“Social media is a shift in power from the advertising companies to the consumer,” said Randy Hlavac, a lecturer at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Mr. Hlavac spoke along with Emily Bader, Vice President of Zocalo Group, and Rishi Shah, founder of the Northwestern Business Review and CEO of Contextmedia, at the 2012 Business Symposium at the McCormick Tribune Center about the power of online marketing.
One thing is clear about the future of marketing and the channels of media: there is a power shift from the companies to the people. People are gaining more control over their marketing experience; the ‘like’ function on Facebook, the Re-tweet option on Twitter, and the constantly-increasing number of social media outlets give the consumer the chance to choose what products they like and which ones they do not want to hear from. No longer can companies put ads in Sunday newspapers and recognize that everyone will read them. The old “18-44” age demographic is outdated; companies now have to reach each level of their consumer, from the “brand fans” to the all-important “peer influencers,” that group that can give recommendations to their friends about which products to buy. In fact, Bader commented, 92% of people look to a recommendation from a friend when buying something.
This power shift has a great influence on the way a company operates: “It’s a lot harder for big companies to be ‘lame,’” said Shah, noting the importance for big companies to innovate quickly and with consistency. He cited Google as a perfect example of an innovative company: they do get things wrong, but the important thing was that they recognize it quickly and listen to the feedback from customers. Other companies, he said, use market research that is often incorrect or becomes outdated. Bader shared her company’s strategy to reach customers in the newly-changed social marketing world, which included reaching each of the four groups who influence the public’s perception of a brand: “brand fans,” who can be engaged easily with social media site, “industry eminents,” public figures who are able to make a recommendation, “peer influencers,” who share opinions with their friends and make the ever-important recommendation, and “determined detractors,” who will not support your brand under any circumstances.
Hlavac elaborated on how to really make social media effective. Many companies, he said, are hesitant to enter the social media world because they do not see a bottom line or return on investments, simply because they do not go about it correctly. The key, he said, was to find a key demographic and give them something to talk about and generate buzz and then monitor the results from that.
All three speakers echoed the importance of the changing nature of marketing due to social media. Their advice to future advertisers and social media experts? “Stay flexible; things are in a constant state of change,” said Hlavac. “The channels [of social media] are going to change,” Bader said, noting the rise of sites like Pinterest and the possible plateau of sites like Facebook and Twitter.
What is the future of online marketing, though? “I have no idea,” Bader said. “And I love that.”