Nimal Gunewardena makes the case for Sri Lanka’s marketers to break-out from the shackles of the familiar traditional media and embrace the new media options that the Internet has spawned – from blogs to social media – and use SEO to get found by today’s information-and-entertainment-seeking consumer.
Despite the development of digital media and the Internet in particular and the trend for marketers the world-over to use this new media with its highly popular vehicles, from blogs to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn etc., marketers in Sri Lanka have resisted embracing these new possibilities, opting instead to stay with the familiar traditional media despite its higher costs and diminishing effectiveness and returns. Marketers trained and immersed in traditional marketing methods and media seem to find it too difficult to learn about these new options and how to use them.
FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN
In my efforts as an evangelist for the use of PR to attain marketing objectives for brands that can ill-afford to use expensive traditional advertising on TV and radio, with its channel proliferation and audience fragmentation, I have been dismayed to find that even the most reputed marketing companies have given little thought to changing the status quo by shifting funds in their communication budgets from advertising to Marketing PR. Again the inertia stems from unfamiliarity with the possibilities of ‘Marketing PR’ as a tool to achieve one’s marketing objectives more effectively and cost-effectively through PR-led marketing programmes. This same syndrome of ‘staying with the familiar’, that thrives among marketing and brand managers who have fought shy of learning about and using the ‘new’, also resurfaces with New Media.
Sri Lankan marketers have cited the low penetration of home computers and Internet use for shunning digital media possibilities, despite evidence of a high degree of Internet activity in practice from office computers and ever-mushrooming cybercafes. Ad agency people also have failed to learn, master and advocate these new options even for markets and products where they make sense. A new cycle of re-learning therefore is a must for marketers as well as agency people if they are reap the benefits of the digital revolution and wake up to the realities of the information-seeking consumer of today who is not the ad-absorbing couch potato that they still believe exists.
TYRANNY OF THE KNOWN
Traditional communication using radio and TV advertising has relied on the proposition that if you hit consumers enough times with your message, they will buy your product. The related proposition that these “mass media” will deliver mass markets is true today only if sufficient money is spent to straddle multiple channels in a market where channel proliferation has fragmented the audience. The ‘push-marketing’ of old flies in the face of the new consumer who seeks information from his friends or on the ‘Net when he is considering a new purchase. It is this actively information-searching consumer that marketers need to understand and connect with. Marketers today need to be ‘found’ by the searching consumer rather than bombarding the consumer, who by now has developed the means to block out advertising intrusions, both perceptually and with the remote control. Unfortunately the shotgun bombardment model has been applied by marketers even when they try to graduate to digital media by using e-mail ‘blasts’ to reach unidentified and unqualified ‘prospects’. Spam filters and the delete button effectively deals with such junk mail.
If the trick is to ‘be found’ when the consumer is looking for you, your type of product or information regarding his needs that may be fulfilled by your product or service, we need to be at the places he visits daily on the ‘Net – Google, Facebook, blogs and the like. How we show up in these places or how we draw him to us has generated the concept of ‘inbound marketing’.
Companies originally started by establishing their presence on the ‘Net through a website. Many such corporate websites tended to be passive ‘brochure-ware’ – company brochures on the net. Blogs and social media on the other hand are more dynamic places where people can go to connect and chat with others, obtain and share information, learn new stuff, or simply be entertained. So marketers need to establish their brand presence on the ‘Net through a blog that is constantly generating new stuff that people would be attracted to come and check out or through a social media site such as Facebook that people visit frequently to connect with their friends, find new friends or join groups with similar interests. These sites provide for consumers and “fans” of the brand to link to your brand and share interesting news about your brand with others. Linking and sharing are two key aspects of social media.
If ‘getting found’ by the consumer who is today empowered to search ‘on demand’ on the ‘Net when he wants to know something or check out a product is what it takes for brands to connect with consumers, then marketers need to learn how to use search engines such as Google (by far the dominant one on the ‘Net) to guide the consumer to his blog and brand. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) offers ways to do this without payment (organic search) or through paid listings such as Per Per Click (PPC) where you pay when someone clicks on the link in your advertisement. Search engines use ‘keywords’ that the searching consumer may key-in to make the connection.
Getting found on organic search results is better not only because is it free but because people tend to click 3 times more frequently on the organic results than on paid results. Including keywords, that the consumer may use when seeking information or a product or service he wants to purchase, in your pages helps you to be found. SEO media specialists will advise you and provide services to optimize your chances of being found and clicked through, based on their knowledge of how search engines work. Your chances of being found increase when links to your site appear on other authoritative sites. It’s like getting referrals from well known people.
Blogs are a more attractive form of website that you can create for your brand. It is a place where you can and should post interesting content and articles regularly that will draw people interested in that subject area. It is like a watering hole or a clubhouse, where people can come and read interesting things you have to say about your field or the one your brand covers. Interested people can subscribe to your blog through RSS to be notified of any new content you have posted. Getting your blog linked to others of a similar or complementary nature, and promoting your posts through social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or StumbleUpon helps to draw traffic to yours. Creating blog articles that are funny, intriguing, or on topics that are of interest to your consumer also does the same. You now have an opportunity to connect frequently with your consumers if you create interesting content that he will be drawn to. A frequently (recommended weekly) updated blog may take some doing, but it is the way that the new ‘journalist-marketer’ can create a following of fans and customers.
Social Media also provides the means for your presence at places where people go everyday – such as Facebook. You may create a Page for your brand and you may draw fans to your page and in turn use it to drive traffic to your blog. Here is a place where your brand can draw fans who may exchange ideas with or pass on ‘word-of-mouth’ to other fans and customers. It is a place where you can engage with your fans and share interesting, useful information that consumers may appreciate, as long as it is not an outright sales pitch!
But you need to be prepared to have complaints as well as positive comments. Fear of ‘negative comments’ being broadcast, seems to make marketers shy of interacting with consumers on the ‘Net. You need to develop the mentality that this is an opportunity to hear exactly what consumer thinks about your brand or even a problem he had with it, get useful feedback and give constructive solutions. If you do not have the confidence to discuss about your brand openly with consumers and address any concerns they may have, you may be only sweeping any negativity under the carpet from where it will anyway disseminate through word-of-mouth or a hate site. Your fears may be mitigated when you know that Google and social media have privacy settings and other safeguards to block malicious comment.
The trick is to create interesting stuff around your brand that your followers will like and share with others through posting links to your page on their own home pages. Consider the social media option as an opportunity to network with an ever widening world of potential fans as your fans promote you to their friends.
The time has come for Sri Lanka’s marketers and agencies to experiment with and discover the potential of the new media options that are on the ‘Net to connect with today’s new emerging consumer who is increasingly spending time there. The time of push marketing, a la the traditional media model, is gone. Marketers need to engage consumers in interesting two-way communications. Marketers need to leverage the most powerful form of communication – word-of-mouth. Internet media is all about the new consumer who is connecting, linking, sharing. Sri Lanka’s marketers need to demonstrate willingness to graduate from older forms of communication which show diminishing returns and embrace, learn about and experiment with the new ones that the ever-evolving digital revolution has brought.
•Halligan, Brian & Shah, Darmesh (2010) “Inbound Marketing”, Wiley.
•Get Found Online http://www.Hubspot.com
•Social Media and Business Marketing http://www.Hubspot.com
•How to use Facebook for Business http://www.Hubspot.com
•The Definitive Guide to B2B Social Media http://www.marketo.com
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