The Last Mile Of Marketing: Listening At The Point Of Need

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There is still a strong (and growing) argument for the power of search, online social networks and how they beat traditional advertising to the sale.

In the past few months, I’ve been devouring business books on branding and traditional advertising. For some reason, I have always felt that some of the answers we’re looking for in terms of the future of Marketing, Advertising and Communications could well be buried in its history (sorry for the Indiana Jones crypticism). Why were brands created? Which out of the first few advertising campaigns really worked? How is it that after all of this time, brands are more important than ever? How did branding and advertising evolve over time as technology and innovation continued to push on?

We live in the most branded generation ever.

In an era where we can skip and block ads, and find – with a few simple clicks – the cheapest price for whatever it is we’re interested in, why are people still loyal to brands? Look at Twitter: prior to launching their advertising/marketing models last month, Twitter was an ad-free environment yet multiple studies came out saying that over 20% of all tweets had a mention of a brand within them. Left to our own devices, we love talking about brands, what we’re buying, and the things we’ve watched on TV (and this includes the ads).

But, there’s something more: The concept is old but the ability to do it is brand new.

The best time to get someone to buy something is when they are in need, and they know they are in need, and they are asking for help. Some would argue that the best advertising makes a consumer think they need something (even when they don’t). Search engines, Twitter, Foursquare, status updates and other location-aware platforms are the true last mile of Marketing…

They help Marketers listen (and respond) to consumers at their point of need.

How many Marketing campaigns have really led with this truism as a core to the overall strategy? Listening tools (and social media monitoring tools) are all the rage these days. You won’t see a Marketing proposal from a Digital Marketing agency that doesn’t include "listening" as part of the overall program, but how many brands have really made the shift away from the more traditional branding initiatives into one where the focus is primarily targeted and spent on listening to their consumers at that point of need (and them helping them fulfill that need)? It’s amazing to even think that we can actually do exactly that right now (yes, today).

There’s a lot of lip-service being paid to these kinds of thought and Social Media, in general.

If things were pushing beyond basic lip-service, something tells me that Foursquare would have more brands pounding down their door while Google, Yahoo and Bing would be busy trying to install more phone lines instead of hiring outbound advertising sales reps to hit the pavement and close the big ad deals.

What will it take for brands to really make the move over to where their customers are (and asking for them)?


  1. I don’t know much about social media and marketing except from what I’m learning from a few blogs and podcast, but I am an experienced consumer…well I buy a lot or I did before money got tight. Either way, I am loyal to a brand because I believe it will be loyal to me. And when it proves my hopes true I will shout it from the roof tops, and when it dashes my hopes I will shout it from the roof tops! In all reality though what brand is loyal more to its consumers than its board members? I suppose as consumers we are playing craps with the companies we remain loyal to. Eventualy the dice won’t roll in our favor a few times in a row and we’ll find a new brand to warm up next to. The brand or company that realizes this and gives back to its consumers more than 50 cent perks will have the largest consumer army.

  2. Your post provokes thoughts πŸ™‚
    One of the reasons behind brand loyalty these days seems to be the value of word of mouth: information (advertising, marketing, branding) overload is starting to disable people. Recommendations (mentions) by a friend acts as a certificate of quality: if my friend said so, it must be good, so let’s stick with it πŸ™‚
    Brand loyalty is one of the last ways to keep things simple(r): a small reminder of times when grass was greener and jeans made by Diesel πŸ™‚

  3. Same here, in the past couple months I’ve been getting high on Schwab, Hopkins & Ogilvy.
    Here are some thoughts.
    Loyalty to brands is driven by the same old: quality of service / product, social norms, price, etc.
    Generally, I would not know how to answer “why are people still loyal to brands?”. However, it is very easy to answer why are people loyal to a specific brand.
    Practically I would make a very clear distinction between generating and harvesting intent. Listening at the point of need has to do with harvesting intent. I somehow start to feel that the genius of social media / crowdsourcing is about combining the quick-win harvesting of intent (listening at the point of need, etc) and, at the same time, about generating intent (the need for / the intent in buying a certain product).
    Our strategies are twofold:
    (1) optimizing the point of contact with the brand and the fast sale and conversion (mobile, gps, payment, etc. services and tools);
    (2) ensuring we protect, feed and help grow the conversation channels / platforms that generate intent (independent blogs and communities, etc.)
    In my opinion, brands are not ready to make bolder moves towards where customers are because:
    (1) they are profoundly organizationally blocked (there is no social media expertise in their PR department, fast and agile deployment implies rapid decision making and fewer approval layers, etc)
    (2) they are profoundly ideologically / philosophically outdated. Openness, authenticity of discourse, disclosure of errors, etc. Suddenly social responsibility takes a new meaning.
    (3) our industry is too young and lacks a strong theoretical framework. Very often I hear social media “experts” explaining during conferences that: “You have to be everywhere”. The enumeration of FB, TW, 4SQ, Gowalla, RSS, YT, blogs, networks, etc. scares the hell out of any client. The feeling is that these trends will never stop coming and as consequence they will never stop dying. You cannot blame clients for trying: I had serious clients telling me they heard about this thing Chatroulette and how it would work for their business.
    Gutsy move with TwistImage website. Reminds me of the regrettable Digg bar :P.

  4. I think there is a bit of backlash going on in some parts of the world against the ad campaigns (and companies) that “… makes a consumer think they need something (even when they don’t).”. I think the old model (what Seth Godin calls the “TV-industrial Complex”) is broken and will not return… people are looking for a deeper connection with the companies they do business with, and I’m seeing many turn to smaller craftsmen for many purchases… where they can connect directly with the person making the items they need. I’ve been thinking there is a looming backlash against the big-box retailers coming down the road… just surprised that it hasn’t hit harder already.
    BTW, was Naomi Klein’s “No Logo” one of the books you read?

  5. The one thing that this article fails to touch on is the lack of transparency of how Facebook continuously changes it’s privacy policies. The reason for the backlash is the automatic opting in of millions of users to share their information and the complexity of opting out of these options. It’s true that no one is “holding a gun to the head” of the users and if they truly don’t like the service, they should stop using it. Facebook created a dedicated, interconnected community that people fell in love with and of course there will be a backlash if the information they initially thought was private really is not. The business should try to make as much money as they possibly can, but they can’t do that through non-transparent practices. Openness if the cornerstone for any business to survive in today’s competitive landscape.

  6. Mitch
    I have only recently discovered you from the last Jaffe-Joel podcast you guys did. I now listen to Six Pixels. Your very thoughtful and you don’t give BS or Fluff or Hype like so many folks in our industry do. So I align with you coming into the industry after 16 years of B2B sales (I have worked in every B2B industry except mining). But Behavioral Social Psychology has always fascinated me. And the Ad Industry is a big head case unto itself.
    I champion 2 specific groups. Clients/Brands (they pay the bills) and consumers (without them clients don’t exist). Advertising Agencies tend to think they and their advertising is most important. More than Clients or Consumers. Good because that helps my business.
    I have contemplated whether consumers benefit from intrusive push advertising based on the last mile. Real time web/Social media can enable this. But does it benefit consumers with best value? If I walk in Manhattan and tweet to a friend I want to go to eat do I benefit from getting 50 restaurants sending me offers at the same time? Who chooses what offers I get? Auction? That just means I get the offers someone paid the most for. Not the one most valuable to me. Do I want 50? Will I turn my phone off if I get slammed like that? Geo-Fences are similar for Mobile. As I drive by the mall to get milk at the store will all those Geo-Fences sense my presence and slam my phone with offers I am not looking for?
    That being said when I am ready to buy or have a need or an interest I do want offers. I want an easy way to browse them in a manner that is respectful to me, easy to navigate, and not tedious. But the Sunday Paper Circulars already do this. The weekly ‘to do’ papers like Village Voice, LA Weekly do this minus the mobility of a phone/tablet etc.
    The problem is Brands and Agencies don’t care about value to me. Their view is if I open the door everyone has a right to step in. And that is not value to me.

  7. I think it is the economy, and not simply technology, that is affecting our purchase decisions and move toward greater brand loyalty. For a few decades, with credit flowing freely, we could take chances on products being sold to us. Now we take comfort in familiar brands or new ones that acknowledge our fear of making purchase mistakes and our need for true value. If no brand offers that assurance, we look for referrals from others we trust (whether they’re close friends or connections we make on the Internet).
    From a personal standpoint, I’m heartened by what I see as a less materialistic consumer mentality. But is this a permanent change or, once they begin to feel financially secure, will Americans go back to making impulse buys based on an advertisement that promises something they don’t need but imagine they want?

  8. I work for a not-for-profit association and have tried to introduce social media into the business model. This organization has been in existence for over 20 years, yet few in this particular industry have heard of them. Branding, or the lack of, has been a problem/challenge. Many times roadblocks come from above, that is, we have done it this way for so long why change it? They do not want to understand that clients are more complex and demanding, especially in these economic times when budgets are limited. We need to listen to clients more and talk less. You mentioned old concepts…Actions speak louder than words…comes to mind.

  9. Mitch:
    Very nice post.
    When it comes to branding, it’s about word of the mouth. And giving information to people when/where they are searching for it.
    And the focus is big time on the search engines now. People love to search to find answers. So, I agree that the search engines and social media have great role to play in branding.

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