies — widespread access to high-speed Internet and the availability of free, easy-to-use publishing tools like Facebook, blogs and Twitter — have not so much revolutionized marketing as returned us to our roots in an unexpected way. It has democratized influence and placed customers at the power center of commerce, where they had been for a thousand years.

Before the Internet, before advertising, jingles, mass media or PR spin, we bought from people we knew and trusted.  Business was a human process, not a formula concocted on Madison Avenue.  Merchants needed to fiercely protect their reputation and provide good products because a negative word in their local community could destroy a business. And, there was a social aspect to buying at the village market or the corner store. It was fun.

butcher shop

Does this sound familiar?

The qualities that have always been at the heart of business — a trusted human presence, responsiveness, honesty, and social communion — are at the heart of the social media strategy.  We lost sight of these qualities for 100 years — the advent of mass media. We are not so much experiencing a revolution as a return to the way people have always wanted to do business with us.

It is not really a revolution. We were just lost for awhile.

For the businesses hopelessly addicted to the elegant and useful solution of delivering money to an ad agency and waiting for something to happen … isn’t this the worst possible thing to happen?

Shop image courtesy of Flickr CC and Swindon Collection

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  • Will Reichard

    Great post as usual, Mark. I believe this is one of the central (still-emerging) truths of social media. Gary Vaynerchuk has been saying something along these lines as well. For me, this is where people who really understand the selling process end up.

    Here’s what I’m curious about — what prompted this post for you? Did something happen?

  • Steve Woodruff

    Perhaps it’s the ultimate disintermediation – the removal of Messagers/Manipulators from the transaction. A welcome retro-volution!

  • Nathan Dube

    I have always looked at social media through this lens, that is to say it is what I expected the true ROI of social media to be since inception. I think if we are honest with ourselves making money from social media is merely a by product of doing it right, If you approach this medium with one intention, service/love regardless of how mundane your products or services are, you will attract people who are willing to pay because they want to connect to you as people rather than a brand. IMO…

  • Rodger

    You make a valid, philosphical point about business today. When I worked at an indie publishing company, I mentioned that we were in the age of Gutenberg 2.0.I think we see the impact of people using social media and free publishing tools everyday. Yesterday, I used Vine to express my displeasure with the disorganization of grocery isles at Target. I tagged the company and showed the manager before I left. The manager asked me to complete a “customer care” card, but I explained my Vine was much more effective. I explained their “care card” would only be seen by a low-level marketing or customer service intern, but my Vine when I tweeted it was seen my thousands, potentially millions of people who might relate. In that one act, I put tremendous pressure on Target to clean up, apologize and stop being like Walmart. The Vine and tweet are mighter than the pen. Look to my blog for a follow up post sometimes this week.

  • I’m all in with you on this one, Mark. Us moderns like to take pride in how much better we are than past generations because we have the latest tools, techniques, technology, etc. that business owners of yesteryear never had.

    But, when it comes down to it, whether we were born in the back of a wagon on the prairie in the 1800’s or with a Facebook account today – people are people. And the businessman of today is no better than his ancestors because he has technology. The technology has only allowed him to scale his conversations (to thousands of customers, instead of one-by-one in the butcher shop). And, in some ways, this makes him worse off than his predecessors. If he doesn’t operate with the integrity and authentic person-to-person communication that makes every business thrive in any age, the rest of the world will only find out that much faster, and he’ll have to go find another hustle in which he can play the role of the main huckster.

    Great stuff, as always Mark!

  • Sandra Isaac

    It is a revolution, just not in the primary sense of the word. We are now coming full circle. We have revolved around. and are now coming back to doing business “locally”, socially, with people you trust, through people you trust, with recommendations and peer reviews. We are also Evolving with the technology to go with it.

  • EmilyRColeman

    It has also made it easy for people who know nothing about marketing to pretend they do. It is part not so much of a revolution as a devolution of marketing.

  • useradvocate

    Interesting post Mark. I agree that the rise of Social Media practices and technologies have allowed us to develop complex relationship patterns. But there is still one important difference from the bygone era that you are referencing: in those ‘hyper-local’ social environments of the past, people actually did know each other as real people. These trust-based relationships formed over long periods of time through direct contact and countless social contexts (family, friendships, church, commerce, etc.)

    But social media, trust-based relationships are mostly formed through remote contact. That’s not bad – but different in significant ways. Now I can have the appearance of friendly interaction with a commercial enterprise through a well-planned Social Media strategy, on their part.

    Blogs such as {grow} are great examples of human-to-human conversation through SM media. But in other SM contexts, a lot of the engagement is just data. Personal profiles are not the same as personalities. My pizza makers ‘remember’ what I ordered and the agent tells me that this will be my fifth time I’ve ordered it so it will be free. Sounds delightful but these friendly sounding agents (human or algorithmic) who use data about me to form friendly sounding messages of engagement are ultimately not people I really know. Unlike the shopkeeper of yesteryear, they are either strangers or machines.

    There is a great line in Terminator 2 where the young John Connor asks T2 if it hurts to get shot. Arnie’s classic robotic character answers “I sense injuries. The data could be called ‘pain’”.

    We know now that authenticity is an essential ingredient for any SM strategy – because fake doesn’t work. But authenticity isn’t the only ingredient for reality. As we revolutionize our SM realities, I think it’s wise to keep in mind our human realities.

  • Great question.

    It is something I have been thinking about for some time because most companies — and I do mean most — miss this important point. I have been creating a new speech and book around some of these ideas.

    Always great to hear from you Will. Hope you are well!

  • Love that concept Steve!

  • … and you are certainly a model of that Nathan!

  • Wow. What a great example Rodger. Many thanks for sharing that!

  • Awesome comment James. And by the way, I’m still stewing on our SEO exchange. You taught me something and I am brewing on a post. Thanks for offering your wisdom today!

  • Mass advertising still works of course but the trend is undeniable. Thanks Sandra!

  • RandyBowden

    A great conversation Mark. I often think about the many marketing theroy debates are just that, a debate. Customer care has always been the winning formula for winning the heart and minds of the consumer and will continue. The engagement tools we have today make the social gatherings a great deal larger, figure out how to use them wisely.

  • I think that will sort itself out. There have always been people trying to sell snake oil : )

  • Spectacular comment Michael.

    I think you point out both the bane and the benefit of social media. Do we use it to distance ourselves and create “light” interactions or could this actually be the MEANS of interaction that lead to deeper, meaningful relationships? It could go either way but if you compare it to advertising, certainly at least the opportunity is there for social communion.

    Many of my “weak” social media connections have become close and trusted friends. Is that possible to scale for a brand?

  • Well said and I agree Randy.

  • useradvocate

    I agree Mark – that is the question. Scaling for a brand and building meaningful, trusted-based relationships with customers would involve shifting away from old school, top-down ways of producing the company ‘voice’. I would imagine this also requires new levels of internal trust between the company and its staff who act as Social Media spokespersons (either officially or unofficially).

    In the end it gets down to who says what to whom. I think examples of successful SM branding must have been built upon internal corporate shifts with regard to definitions of Authority, Authorship and Authenticity.

  • Will Reichard

    Thanks, Mark. You’re so on the dot there … it’s seductive to think that our product, our company is different and that we can just throw the switch and watch the money roll in. Maybe it’s just part of human nature to do it even though we never want to be treated that way ourselves. Anyway, looking forward to hearing more–important stuff! Thanks again.

  • Will Reichard

    Such great comments here by all. Mark, your ability to get at the question so precisely always impresses me!

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  • Mark – you had me until “The qualities that have always been at the heart of business — a trusted human
    presence, responsiveness, honesty, and social communion — are at the heart of
    the social media strategy.” You and I and all of our companions in this conversation know that there is a very real, very dark and ugly flip side to that statement that has been with us from the day Cain whacked his brother upside the head (figuratively speaking…I guess). I don’t want to be a wet blanket any more than the next guy, but I think we have a responsibility to acknowledge that the list of qualities that have “always been at the heart of business” include the “criminal element”, for lack of a scarier term, because in truth the Pandora’s sandbox that social media creates for those that would harm others in a business transaction or otherwise is as real as all the benefits our brave new world provides.

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  • I grew up in a small town with trusted (and not so trusted) businesses. I love the idea of the vast internet as a series of small places we visit. I have the blogs I visit and I try to be my own corner stand (not big enough to be a shop yet LOL). Fun imagery and so true. I’ve built my writing career on online social interactions. In my real life, I’m a bit of a hermit, but I love to talk books and such in small groups. I will carry this with me today. Very nice.

  • Agree sir. There is so much tragedy on the social web it’s hard to breathe if I think about it. It proves that the heart of man is desperately wicked and corruption will seep in at every opportunity.

  • Thanks Pauline. I will keep earning your trust here in my little store I hope!

  • Oh, I don’t know that it’s quite that (italics) bad :). Somewhere in between black and white depending on location and speed at any given time. Thankfully you and your team have the force on your side. Carry on!

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  • This was a particularly bad week with the news of the girl who killed her self after social media bullying. That hit me hard. What a world.

  • Yes me too. Same devil different outfit. I just saw a pretty sobering infographic in the IBM x-force security report: – a study on the exploitation of the trusted relationships we’ve been discussing. Here’s a webcast if you’re interested:

  • Yes, I thought of Vaynerchuck as well when I read this, specifically his book Thank You Economy.

  • Always seems like “pressing the reset button” – and getting back to the basics – is beneficial. I would say that social media accelerates the message, but rumors could spread through a small town like wildfire.

    We called it the “party line”…

  • So true. Good to hear from you buddy.

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