I feel overwhelmed by the volume of digital messages coming at me from all corners of my life. And I am not alone. My 2013 prediction is that value is about to rapidly migrate once again in technology markets.
Over the holidays I met a young woman in her 30s — a former boutique owner who now works at a leading retailer — who told me that she stopped using Facebook when she realized the postings kept growing in number and falling in sincerity. Also, she’s “unsubscribed” from retailers she buys from, finding that their recommendations based on past purchases more often insult rather than reflect her taste. She is tuning out to digital messaging much as I ignore the ads in newspapers to make my newspaper reading more efficient.
Perhaps my message overload problem was not age-related, I thought leaving our conversation. Later that day, my 23-year old daughter Lauren confirmed that this young woman is not alone. In fact, Lauren is starting her marketing career in experiential marketing — live events that bring attention to brands — because she feels her generation increasingly elects to ignore uninvited digital messaging. And a recent HBR blog author asked the world to stop sending her so many e-mails as we are all becoming reactionary rather than responsive.
Pivot points — dramatic changes in a market — arise when trends work in opposition, creating an unsustainable situation. Digital marketing is approaching a pivot point.
One of the opposing trends, of course, is the proliferation of customized digital messages. Digital technology has dramatically lowered the cost of marketing. I remember how careful I had to be as a Chief Marketing Officer in the 1980s with direct mail because it was so costly. Today’s version of direct mail — digital messages delivered to e-mail addresses and Facebook/Twitter accounts — are like cloud-based software, each incremental unit essentially costless. And personalization of these messages has increased marketing ROI. Is it any wonder we are inundated with messages?
The opposing trend? The young woman’s story I just told is an increasingly common example: as messages grow in number they drop in value, and we tune out, just as we turned to recorded TV shows as TV ads increasingly crowded out true content. So while digital marketing may continue to be cheap, it will be increasingly value-less. And what company can afford to spend any resources on something that provides reduced value to it while frustrating its customers?
The pivot point I anticipate will be a dramatic migration of value from digital outreach to insightful responsiveness. Value regularly migrates in markets from the commoditized elements to differentiated elements that address unmet needs. In consumer electronics, value migrated from hardware to software that creates the user experience. In the years ahead, value will migrate from companies who keep shouting at us to ones that listen, that stand ready and able to answer our questions.
Case in point. I don’t want clothing retailers’ ads in my digital in-box or catalogues in my mailbox any more. I want a retailer to be my personal stylist, available when I have a question, am seeking a specific item, or inform them that I am ready to update my wardrobe. I want the company to respond to me, rather than me responding to their initiation. Whoever gets there first — Nordstrom’s, Saks. Macy’s, Neimen Marcus or local boutiques — will win my clothing business.
Many articles were written at the end of the 2012 about competition between Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook as their markets increasingly overlap. My bet is that Google will remain a dominant tech leader as customers seek platforms that provide the most useful information to questions they pose because “answering” has always been Google’s core business. Were I Google’s strategist, I would take a lesson from Amazon and become the front end for other companies, helping them answer their customers’ questions, much as Amazon has helped other companies sell and ship their products.
The challenge for companies will be creating and retaining awareness and relevancy so people know and remember to seek out your organization for answers. Content marketing and experiential marketing will be key, as will having the right answers when customers inquire. Great experiences will beget yet more.
As you enter 2013, what can you do as an organization to be a resource and never a nuisance for your customers and prospects?