Be the Wave—Or ‘The New Marketers’ Manifesto’

Don’t ride the wave, be the wave. A friend of mine named Devin, who works as a management consultant, recently taught me this phrase. I simply love it. I interpret it to mean: Make your destiny; don’t succumb to it. For marketers, I think this phrase has incredible relevance in today’s rapidly changing landscape.

Don’t ride the wave; be the wave. A friend of mine named Devin, who works as a management consultant, recently taught me this phrase. I simply love it. I interpret it to mean: Make your destiny; don’t succumb to it.

For marketers, I think this phrase has incredible relevance in today’s rapidly changing landscape. It’s no secret that the ground is quite literally shifting beneath our feet as a radical transformation takes place in the way people interact with companies, and marketers are being forced to pivot in a brave new world that is largely unknown.

What’s happened is the Buyer’s Journey has been turned on its head. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, I described it in a recent post. Buyer’s Journey refers to the process prospects go through as they make their decisions on which companies to do business with or buy products from. It’s is a complex evolution that spans the entire progression, beginning with identification of the underlying need, and ending with product selection.

Not long ago, Buyers were relatively uninformed, and the Buyer’s Journey was controlled lock-stock-and-barrel by the marketer. To be successful, marketers essentially needed to try out different approaches, through trial and error, and see what worked. Kind of like throwing stuff at the proverbial wall to see what stuck. Once you found a successful formula, all you needed to do was repeat it again and again.

Companies simply told their customers what they should buy and what they needed to know to buy it. Not surprisingly, firms didn’t really know too much about their customers. They didn’t need to. All they needed to know was what worked from a utilitarian point of view, not why it worked.

Recent technological advances have completely altered the landscape—evolving it to a state that would have been unrecognizable a mere dozen or so years ago. For one, today’s marketer confronts a highly sophisticated, engaged and informed consumer who is comfortable with the digital landscape, and familiar with the latest gadgets and tools. Native to the Web and connected to multiple Social Media networks via the latest devices, today’s buyer may know as much about a marketer’s products as the marketer’s sales or marketing teams. For most marketers, this is a truly frightening concept.

Now add to the mix that many marketers are quickly discovering, to their great consternation, that the sale is often won or lost before the relationship even begins—as greater numbers of buyers educate themselves using the vast resources available on the Web, which include customer reviews , referrals from peers on Social Media, and so on. The Buyer’s Journey of yesteryear has been turned on its head.

This brave new world calls for a brave new approach—one that not only leverages the latest advances in technology, but more importantly focuses on the central narrative of the new way brands engage with their customers and prospects. No, having a slick website and a cursory presence on social media isn’t enough. Marketers need to use technology to transform how they do business.

Today’s firms not only need to get to really know who their customers are, but where they go, what they do, and what affinities they share; they also need to engage them where they’re comfortable, which is increasingly on their mobile devices and in the vast and constantly changing Social Media universe. I know it sounds daunting, but the good news is that marketers can learn to leverage the same technologies that created such change in the first place.

Let’s take a quick look at mobile. Let’s say, for example, I’m in Chicago on business, it’s dinnertime and I’m hungry. I spot a steakhouse across the street from my hotel. But because I’ve never been there, I pick up my iPhone and open up the Yelp App, where I pull up the listing to see what others have to say. Turns out that someone went there last week and had a really, really bad experience … and wrote a review trashing the place. And it’s the only review. Well, looks like I’m not going there tonight.

But fortunately it’s a double-edged sword. Let’s imagine instead that the owner had employed a strategy to drive customers online, specifically to give a review on Yelp. This strategy could involve placing a QR Code on the menu, along with a special offer for a free appetizer for all who give a review—or maybe a deal with Foursquare, Groupon, ScoutMob … or one of many mobile companies offering merchants tools to leverage this exciting new channel. Now instead of seeing just the bad review, I would see many good ones from happy customers.

And this is but one example of many. Another is the best-practice use of QR Codes for Augmented Reality by Best Buy and other electronic retailers. Armed with a smartphone, you can now scan QR Codes affixed to the in-store displays for products you’re interested in. You can obtain detailed product specs, warranty information … even detailed product reviews. Plus, by connecting to social media, it’s even possible to see what friends or followers have to say.

Okay, looks like I’m running out of space. But I guess the main message is: Embrace technology and use it to control your own destiny—don’t let it control you. And the good news is we can take this ‘philosophy’ and apply it to really any type of firm. Take a close look at your company and see how technology can be used to change the way you do business.

Instead of ducking your head in the sand, use new tools—whatever they may be—to give your customers new and improved ways to engage with your company and its products. Delight them. In the end, firms that do so will enjoy great success in coming months and years. Those that don’t … well, they might not be around. Be the Wave.