Meet Me at the Intersection of Social Media and Marketing

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While I’ve always believed in the principles and power of direct marketing, as soon as I started blogging in early 2004, I realized I had discovered something that could very well have a huge impact on the future of the industry in which I earned my livelihood.

I’m no prognosticator, but I saw for myself what the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto had written in their groundbreaking book, that, among other things, “markets are conversations” and that “there are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone” and that “companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.” 

I didn’t want to miss that opportunity.  I didn’t want my employers and clients to miss that opportunity.  And I didn’t want the direct marketing industry to miss that opportunity. 

So while for so many years I had espoused the beliefs and heeded the advice of such direct marketing legends as Bob Stone, Lester Wunderman, Joan Throckmorton, Herschell Gordon Lewis and Denny Hatch, now I was reading books and blogs written by new marketing gurus and social media pioneers like Seth Godin, Joseph Jaffe, Robert Scoble, Yvonne DiVita, David Meerman Scott, Steve Rubel and B.L. Ochman — and hanging on every word.

And not only did I become a blogging aficionado, I became a blogging evangelist, preaching to anyone and everyone who would listen about what I thought were the benefits of this newfangled, self-publishing platform.

While I was once solely focused on the list and the offer and the benefits and a guarantee and getting a good response, now I was thinking about authenticity and transparency and immediacy — but yes, still getting a good response.

While I was once believed that companies had the upper hand in their communications with consumers, I was rapidly beginning to realize that online communities (or “markets,” as proclaimed in The Cluetrain Manifesto) had the real control and that marketers had better join the conversation – and listen to their constituents – or forever hold their peace.

But I never once thought direct marketing and blogging had to be mutually exclusive…not at all.

In fact, on April 9, 2004, in my blog (this blog), I wrote…

“…isn’t true direct marketing all about initiating a one-to-one dialogue with a mass audience (oxymoronic concept aside)?  “Listen to the murmur of your market.”  That’s what Don Jackson writes on page 116 of “2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success,” the book he put together with Denny Hatch in 1998.  He tells readers:  “Create feedback loops in your database environment so that you can record what your customers and prospects are saying about your products, your service, your company and your competition.  There is no more valuable source of information.”  Exactly.  This blog is one such “feedback loop.”  It’s one way of interlocking the circle of people who visit us through our Web site – and establishing mutually beneficial relationships with each and every one of them.”

That was then.  This is now.

Now we have studies like Michael Stelzner‘s, sponsored by the Social Media Success Summit 2009, saying that (according to this article at Marketing Charts)…

“An overwhelming majority (88%) of marketers in a recent survey say they are now using some form of social media to market their business, though 72% of those using it say they have only been at it a few months or less.”

Now I find myself using not just blogs, but Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as much as direct mail, email and other non-social media on behalf of my clients.  

Now I don’t feel so alone among my peers in the direct marketing community when it comes to talking about – and actually using – social media.

Indeed, like Bob Dylan once sung, “the times they are a-changing” – fast.  And it is my belief that those of us direct marketing, advertising and PR professionals who can leverage social media technologies and tools to build long-lasting, mutually-beneficial relationships with colleagues, clients, customers, connections, friends and fans will be much more successful amidst this new communications era.

What about you? What do you believe? Where do you stand at the intersection of social media and marketing? On one side or the other or smack dab in the middle with me?

Note: Earlier this year, I was honored and humbled to be named the “Direct Marketer of the Year” for 2009 by the New England Direct Marketing Association (NEDMA). This post is an adaptation of the speech I had the opportunity to give to an audience of my peers upon acceptance of the award on May 6, 2009 during NEDMA’s Annual Conference at the LaCava Center at Bentley University in Waltham, MA.

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