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.