How the Internet Made Conversations, Content Marketing and Customer Relationships Front and Centre

The Attention vs. The Intention Economy

As the Internet became mainstream and digital business became more than a passing curiosity, it started becoming increasingly apparent that a paradigm shift was on the cards. The fundamentals started getting reinforced and one-way monologues, exemplified by high-voltage marketing campaigns and PR blitzes, were perceived to be generating steadily diminishing returns. 

In a back-to-the-basics, more and more people realized that business, at the bottom, was essentially human. Without aesthetics, mere engineering wasn't good enough. Corporations were seen to work best when people on the inside had lines of communication with people on the outside and, more importantly, had earned their confidence and trust. Markets were essentially about conversations. 

The net stimulated conversations not only with the outside world but internally as well, helping break down silos and hierarchies. Organization charts morphed from the hierarchical to the hyperlinked and core competence and hands-on knowledge came to be more recognized than mere abstract authority. Whereas earlier, public relations had little to do with the public and high-voltage campaigns more often than not talked down to their potential customers and had narrative lines which rather stretched both the imagination and credulity, confidence and trust became the new centrepieces of engagements and conversations, both externally and internally. A global, multichannel, seamless communication system was tearing down walls and senseless bureaucracies, enabling everyone to be in touch with everyone else and restoring the good old banter of the bazaar which triggered transactions between buyers and sellers of goods and services. 

As social business took hold and grew, the classical 4Ps of marketing, morphed into the 21st century 4Es & 4Ps. The transformations can briefly be described, as below.

Product ==========> Purpose
Price      ==========> Partnerships
Place      ==========> Proximity
Promotion ========> Presence

For a more detailed exposition about these transformations, take the jump to the article How the 4Ps of Marketing Have Morphed in the Era of Social Business and Technology Driven Marketing.

Gradually, the realization grew and took hold that customers were increasingly turning their face away from traditional advertising. They merrily skipped television advertising, glossed over most print-media advertising and even while surfing ignored advertising banners displayed on their screens. Smart marketers started casting around for a means to hold their attention and win their trust. Content marketing was born. 

Described simply, content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and disseminating value-added, consistent and relevant content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience. It is an ongoing process which is designed to win customer confidence and ultimately drive a profitable customer transaction.

For a detailed exposition about content marketing, take the jump to the article About Contents, Identities, Reputations and their Management in the Era of Social Media.

Classical marketing, for much of the 20th century, focused on building and growing brands through better brand management and internationalization. Digital technologies however now facilitate more direct engagements with customers, bypassing expensive middlemen and reducing the cost of sales and marketing. They allow organizations to optimize customer lifecycle management, based on detailed analysis of data and customer needs. They also improve efficiency and quality across the value chain through continuous customer feedback. 

On the demand (customer) side, digitalization makes information, including information about brands, far more easily accessible. Purchase decisions are thus more fact-based, and less brand image-based.  Customers still do value strong brands, but what constitutes a strong brand is more based on the customers' direct experience with an offering and their relationship with the organization that produces it. Thus, while brand valuations have steadily declined, customer relationship valuations have correspondingly climbed significantly during the last decade and more. A study of M&A (Mergers & Acquisitions ) data for this period also shows that acquirers have decisively moved from investing in businesses with strong brands to businesses with strong customer relationships (M&A data from MARKABLES database). Clearly, strong customer relationships are now considered more significant than powerful brands.