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The more marketing changes, the more it stays the same

Those of us that are immersed in online marketing often forget that there’s an entire world’s worth of purely offline marketing going on out there. Moreover, we also forget that for centuries, the business of marketing and relationship-building in general was handled in the “real” world (e.g. not via email, Twitter, or blog comments).

And from everything I’ve ever read or any conversations I’ve had with business veterans, it appears as if the No. 1 facet of “old school” marketing was the building of one-on-one relationships. A relationship could be defined as “networking” connection between two related businesses (ex: a real estate agency that partners up with a mortgage brokerage). It could also be a direct business-to-consumer relationship (ex: a bartender that builds a bond with a “regular”). It could even be a relationship between a media entity and one of its followers (ex: a loyal reader of a the local newspaper or specialty trade magazine).

The advent of the internet changed marketing and advertising in a lot of ways. It made the transaction between business and consumer much more interactive. It also allowed for a much more granular approach to measurement and analytics. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the advent of relatively democrat marketing channels like natural search allowed companies to compete even if they didn’t take the time to build real-world relationships with partners and/or consumers.

Or did it?

A recent experience made me rethink the nature of marketing in the internet age, and I came to the realization that when you strip away some of the technological layers, marketing and business in general is still guided by many of the same key principles that existed prior to online world.

Here’s what happened:

A few weeks ago, a hosting fiasco led to prolonged outage period in which I could not get this website back online. It lasted a little over a week but felt like an eternity. Ironically, it was this outage that made me realize just how fundamental the building of relationships truly is, and how the internet and it’s various technological manifestations are really just tools that help build and maintain these fundamentally human connections.

As I began to assess the damage, I quickly began to realize that whatever small following I have built up over the years was actually alive and well via parallel platforms that are embedded in my website but actually operate in manner that’s completely separate from www.hugoguzman. For example, my email subscribers were safe and sound throughout this hosting debacle, because they live in a database managed by the fine folks at www.mailchimp.com. I also realized that my RSS subscribers were also safe and sound because they live in a database managed by the fine folks over at Feedburner (e.g. Google). And perhaps most importantly, throughout my outage I was able to continue interacting with industry colleagues and followers via my Twitter stream, which is also closely integrated with my website but also works quite well as a stand alone media platform.

And while some might say that these platforms provide a great example of how the internet has changed marketing (and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong) I see it quite differently. Those three tools would have empty databases had it not been for the effort I put in to cultivate one-on-one relationships that led to the exposure, trust, and authority that, in turn, led to email subscriptions, RSS subscriptions, and Twitter follows. That’s the kind of organic marketing that no amount of technology or ad spend can match.

Sadly, many brands, large and small, fail to grasp this concept. So despite their rather large advertising and IT budgets, the continue to struggle with non-traditional marketing channels like SEO and social media. They think that these channels are all about building stuff (websites, web pages, social profiles, blog posts, etc) or about plunking down media dollars (Facebook ads, sponsored Tweets, paid links, etc) and forget that while those techniques definitely have value, they rarely lead to success without that secret ingredient that has been around since the dawn of time.

Relationships build social engagement.

Relationships build blog comments.

Heck, relationships build SEO-friendly links.

Keep this in mind the next time someone asks you how to build a successful interactive marketing program.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://twitter.com/dancristo Dan Cristo

    Hey Hugo,
    Glad your site is back up. I’ve dealt with hosting woes before, and it is a painful, frustrating experience. At the end of the day I moved to a provider with U.S. based, 24/7 phone support. I’m very happy now.

    As for the closing argument that corporations don’t “get” that it’s relationships that matter… true, but there is more to it.

    It’s not that all companies don’t understand that relationships are what really matter, rather it’s that relationship building is inherently difficult for large corporations. Why?

    Corporations have money, not time. They know money, they love money and they measure EVERYTHING in terms of money. Because of the measurement piece, it’s easy to spend money on advertising to see if it’s earned more money. It’s not as easy to spend time on relationship building and measure that in terms of money.

    Relationships are about one to one connections. Corporations are about nameless, faceless individual grouped together under a single entity (the brand). In order for companies or brands to build relationships, individuals must step out with their personal brand on behalf of the company – such as what Matt Cutts has done for Google. But that can be difficult due to my next point…

    Corporations have rules, regulations and policies. These sort of things restrict how employees can engage with users on social platforms. Think of a customer service rep handling a customer complaint. They have a very detailed script of what they can and cannot say.

    These are just a few of the challenges corporations have with relationship building. Sure, some companies just don’t see the value in it, but there are others who see the value, but haven’t figured out how to make it work because of the inherent challenges.

    One’s challenge is another opportunity.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the long and detailed comment, Dan! There are definitely a myriad of reasons why many corporations don’t get it (like the two that you eloquently outlined) but the fact of the matter is that some large companies do get it and are able to be successful because of that understanding, which suggests to me that the “other” companies’ failings are due to foundational misunderstandings as to what marketing is all about as opposed to procedural issues (those procedural issues are more like symptoms than a root cause IMHO). Another key facet is how good the product or service a company provides truly is. Companies fail in that area as well and then try to make up for it with marketing and this newfangled “social media thing” and then wonder why their efforts fall short.

  • http://twitter.com/miguelsalcido Miguel Salcido

    Good Link Building = Relationships
    Good Social Media Marketing = Relationships

    Social media and technology simply allow us to scale relationship building. But not as much as technology tends to allow us to scale other things. But it definitely helps us build and bridge more relationships than ever before.

    Hey, why the switch to Disqus? I’ve never been a fan of allowing a third party to control my content (comments).

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for chiming in, Miguel! As for Disqus, this recent experience has made me a big fan of decentralizing content (e.g. not all tied to my database on my server) and of moving stuff to the “cloud” (e.g. not on centralized servers that can easily be wiped out) although to be fair, I’m not 100% sure that Disqus data is actually in the cloud.

  • Dixonand

    Here, here! Great article.

    • Anonymous

      Glad you enjoyed it, Andrew!

  • Anonymous

    Congrats on getting the site back up! I knew something was up when my Google Reader suddenly displayed 43 unread posts. I’m still here – appreciate the insight as always.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comment and I’m glad that you’re still around. Always appreciate your contributions!