(Note: These opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Geniuslink)
This has been drilled into my mind lately as I try to learn and justify my existence on the marketing team at Geniuslink. It’s a marketing mantra for the modern world where selling isn’t as clear cut as it used to be. Gary Vaynerchuk pushes this message hard, and he is right. You have to deliver a valuable message at a place and time so that people you’re targeting actually want to listen. It’s something we often struggle with in marketing our own company (which sells marketing tools to marketers), but I think we’re getting better.
Evolution of Sales and Marketing
In the Mad Men days of Don Draper, a person in a sales or marketing role had a pretty simple objective: get your stuff in front of as many people as possible and push for a sale. Back then, there wasn’t as much stuff, or as many people. Having something to sell simply meant bringing awareness to your product and trying to push for the purchase all in one shot.
As Daniel Pink discusses in To Sell is Human, this approach relies entirely on asymmetrical distribution of information between two parties. I know more than you, so I can use your incomplete understanding to my advantage to sell you something. Since you’re a blind consumer that doesn’t even know what to consume, you rely on me, the marketer, to tell you what you want along with when and where to buy it. You don’t fully understand all of your options and you don’t have a good way of finding out. This approach worked on a lot of people for a long time, but those days are over.
Infomercials still rely heavily on this principle, but they have to back it up with some psychological tactics of “urgency” and “fear of missing out.” By getting you to “act now” and creating a scenario of artificial scarcity, infomercials aim to prevent the consumer from obtaining symmetrical information. If I have to move fast or this “amazing” deal will disappear, I certainly don’t have time to get online, read reviews, look for an alternative Slap-Chop, and make an informed decision. Impulsivity and asymmetrical information are the best friends of the infomercial salesman.
Consider the negative image of a slimy used car salesman. They are completely reliant on asymmetrical distribution of information. They purchase a used car from an uninformed individual for a fraction of its real value. Then they turn around and sell that car for as high a price as possible. The more uninformed the consumer, the more cards they hold. If I’m unaware of the book value, the salesman’s bad reputation, any mechanical defects, and don’t fully understand all of my options for purchasing a vehicle, I’m relying on the salesman to tell me these things. With her asymmetrical information advantage, the salesman can easily take advantage of my ignorance to maximize her profit.
Who Holds the Cards Now?
Daniel Pink says that consumers and sellers are now on equal playing fields. In our robust hyper-connected online world, everyone has access to the same information. Sellers can no longer rely on their information advantage because consumers have the power of tools like Google, Yelp and an entire online community piping on-demand information directly into their pockets.
I agree with Pink that sellers no longer hold the cards, but I don’t think sellers and consumers are on equal playing fields. The consumer now has the advantage.
If I, the seller, and you the consumer, have access to all of the same information, what advantage do you have over me? You have your mind, your beliefs, your values, and your experience. In essence, you have you. Since I will never fully understand everything that makes you you, and on all other fronts we have the same information, you will always have the information advantage over me.
99% of what good marketers are doing now is trying to understand you. They need to understand you because they need to know if you’re even the right person to try selling their product to, and if you are the right person, they need to know how to connect with you. After understanding certain characteristics about you and other people like you that make you someone who cares, a marketer can actually put together some tactics for getting a relevant, contextual message in front of you.
Fully understanding the consumer is now the challenge of the modern marketer. This is the ultimate context and why it is God. You are the context.
It is impossible to get perfect, because until we can actually enter your mind, we on the marketing side will forever have incomplete information about you. That’s a good thing if you ask me.
Permission Marketing, as author Seth Godin has called it, isn’t just a revolutionary idea (and a great book), it’s the new norm. The only real way I know you’re the right person for me to sell to is if you tell me. Then I have some real context. I can only achieve that context by building a relationship. Relationships, whether real or virtual, need to be fostered in order for us marketers to provide you consumers with content that has context. And ultimately, we need to sell you something you actually want.
We’re all salesmen. What are you selling?
Taylor Ripp is the head of Businesss Development for Geniuslink. Geniuslink empowers marketers with “Intelligent Links” that better connect consumers to products in a complex global e-commerce landscape.