Many traditional marketing and advertising agencies (even ones that claim to be "online experts") treat the Internet as just another medium to broadcast a marketing message (the way the SuperBowl was handled certainly proves that!) These agencies see email blasts as a cheaper form of direct mail or banner ads as a somewhat more efficient type of television advertising. And while others recognize that the Internet can help support sophisticated one-to-one relationships with customers through online CRM programs, such efforts are only a good first step. While such programs can certainly be of benefit, the best opportunities on the Internet are fundamentally different from those in traditional media. The traditional worldview limits the possibilities of what can be accomplished.
By its very nature, the Internet is a highly complex system. Extremely small actions can have major consequences online. A single comment on somebody’s blog can spread via syndication technologies like RSS to millions of people within seconds of being posted. This dynamic has helped to make marketers feel unsure in this brave new world. How does a company market itself in a medium where the customers are in control -- where they can easily exchange information about pricing, customer service, or product quality? And where a single negative comment is archived forever to be found by the masses on Google?
Issues like these don’t just apply to corporations. For example, how important is it for a politician to make sure that empowered constituents stay “on message”? How can a not-for-profit organization leverage the Internet in ways to give it influence, visibility and a reach that would have been impossible just a few short years ago?
Emergent online communities form and grow every day, and it is in helping to nurture and empower these communities where opportunities lie for marketers.
An important question for any online marketer is, who controls your message? Success online is rooted in relinquishing control of your message to those you are trying to reach – your customers. Allowing them to speak, rather than speaking down to them, is the first step. Marketers must remember that the Internet is made up of empowered individuals who do not want to be treated as a mass consumer or a demographic. The ease and immediacy of communications from anyone to anyone is what makes the Internet so different from traditional media. Broadcast and narrowcast marketing each implies that the source of the message is in control, but this is not how the Internet works. The organic power of online entities like message boards, chat rooms, blogs, podcasts, RSS, grassroots communities, expert opinion sites, mobile smart mobs, and viral emails change the equation dramatically.
While marketers cannot hope to control the Internet, successful companies work to empower their natural communities to sit up, interact, get involved, take action and tell others.
Individuals respond well to organizations that are perceived as being encouraging and supportive of their communities, and brand loyalty is what results. The desired effect is the exponential power of positive word-of-mouth.