Advertising as we know it is dead. Or at least it’s on life support, with not long to live. But there is hope. If we realize how consumers are using media to make purchase decisions, and change our tactical approach, we can not only survive, but prosper.
I’m a big believer in analogies. And the best one I can think up to explain my rather startling premise here is to a dinner party. For decades, as advertisers, we’ve stood on a street corner and screamed at people, trying to get them to come to our dinner party. Yelling and coercing and bribing and occasionally trying a joke or two. In today’s economy, this tactic isn’t going to work, or at least not as well as it has in the past.
Instead of using advertising to scream at people and interrupt them and bully them into coming to our dinner party, we need to engage them, one at a time, in a conversation. Talk to them, tell them that your party is going to be interesting, and that other like-minded people will be there. Tell them the food is going to be great (the food represents your product) and introduce them to some of the other guests who have already agreed to attend.
Once the party has started, realize that you can’t control the conversation. The chatter will ebb and flow like at any good dinner party, and as the host, you can toss out conversational topics, and participate in the exchange of ideas and thoughts. This is crucial to understanding the mindset of consumers today. If you get upset because your guests (your customers and prospects) aren’t saying the things you want them to say, you’re going to be frustrated. Instead, just listen. Engage. Converse.
Enough with the analogy. Here’s the real world translation. Your advertising campaign should invite participation with your brand, not demand it. No more “buy now!” or “For a limited time only!” or “Hurry! This offer won’t last forever.” Instead, offer a great story about some aspect of your product that will get attention and generate interest. Invite participation. Inform. Educate. Stop yelling.
Once you have converted a member of your target audience into a qualified prospect, you have, in essence, lobbed this person into the dinner party. Keeping the conversation alive and more-or-less positive is the best you can hope for. The crowd will determine the true course of the experience, through social media and online tools and other means of sharing, and you can listen, learn, and participate. If the conversation reveals that your product isn’t all you thought it was, you can make changes, and try to get the conversation back on track.
It’s maybe not the perfect analogy, and I’m sure people smarter than I am can poke it full of holes. But my point is a simple one. Advertising still has a place, and an important role in this new economy of information sharing and peer group influence. But we need to create advertising that is a welcome invitation to a great party, not a hyperbolic demand that implies attendance is mandatory. Be a good and gracious host, and people will want to come to your parties over and over again. And they’ll try and get their friends to come too.