2011: The end of “social” marketing: “

‘Social’ has been the word in marketing for the past few years. Industry conferences that once focused on marketing in general are now dominated by sessions specific to social media strategy, tools, and techniques.  Soon, it’ll be tough to imagine marketing that isn’t social. And once all marketing is ‘social,’ the word becomes superfluous, like the ‘personal’ in ‘personal computer.’ In 2011, we’ll just call it ‘marketing.’

A few brave brands

In the beginning, marketers began to relinquish some of their tight control on brand sites by engaging in conversational activities like corporate blogging and brand-centric communities. The adoption of social commerce tools like customer reviews and Q&A followed, aiming to turn these conversations into sales. These brave brands gave their customers a voice on their sites, facilitating both customer-customer and brand-customer dialogue.

The eruption of social networks like Facebook changed the context of the internet, transforming a broadcast medium into an inherently conversational one. Our own interconnectedness to each other online has made us…

  • less reliant on authority (advertising, celebrity endorsement, professional reviewers) for opinions, since we can get them instead from people we trust: people like us.
  • …less trusting of brands and advertising, since we can fact-check anywhere with real people who have used the product or brand.
  • …more reliant on each other, since it’s now convenient to seek the opinions of others no matter where we are.

Social for all mediums

For too long, advertising was an intrusion into our lives – as our Austin neighbors at GSD&M like to call it, an ‘uninvited guest.’ Our advisor Andy Sernovitz is a little tougher: ‘Advertising is the tax companies pay to sell poor products,’ he says.

Online. With social marketing, our ‘guest’ now receives invitations more often. We Like brands on Facebook and follow them on Twitter, inviting them to our digital cocktail party that is social media. If they follow the rules – keep us engaged, create value through our mutual conversation – they get to stay. But when they break them – flood our social feeds with ads, treat the medium like a broadcast – they quickly get bounced. 96% of Facebook users have never clicked an ad; people are there to talk, not to be talked at.

Offline. User-generated content on these networks and on brand sites has leveled the playing field between brands and their customers: our collective word of mouth is louder than a pushed brand message. Our newfound power over brands online has made us hungry for this same power offline. We’re tipping all media to the same recontextualization as the internet – slowly beginning to expect conversations rather than broadcasts, interaction rather than advertisements. Smart brands are taking the first steps to build conversations into traditional advertising by including things like customer reviews and stories in print, radio, TV, and mobile ads. Innovations like Hulu’s Ad Tailor offer us some level of control, allowing us to self-select advertising more relevant to us.

Once this tipping point is reached, it will be hard to imagine marketing that isn’t social, in some way. ‘Social’ will cease to be a type of marketing; it will simply be marketing.

Social for all purchases

As consumers, we are never alone. The increasing ubiquity of the internet’s presence in our lives – through social networks, smart phones, always-on communication – has created a world where every decision (and every purchase) can be crowdsourced and polled.

Across industries. As a rule, retailers are the most responsive to new marketing trends. Retailers were the first to sell online, offer UGC on their sites, and join social networks. Learning from the successes and failures of retail, manufacturers, travel, and entertainment followed. Today, even highly-regulated industries like automotive, financial services, insurance, and healthcare are beginning to adopt social commerce. Basic social tools like reviews are becoming ubiquitous – we’ll soon be reviewing pharmaceuticals, governments, educational institutions, you name it. No matter what we’re shopping for in 2011, other shoppers’ opinions will be there to help us buy.

Across channels. One in five mobile phones sold today are smart phones. Mobile internet access means UGC is available everywhere – ‘people like me’ are never far away. Whether we’re shopping online or in-store, customer reviews and Q&A are just a click away. 60% of in-store purchases are now researched online, and for every dollar spent online, the internet influences $3.45 of in-store sales.

This fusion of our digital and actual worlds marks the end of siloed ‘social’ marketing. As Philipp Schindler, Vice President of Google, puts it, ‘It’s time to stop differentiating between the online and the offline world – your customers don’t see it that way – everything is integrated.’

The word ‘social’ appears 20 times in this post. If 2010 is its last hoorah, we may as well start wearing it out.

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(Via The Bazaarvoice Social Commerce Blog.)

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