I make my living helping professionals market themselves. And lately, I've been thinking about how the whole Web 2.0 movement, and the concept of social networking fits into that.
Traditional marketing is a speak/listen model. You construct a product, you price it, you create a brand for it, and then you tell the marketplace about it over and over and over and over and over. There isn't usually much cross-talk between or among the members of your market. Housewives don't usually sit around and talk about which laundry detergent they buy, and why. First of all, your product is a commodity, which makes it sort of uninteresting, and second, it's hard for enough housewives to get together. They would like to -- witness the success of Tupperware parties in the old days, and multilevel marketing today. But it's logistically really hard.
Enter the Internet. Suddenly. you have communities springing up all over, online. Whatever you're into, from SpongeBob Squarepants to kites, there's a group of people out there who are into it too, and you can connect. This has been accellerated by social networking platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.
In one of the marketing blogs I subscribe to, MarketerBlog, this issue was discussed recently. The key part of the post is as follows:
So if you’re not Google and you can’t pony up $900 million to ensure your access to MySpace users, what should you do? Find ways for your brand to become part of the conversation in the community. Understand first and foremost that you’re entering a community, not placing a media buy. Be respectful and transparent. Get to know the sensibilities of that community and make sure that your brand presence fits. If you’re targeting teenagers on Facebook your brand presence should look and sound like something a 14 year old would dig. (And yes, I’m told “dig” is back.) If you’re trying to reach professionals to raise awareness of a political issue, then use appropriate creative and copy for that community.
However, this trend has been somewhat slower to catch on in the business world. And part of the reason is that nobody can find the damn community. I have been in discussions with two new clients in the last week -- one is an enormous, monolothic law firm, and one is a small web design shop. In both cases, business development requires dealing with something of a pickle. On the one hand, since these firms are marketing relationships, they can't just concoct a brand and start making a lot of noise, as in the old days.
On the other hand, there isn't a preexisting community for either of them to plug into, either. The
Web design shop doesn't know, yet, who its clients will be, and as for the law firm, there aren't really online communities full of general counsels for international companies that are willing to pay $500 an hour for tax advice on offshore Real Estate Investment Trusts.
So does that pretty much end the analysis? Not quite. Because although the specific community you are seeking probably does not exist, people who would qualify for it are almost certainly members of a larger community, where you and your service can have a voice, and a presence, and an identity in the conversation. The trick is to look for a larger, less specific community, and stake out your identity within it. Be less specific, and within the larger community, you can own the more defined topic you are marketing.
So for the law firm, although there isn't an online community that exactly fits the bill, there is one of general counsels, where they may be able to own the offshire REIT space. Similarly, there are online communities of marketers where the small web design shop may be able to thrive, if they can define themselves in a meaningful way within that group.