Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion, proving once again that Mark Zuckerberg is either one of the luckiest business leaders or one of the best – depending on whom you talk to, of course. A photo-sharing app that lets you add filters and post to your networks is all well and good, but… well, is this type of thing new? Not really. Not in the “grand scheme” of things.
The past few years have increasingly reminded me of the years before technology turned into this huge, always growing, always changing beast. When marketers start talking about trends, I shake my head, wondering how many are actually seeing the big picture.
As anyone in the fashion industry will tell you, clothing fads come and go, but often in a big cycle. My right-hand man, Jahnelle, can remember when everyone wore the tapered skinny jeans. They teased her about her bell-bottoms. Twenty years later, bell-bottoms were back in style. Now, we’re back to skinny jeans.
History buffs will tell you the same thing about societies and empires. There’s a cycle. They start out small, they grow to encompass a massive amount of humanity, and then slowly start their decline into obscurity.
Welcome to the Circle of Life
Marketers, including myself, often talk about the change in buyer personas. The newest generations are quite different from the ones originally foraging into new technology. –But what are we really looking at? What are we really seeing?
Personally, I think we’re seeing just another “circle around” to yesteryear.
As a society, we’ve always enjoyed sharing. We’ve enjoyed listening to others tell their stories. I’d go so far as to say we’re a somewhat voyeuristic society. It doesn’t matter whether the stories are good or bad… actually, the worse a story is the more we’re likely to read it, aren’t we?
Back in yesteryear, how did we share? We shared our personal lives by leaning on the fence and chatting with the neighbors. We invited people over to our house to show them reels and reels of home movies they didn’t particularly care to see – the same pictures of the same vacation for three hours. We wrote long, in depth letters, full of our lives to mail to some hapless pen pal miles away.
So what’s different with Facebook? What’s different with Twitter?
We’re still sharing over the fence, but in a technological world, everyone is our neighbor.
We’re still sharing vacation photos, but people don’t have to look at all of them. They can click through a couple, make a comment and go on with their lives.
On the other hand, we’re not sharing quite as much, are we?
You know, optimize means to make as effective, perfect, or useful as possible. This isn’t new. The only thing that’s new about it is what we’re optimizing. I once watched a man measure the same length of wood four times when building a house. When I asked why, he said, “If it’s off by as much as 36th of an inch, it can throw the square of the wall off. If the wall isn’t square, the house won’t be square.” 1/36th of an inch? That, my friends, is precision.
What about the R & D departments of any product-based business? They spend years tweaking, testing and perfecting a product before it goes out. If that’s not optimization, I don’t know what is.
What’s “conversion” but another word for “sale”? The marketing industry as a whole has spent decades, if not centuries, dissecting buyer personas and psychology. We’ve dug deep into the physic to answer the question that nags us all: what, pray tell, will make the consumer buy? What will reach out to them to put the money down on a product? What will make this product stand out from the rest to the buyer?
Nothing New Under the Sun
All of this really does come down to one, single point. We – the generations of today – struggle to understand this “new” technology and its uses. Yet, when looked at as a big picture instead of individual trees, we’re coming back around to the times of yesteryear.
What do consumers want? They want businesses to treat them like they’re somebody instead of a sale. Why else would there be a very obvious trend in connections? Why else would those businesses who actively (and correctly) use social media do well?
Consider the ways people respond to a company contacting them through Twitter. I’ve often used the example of AT&T, who contacted me on Twitter less than five minutes after I posted a complaint. Some of the angst quickly disappeared as soon as they contacted me, and was completely gone by the time the conversation was finished. Being able to connect with the company, and being treated like my business mattered, made all the difference.
These things – sharing, conversions, optimization-, they aren’t new. The way we go about them may be, but the things themselves are older than you might think.
So… here’s the question that I’d like to pose to you. How do we, marketers that we are, use these new forms to connect in old ways? How do we capitalize and reach out to the consumer in ways they have come to expect (again)?
If there were a real silver bullet in marketing, what would it be?