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Marketing. It’s No Longer 2009.

April 30, 2014

This is the first of a two-part series.

This month marks my five-year anniversary on social media. In April 2009, I nervously tweeted for the first time and wrote my first blog post sharing my thoughts on marketing higher education. Finding colleagues on Twitter and interacting with them on my blog connected me to a wonderful community of new media early adopters in higher education and marketing.

It was an exciting time. We had a very real sense that the world and the market were changing, and we were trying to figure it out through conversations on blogs, Twitter and other social media. It was a sense borne out of upheaval. And it was kind of crazy.

Remember 2009?

By the time 2009 rolled around, our economy was going into the tank. The Great Recession had kicked in, the unemployment rate was skyrocketing, large corporations were in danger of collapsing, and new media were exploding on the scene.

social media imageNewspapers were failing because of the availability of free news content in digital form and on social sites.

Twitter was setting records for tweets per second as social media showed its support of citizens protesting their governments in other countries.

There was an excitement that new media were shifting power from large corporate brands to consumers.

And new alternatives for higher education, like the Khan Academy, were finding markets and getting attention. Thought leaders wondered–and still do–when the higher education bubble would burst just as it did with the newspaper industry.

Disruption became the “D” word.

And the buzz was impacting traditional thinking about marketing and branding. Some of this new thinking was just silly, like the claim that branding is dead because your customers on social media will now tell you what your brand is.

courtesy of Design House Agency

courtesy of Design House Agency

With the rise of social media, we had the rise of the social media rock star and consultant. Thousands assumed the identity. Literally, thousands. Pretty much everyone was an expert, which only ticked off the true experts.

As we watched what the major sexy brands did in social media, like Jack in the Box, Coca Cola, Skittles, and Taco Bell, we began agreeing with what their agencies and Facebook told us—that our Facebook presence was more important than our website.

“Join the conversation on Facebook” became the line of the decade.

Social media was almost entirely about community engagement. Social media involvement by colleges and universities was being measured simply by whether or not you had a Facebook page. Integration meant that you had social media icons on your web pages.

Attempting to get involved with these new social media, Boomer managers hired young Millennials “who understand this social media stuff.”

So much hype.  Many of us were already exhausted.

But fortunately in the midst of all the new media hype were thought leader voices, like Brian Solis, who provided—and still do—insightful analysis of the dynamics taking place with social. And we began to understand what was really going on.

It’s not about social media. It’s about us.

For me there was moment when I realized the scope of what was happening, that it was deeper than just having a Facebook page or any other social media tactic. I talked about it in this post in 2009.

1024px-Mobil_Gas_StationIt was July 2009. My wife and I were in our car following our son, Jason, who was driving his car. Both cars were full of presents from our daughter’s wedding and reception that had just ended. Jason needed to stop at a gas station, so I pulled into the station waiting for him to fill up.

As he got out of his car, a supposedly down on his luck stranger approached him and asked for some gas money. Possessing the joy of seeing his sister get married to the love of her life, Jason decided to pump a gallon of gas in the guy’s car instead of giving him cash.

Jason put his ATM/credit card into the gas pump. But nothing happened. He tried it again, but the pump still didn’t respond. Jason then gave him a couple of bucks, but the guy looked suspicious and wasn’t pumping gas or leaving the station.

Concerned that his credit card might be vulnerable, I watched my son, in about 3 minutes time, use his BlackBerry to go online with his bank, transfer all money out of vulnerable accounts, cancel the card and order a new one.

It was amazing to watch him do all of that so quickly, and it was an “Aha” moment for me as I realized new technology was more than just new media. It was reshaping how we we’re wired, and consequently how we experience life as technology empowered consumers, changing us in ways we didn’t foresee and may not yet fully understand.

As Brian Solis said in his 2011 book The End of Business As Usual

How we are wired is quickly becoming outdated. The new models of us are wired for the modern lifestyle. How we interact, learn, and mature is different. The simple truth is that things, and people, are changing right before us. We live in historic times and the change we’re experiencing now is nothing less than historic.

The more I study technology and its impact on behavior, the more I find myself revisiting a widely accepted notion: technology changes, people don’t. But nowadays, I’m not so sure. Technology is indeed changing, but it is also changing us along with it.

You know, reading that makes me think of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when people around the world were sensing something was going on, and were creating models of a hill in Wyoming out of mashed potatoes. What I was sensing at that gas station with my son was what Brian Solis was articulating, and what many of you have concluded as well.

We now experience life differently because of new technology and media. And because of that, the market dynamics are different. 

So forget about the hype. We’re not there anymore. You shouldn’t be there anymore.

What was happening in 2009 was the precursor to what’s happening now with search, inbound and content marketing. We’re different and are technologically empowered to search for information, entertainment and education in a variety of ways and on a variety of platforms. All of this has created new market dynamics that have profound implications for marketing strategy and alters our identity as marketing and communications teams.

In part 2, I’ll talk about how marketing theory has caught up with the hype and is shedding light on what it is we should be focused on.


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