Marketing was a way to connect consumers’ need/ want to a product/ service. Let us not go into the semantics of marketing, but in essence, it helped consumers make a choice, for whatever reason, emotional or rational, about a product/ service.

Traditionally, marketing worked successfully with the rampant use of one-way communication. Messages were beamed at consumers – they chose to retain what they connected with and leave the rest. When there was a disconnect, they perhaps shared it with a small circle of peers/ friends/ family. Everybody was happy.

Then…social media happened.

All conventional theories of marketing went for a toss since people are now talking back about brands and their connect/ disconnect using one-to-many platforms. This communication rivals (or, will soon rival) traditional one-way communication and therein lies the problem.

The control that one-way communication offered to brands and communicators is not an option in social media.

In its bare essence, it amounts to saying,

  1. If your brand/ product/ service is good, you’ll do well. Else, you’re in big trouble.
  2. If you’re good, people will talk about it and spread the word.
  3. If you goof up, accept it, help customers get over it, and move on.

While there is an element of perception and opinion on what people are likely to consider as good or bad, this seems to be it, at the basic level.

So, at one level, customers will decide whether a product/ service fits the needs/ wants or not. You can only do so much research and assume it will – customers will judge. At another level, customers decide what is worth spreading. And if you do goof up somwhere, there is no way to hide it, since it is bound to be exposed by someone, somewhere online – and it spreads.

What exactly is the lesson here? Are we back to the good ‘ol days when we were asked to ‘be good’?

Let me explain with a practical example.

A product has been announced as ‘being launched’. People are signing up for the product and have paid an advance for the purchase. There is a practical issue with the client – the delivery is delayed due to internal issues. It is not intended, but there is a problem and it is causing delay in delivery. People who have paid an advance are irate enough to vent their annoyance online.

They want to be ‘good’, but there are some issues that are portraying them as ‘not good’. If there was no conversational media, they could have perhaps pulled a few strings and curtailed mainstream media from reporting this update till they sort out the delay. Customers would continue to complain using one-to-one communication methods.

But social media has given people their voice. They will shout. To as many people that are willing to listen.

And that puts the pressure back on the brand to be…’good’! So, in order to be good, they cannot stop people from complaining online. But they can offer refunds, by taking a hit on the bottomline (but gaining in goodwill) and offer a new delivery date. Or waive off some portion of the purchase cost for those who had paid an advance and are forced to wait for not fault of theirs.

This, in a way, is going further to the bottom of Pete Blackshaw’s AdAge post, ‘Marketers, Get Back to Boring‘. I say, this conversational explosion is not merely forcing brands to get back to boring, but to the barest of all..get back to being ‘good’.

Else, get ready to be screwed!