A new paradigm: Marketing in the network society
In the year 2000, the Spanish sociologist, Manuel Castells, argued that we are entering a new age: The age of information. New communication technologies, like the Internet, have changed the rules of the game - enforcing a network society that has brought waves of new marketing opportunities for organizations across every line of business. But how exactly should companies maneuver in this new paradigm?
First of all, the conditions of communication have changed. The classical model of communication, I would argue, looks like this:
Here, the sender communicates a message through a medium to affect a specific receiver. Whether it be with the goal of creating public awareness or targeting a specific group to generate sales, our online access to information has changed communication forever. The network society, therefore, challenges this fundamental understanding of communication, as the receiver has the ability to engage the company differently than before: Through the use of digital and social media.
How should marketers approach “new consumers”?
Within marketing, a major strategy has always been to tell compelling stories about ourselves - using unique selling propositions to market our product.
In the network society, this notion is different, because it involves going into more of an open dialogue with the outside world. Here, we let go of control in order to focus on the dialogue with the customer. Social media is the class example of how marketing can be approached in a dialogue-based way, and this approach is the one that marketers in network societies should be aiming for. The traditional strategies have worked fine through the years, but since web 2.0 the conditions of how we communicate to consumers have changed significantly.
I will elaborate this further by looking at the new customer journey.
The new customer journey
The consumer of the twenty-first century has a different journey than just 10 years ago. Due to digitalization, a redefined model of the customer journey could look like this:
The journey is not linear, which makes it way more fragmented than ever before. Let’s take an example. Say we want to buy a new golf kit.
The journey starts, when we use the experiences of our social networks to indicate a product’s value, and our social networks heavily affect us when it comes to making a decision. Who would you rather trust: A good friend or the company who’s trying to sell you a product? The growing tendency we see is that we use social networks, such as Facebook to look for our friends' recommendations.
We might look up details about each golf iron (e.g. a driver or a potter) on Wikipedia, and thereby become an expert on the product in no time. To compare different golf brands further we are able to go online and read reviews – either on the company’s own social media pages or external consumer reviews in golf forums. We even have price comparisons online that give us a quick overview of which golf kits are the cheapest.
When we choose our supplier and buy the golf kit, we can add photos of ourselves using the kit online through the likes of Instagram or Pinterest, which in terms construct our identity online. Finally, we can share our experiences with the product with our social networks on Twitter, Facebook, or blog posts, and the circle starts over again.
Therefore digital or social media cannot be viewed as “new media”, but instead the fundament of making every consumer a medium, as we live and communicate through them every day. The most remarkable about this product journey is that the consumer can evade every form of traditional product branding and marketing activities to find the best solution.
The modern marketer is, therefore, dealing with a more complex and smarter consumer.
Involvement, data, and disciplines
As marketers, we need to figure out, how to execute marketing in the network society. The following are some of my recommendations in doing so.
Through the 80’s Nike used sports personalities to endorse their products all of whom were known for their “larger than life” approach to sports. For instance Michael Jordan, Lui Figgo, or Erik Cantona. Whether it be the achievements in the NBA or the Premier League, these athletes were easy to identify with and had different approaches to the game, which sold Nike a lot of shoes.
In the ’00s and onwards we see the impact of the network society, as the footwear giant created communities to fit the new consumer profile. Nike ID lets the consumers customize the product, putting a unique and individual touch to every Nike product, while communities such as Nike+ Run Club let consumers track runs and interact with fellow runners.
This goes to underline the point of open dialogue marketing strategies that Nike understood and adapted to their brand and product, and it shows the importance of co-creation, rather than digital one-way communication.
Big Data management
Although a huge, perhaps overused, buzzword of modern business, we cannot overlook the importance of Big Data. The new customer journey leaves traces, which is a valuable resource in marketing. Within marketing, Big Data is used as a precise tool to track consumer behavior.
Analytics tools enable us to see the immediate ROI of our marketing activities, and it allows us to carefully segment the market and target our key segment based on thorough data analysis. The discipline of retargeting has also grown out of the work with data, as cookies on our websites have become a powerful tool in reengaging with the customer through ads.
The digital marketing disciplines
Finally, I briefly want to mention some of the digital marketing disciplines that have become vital to address customers in the network society:
Social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and the list goes on. This is where you want the engage in the dialogue mentioned previously, but do so with care. As a company, you should not be on social media because everybody else is present. It has to make sense for your products and services. LinkedIn, which is traditionally more business-oriented, might not be the best solution if you are a smaller B2C company.
Integrating e-commerce to the website: In the year of 2016, 82% of consumers in Denmark shop online, but only 25% of companies sell their products online. This indicates a huge deficit in E-commerce and a great opportunity for the modern marketer. Therefore, you should make sure that your product portfolio is available for the consumer to buy online.
PPC advertising and SEO: Paid Per Click advertising is advertisements on search engines, such as Google, that shows up when we are searching for something specific. Google Adwords is a great tool to create such ads. Search Engine Optimization is the process of making your website rank higher in the organic search of the search engine. Through tailor-made content and the use of keywords that are relevant to your business, the crawlers of Google will grand your site a higher ranking. The better the ranking the more traffic you generate to your website.
Mobile marketing: This discipline is changing how we communicate entirely, as more people access the Internet and social media through their mobile devices. Think about how we always have our devices in arms reach – this is a great opportunity. Mobile marketing could for instance be app-based, a search ad, or a local ad that activates when the consumer is nearby.
E-mail marketing: According to the Epsilon Email Institute automated emails average 70.5% higher open rates than the standard “business as usual” marketing message. Email automation is an easy, effective, and consistent way of delivering your company’s marketing messages. Through a sign-up form on your website, a call-to-action on a communication product, etc., you can pique interest and follow up on the initial engagement – guiding each lead through every step of the sales funnel with carefully, tailor-made emails.