The real digital revolution has nothing to do with advertising or marketing. In fact, it’s the mortal enemy of advertising and marketing.
Because the real digital revolution is about consumer empowerment, the ability to research and learn about products and services and make decisions independently from, and in spite of, any sort of marketing and advertising messages.
That’s what’s really changing the way we market. It’s not about our inability to control the conversation. It’s about our inability to even get in on it. “They” are talking about us and we can’t butt in. I mean Word of Mouth is wonderful and all, but it ain’t got nothing on a glowing review from CNET.
The car companies are actually the ones who are hardest hit by this development. Given that a car is the second most expensive purchase you’ll make in your life (your home being the first), sophisticated consumers are flocking to review sites, message boards and the like to get the real deal on the car they plan to buy. And even to find out what kind of car someone like them should buy. A pretty shocking development in a market that was shrouded in mystery and misinformation for years.
Sure there was Consumer Reports and the car magazines. But Consumer Reports attracted a very specific, Naderesque demographic and the car magazines were rarely concerned about the sorts of things the average car buyer was concerned about, especially if the average car buyer had kids or mostly used the car for commuting.
Now what all this information does is destroy the power of image-based brand advertising. I might see some “this car is cool” VW ads and think VW is great, so great that I decide I want to buy a Jetta for my next car. But, if I go online and read about how much the Jetta sucks and how much better the Nissan Sentra is, I’m buying the Sentra. No matter how much Marc Horowitz (the guy who lived in his Sentra for 10 days) bugs me. Brand advertising can’t stretch the truth anymore or try and gild the lilly. Because if it does, we’re going to find out about it and it’s not going to be pretty.
The informed digital consumer isn’t just a threat to the auto business: S/he’s a threat to any business where there are objective standards for judging the product. So while something like food may be immune (you either like Oreos or you don’t, there’s not much objectivity there) even packaged goods like laundry detergent can fall vicitm, since there’s an objective standard for how clean your clothes are getting.
All the noise you hear from the 2.0-niks about “conversations” is often just a fancy term for people sharing objective opinions of products on review sites, blogs and other digital media. The “conversation” is when the marketer responds to criticism with a pledge to try harder or some such. Which, while it’s not practiced as much as it should be, is just common sense. But enough “conversations” about how bad your product is, no amount of clever advertising or radical media placement is going to save it.
Now people are people and of course we’re always going to need some sort of brand advertising to help us distinguish between the cool brand and the not-cool brand. But, especially on high ticket items, the ability to research, to learn all the details and facts that were previously unavailable to us— that is what is ultimately going to drive our purchase decision.
And that, my friends, is the real digital revolution.