Be an advocate for your customer

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Twist Image and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.” His new book “CTRL ALT Delete” was released in May 2013. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

Who doesn’t want their brand to be more likeable?

Ultimately, we are in service of other people. This makes a lot of marketing skeptics shake their collective heads in disbelief, but it is true. It is how I feel. I joined Twist Image back in 2002 for two reasons. First, I wanted to help brands better connect with consumers, because I felt like technology could enable a whole lot more than simple and mind-numbing thirty-second television commercials.

Two, I saw myself in the service of helping people find what they both needed and wanted. Yes, it was about being an advocate for consumers to connect more authentically to the products and services in their lives. Some might laugh and dismiss this as some weird kind of higher calling, but technology was (and continues to) offer something more… something better… something new.

It’s a long road.

What I realized — very early on — is that if there is a short cut, a way to get things done faster, cheaper, or easier, most marketers will make a run at it. Sometimes, it works out magnificently well. Most of the time, it’s a complete flop.

I take marketing very seriously. I see the role of marketing (and, more importantly, marketers) as being the professionals who mediate the relationship between the brand and the audience. People — for the most part — have very basic and human needs. Corporations, on the other hand, are driven by things like public markets, profits, and other concepts that often don’t align to the natural human condition.

Marketing for human beings.

I’m often asked why I fell so head over heels in love with social media. The truth is that it was much less about the technology, sharing, and publishing, and much more about the fact that brands could have (if they wanted) real interactions between real human beings.

Back in 2002, this was always the first concept that I would discuss during a presentation. It was a simple black and white slide, with bold copy that read: “Real Interactions Between Real Human Beings.” We’re pushing well past a decade from that slide deck, and I don’t feel like we’ve come all that far. While these platforms and channel enable brands to create a myriad of media, content, and opportunities to engage, it still feels like we’re doing little more than advertising to the masses.

What if we reversed it?

Apple made some interesting announcements about their new products. Some will speculate that it was all about screen size, others might argue that it’s all about mobile wallets. Some might even question whether Apple has a right to take over our wrists. As I watched the event stream across my screens, I realized that it was truly an event. A marketing event. Through and through. Apple is an anomaly. We like to read business books about how they think (both the company and the people behind it).

We like to speculate as to what best practices we can glean from them to steal and make our own, but we often forget that Apple doesn’t use advertising to do anything else but support the greater brand story. Apple creates these things (some physical, some digital) that have the marketing baked into it. They know how to touch people — in a very human way (which, if you think about it, is fascinating considering it’s a technology company).

They don’t use ads to shout. In a world where everyone (not just brands, but people like you and I) are gunning for everyone else’s attention, Apple (and, maybe the future of advertising) is doing something very basic that lies at the core of great marketing. Apple (and the big lesson for marketers) thinks about how to make their products and services more universally useful (in a world that is becoming ever-more globalized), simple (which, as we often say, is one of the most complex things to do) and — perhaps most importantly — human.

When we think like humans, we think less about attention and more about adding value without the clutter. When we think like humans, we start communicating to people with the same level of respect as we would hope that someone would have in talking to us. When we think like humans, we start worrying less about getting them to sign on the line that is dotted and much more about ways to make them feel connected, cared for, and wanting to do business with us.

Ultimately, technology is doing nothing new to marketing. It’s just enabling us to be more human.

The tragedy is that a lot of marketers are using technology to make it all less human. That makes it feel like we’re moving in the wrong direction. What if we stopped looking for brand advocates and started spending more time being advocates for our consumers?

What kind of business would that look like?

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About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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