William A Clark buying a newspaper, circa 1906
William A Clark buying a newspaper, circa 1906 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People say selling is dead. its always been a bit of a dirty word in the UK. But I’ve always had admiration for those organisations and people that have done it well. And as far as I can see, its not dead at all – its just much, much harder than ever to do, so you’d better get better at it – fast!

It strikes me that there are essentially two opportunities to reach potential customers and influence them to buy your product  before they buy someone else’s product – Or to ‘sell’, as you may prefer to put it.

1 – When they are ready to buy

2 – Before they are ready to buy

The Way Things Were

I appreciate that may sound pretty simplistic, but think about it. Why were newspapers so powerful back in the day? Think about the classified pages. Need a car? Or a house? Or a plumber or an Electrician?

The other part of the newspaper was devoted to what was called ‘display’ ads. And these two ad types, classified and display, are as good as any other example to describe what I mean.

If you are looking for a product or service, you would turn to the classified section right? Makes sense? And its also easy to see how Google have basically decimated the classified sections of newspapers, and other traditional media, by offering a much more interactive and real time ‘classified’ or listings service.

In Google land, you can also gather reviews of the product or service  talk to your social networks about the choices you are considering making, and research and research to your hearts content.

Google has also brought the market places of the whole world to within a touch of a button, vastly increasing choice.

Then there was ‘display’ advertising. The aim being two fold. To either prompt someone to consider a product or service if they hadn’t already been doing so, or more likely, to sort of ‘tee up’ a future purchase. Much of the other traditional media is also devoted to this type of advertising  TV, Radio, Posters (Outdoor) etc.

It goes like this. TV plays endless messages about FMCG products like washing up liquid directly into your brain, and then when you enter the supermarket, in buying mode, you are already programmed to purchase the product you recognise or identify with most.

English: American family watching TV (cropped)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Way Things Are

But again, along came the internet and mobile screens, and with it came massively fragmentated audiences. Its no longer possible to capture (literally) the entire available audience with one TV purchase. Different people and different markets now behave with distinct differences.

People spend their time on social media, watching TV through numerous channels on multiple screens on multiple platforms, reading watching and listening to ‘on demand’ as well as broadcast media all over the place, anywhere in fact, other than where and when they traditionally would be found doing it!

Technology seems to have the answers to the fragmentation problem. Target people by demographic and behaviours. Target by inclinations, gender age etc etc.

It’s all designed to help you reach your audience as efficiently and cheaply as possible, but as tradition would have it, before they are ready to buy.

To the uninitiated it seems like an easy solution to age old media buying problems. Basically, let Google do it for you. Or Facebook. But as is always the case, its not as easy as that.

Google Chrome
Google has the answer! (Photo credit: thms.nl)

CPMs for the best ad slots are horrendously expensive, as has always been the case, and there is still no guarantee that having reached the holy grail of the clearly defined audience that they will buy from you. Or these days, with so many messages cluttering up our news feeds and  entertainment channels, there’s no guarantee they will even consume the message.

So where does that leave us?

Well, its the same question as its always been really. How do you get people to respond to YOUR directory listing or classified ad when they are ready to buy?

And, how do you intercept them and convince them you are the answer to their future retail or service based problems?

It was ever thus…

The Way Things Will Be

And the answer is the same as its always been too. Its either about brand or having the most compelling reason to buy. And today, those two ideas are increasingly inseparable.

The brand plan was developed over years of broadcast media dominance and as I mentioned earlier, is about programming consumers to believe a certain product, or a provider of that product, is in some way either superior to the competition, or in some other way more highly aligned with the customer.

And the compelling reason to buy is about telling the customer why your product or service or company is the one to chose, out of the plethora of competition out there.

And by telling them, I mean directly telling them. Speaking to them. There two ways to go here too. Either through understanding exactly what channel you can reach them through and crafting a message that will speak directly to them. Or physically speaking to them.

For a lot of high end, big ticket purchases we still prefer to speak to a human to find out that final detail in the search for the correct product, or for the reassurance that we are doing the right thing.

Those among you that are a little.. er… more experienced, like I am (!) will recognise these same steps have always been required. When all we had were newspapers and TV and radio.

The steps are the same, but the tools are much more complex. The ability to reach people is hugely magnified. We know where they are and what they are doing, and in a lot of cases what their predilections are too.

But these insights bring with them an enormous resistance to the advertising message, much more than was ever the case. As people push back against the intelligence that brands have on them and the demographic pictures the brands build and boxes that they are slotted into.

Advertising Pays
Advertising (Photo credit: canonsnapper)

We abhor interruptions like never before. Inappropriate communications are enough to convince us to stay away from a brand forever, and most consumers these days spot  commercial messages before you’ve even had time to get your content marketing blog / video / podcast out of the blocks.

There is even a FaceBook page dedicated to ‘Condescending Corporate Brand Pages‘ that wrap sales messages up in embarrassing and awkward ‘content’.

So the reality is that its harder than ever to do the things we’ve always had to do to get business done. To sell.

Its harder than ever, and it’ll only get harder as time goes on and consumers get more and more sophisticated and less and less forgiven of old fashioned unsophisticated and clumsy selling.

Get better at it, or get out.

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