How Marketing Since Web 2.0 Changed Everything, And Made Content King

At some point around 2010, marketing was forever changed. Those clinging to the old ways are seeing ever-diminishing returns. The days of ‘target, interrupt, harass and prevent attrition’ are over. We see up to 10,000 ads a day and ignore 99.5% of them. Traditional marketing in the digital space only kind of works; it can offer leads at absurdly high CPLs, when executed at scale, with millions of impressions – requiring a considerable war chest. But there’s a better way.

Something interesting happened around 2010, or once Web 2.0 got into full swing (10 years after Google supplanted Yahoo!’s formerly-directory-based starting point for the Internet). Luminaries like Seth Godin, Joe Pulizzi, Jon Weubben, and eventually Gary Vaynerchuk, Mark W. Schaefer, Marcus Sheridan, began to recognize the rules of marketing had been changed, first by this thing called a search engine (The Google one, viz. the one that was orders of magnitude better than anything before it), and next by the explosion in user-generated content, dynamic social media, and smart phones, which enabled a) greater content volume, b) content virality, and c) more compelling and easily-gathered content. Indeed the birth of the content creator could be attributed to these changes in the web landscape.

In other articles, we explore the mechanics of how buyer empowerment changed buying habits in other articles. This article is pointed at sharing the brutal truth about how marketing actually works (when it does work).

The Buyer Journey is beset on all sides by search. During that search, people don’t want to see ads. Why? Because they aren’t just searching for a solution, they’re searching for the best solution to their problem, as judged by them. We often say: the fact that you offer a solution to a pain-point a given buyer may have only seems like aligning interest. You want to sell, to anyone, but they want to buy the one, right, specific (best) thing. These are very different needs. 

The best approach is to find a niche, meaning a solution wherein you are effectively a monopoly; you want to ‘go an inch wide and a mile deep’.

Next, you help people instead of trying to sell them. It’s only an illusion that ads (versus content offers) have value. They only ‘work’ when you show tens or hundreds of thousands of them. 

What kind of content do you produce that helps people? Well, as experts in you area, you share that expertise, for not just pain-points in your demographic, but lateral to your demographic.

This drives traffic, makes you thought leaders, and everybody is happy. Some content can be gated (requiring an email address), and some can be free. Some can be articles on the site, and some can be downloadable eBooks. The point is you judo the reality that people use search and ignore ads. 

That’s it. That’s the big secret. 

In this post, we’ll offer something like Mark W. Schaefer’s Manifesto For Human-Centric Marketing: a top-level, 20,000 ft. view of how to best conduct yourself in what Gary Vaynerchuk calls the Thank You Economy and what we call the Selective Consumption Economy

  1. Recognize that the Buyer Journey is entirely buyer-driven, which means buyer-centric. which explains why buyers don’t want to see you talk about yourself (ads). This means seller-centric content (ads, brochures, flattering graphics and capability statements, etc.) have almost no value to a buyer deciding on what to buy. You talking about yourself is only relevant at the end of the Buyer’s Journey, after the buyer has effectively decided to buy from you.
  2. Recognize that the bulk of the Buyer Journey is a wending path of research conducted at the buyer’s prerogative, discretion and convenience, utilizing search engines and the vast oceans of content on the Internet. The ‘awareness’ and ‘consideration’ stages – about 90% of the Buyer Journey – are marked by the private investigation of options, entirely on the buyer’s terms. It’s researching fit, cost, value: known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Respect that process and don’t interrupt it. 
  3. Stop interrupting people to talk about yourself, with the hope of taking money from them, later; have better manners than that. You could argue that ‘interruption marketing’ is immoral or unethical; it’s definitely hypocritical. At the very least, if you’re addicted to giving money to Google and Facebook, you could pay to place your disruptive ad, but offer something of objective-value; something with value regardless of whether a lead buys from you, or not.
  4. Recognize that marketing today runs on choice, though consent, and that you have virtually no power over any single consumer, and embarrassingly little impact on the public at large
  5. The expansion of competition and the ease with which ads can be presented, has further diminished the value of paid ads. We see between 7,000 and 10,000 ads a day, and we ignore them. 
  6. Recognize that you must give to receive. Today, you are selected by buyers. You are sought; you don’t have the power to pursue. You receive; you do not take. And to receive, you must first give. You must earn attention and popularity. This reality can’t be avoided.
  7. Recognize that you ‘judo’ the reality that people hate ads by creating the content they seek when they are searching for a solution to their pain point. Produce the objective, helpful, content buyers seek as they research – and offer it for free. That’s it: be helpful. Look at things from a buyer’s perspective and consider how you shop. 
  8. Respect buyers. Consider for a moment the objectifying practices, labels, and metaphors marketers use to describe customers – the lifeblood of any business: ‘funnels’, ‘demand Generation’, MQLs, SQLs, ‘targeting’, ‘lead capture’, ‘drip campaigns’, ‘hunting’. These don’t convey respect for buyers. 
  9. For most marketers, it’s selling their product, not addressing their needs. Most marketers need to invert their whole orientation to be more service-minded – really go through the looking glass and consider the buying experience from the point of view of the buyer. This won’t just make the average marketer better, it will highlight how self-interest is often dressed up as helping customers.
  10. Recognize that buyers see you as you are, and that you can’t change this perception. You must change as a company, or your product or service. The days of spin are over. You are seen as you are, in the final analysis. If you aren’t getting traffic, it’s because you’re objectively not awesome. 
  11. Recognize that buyers outnumber you. You are *one* agent, one voice, and one platform; the public outnumbers you. As one platform or voice, you’ll never be able to stay ahead of what others say, produce, or share about you.
  12. Recognize that buyers don’t believe your sales copy, and can spot it a mile away. Buyers believe content that helps them without an ‘ask’: reviews, articles – ideally from objective, third-party publishers. Though you are not a third party, they can also spot helpful content that’s attempting to be objective – and this builds credibility and trust for those who produce this kind of content. 
  13. Accept that your online reputation is deserved. Don’t take our word for it: it’s well-known that Google only loves you after other people do. And they love you when you’re amazing. You can’t game this, you can’t outsmart the 15,000 Ph.D’s at Google.
  14. Recognize that your ads have never had less value than they do now (this is true every day – it’s a new low). Collapsing click-through rates prove this. Your own buying habits validate this. We all hate ads. We all hate sales calls. We all ignore brochures – until the end of the Buyer’s Journey, when we don’t. At that point, we’re basically ready to buy, and the sale is any given businesses’ to lose. 
  15. Stop pretending almost universal avoidance of your ads (a .2% – .35% display click-through rate; 1.91% – 2% for search) means anything but that people don’t want to see them. Don’t be a slow learner. Don’t count on your VC money. Recognize. Stop using the few clicks you get at scale (thousands or millions of impressions) to rationalize this unwelcome practice.
  16. Market as you buy – don’t be a hypocrite. It’s breaking the Golden Rule to ignore ads and delete emails, then go to work as a marketer or business owner to do what you, yourself, don’t like. 
  17. Don’t assume that a prospect’s search for a product is a) a search for your product or b) an invitation to interrupt them. Again, it’s all about their Buyer Journey, on their terms. Even if your product or solution could help them, you don’t sell, they choose to buy. These are worlds apart. How psychotic is it to force yourself on a person – in any way – on the grounds that what you want will be something they happen to enjoy, also? Stop marketing this way. It really is a sickness and has to end. 
  18. Recognize that buyers don’t see you the way you see yourself.   
  19. Recognize that nobody cares about your ad or brochure until they care about it, and at that point, they’ll seek it (after they’ve ingested and processed lots of objective content). 
  20. Recognize that the win distribution has never been more tilted toward the best and that those who make ‘the tallest skyscraper’ will attract all the tourists, as the saying goes. The best article. The best website. The best product. Being the best is a kind of differentiator (though we recommend something qualitatively different and not just quantitatively better), but everybody has the tools to conduct research and find the best. Be the best, and that will be you. 
  21. Recognize that brochures and ads are seller-centric, or egocentric, and stop expecting people to care about your interests the way you care about them, and that wins come from caring about consumers and prospects the way they care about themselves. 
  22. Understand that buyers are skeptical, harried, information-overloaded, distrustful, busy, and  disinterested – and proceed accordingly. Have an extremely good reason for interrupting them.
  23. Recognize that you really have to function like a small business in a small town, as Gary Vaynerchuk says. You are that vulnerable before the public, and every interaction and engagement counts. This applies as much to mass emailings and ‘drip marketing’ as it does burning someone and not expecting them to sound off on a review site, or complain to the Bureau of Consumer Affairs. The world is actually very small, and the Internet never forgets.
  24. Stop believing that success requires complexity. Stop obsessing about technology when there are wins to be had in other areas (better product, website, content, offers). 
  25. Stop believing monitoring (using analytics for a high-resolution, lagging edge, look at behaviors) gives you control over buyers. You have no control over what buyers do. 
  26. Stop building funnels and wrongly predicting what buyers will do. You’ll never be able to predict human behaviors at scale. Obsessing on this will come at the opportunity cost of content, and serving people you’re lucky enough to have come to your website.
  27. Keep your tech stack, but align it with a buyer-centric mentality. Optimize it for being helpful, not selling. Stop marrying high technology with an antiquated (pre-Web 2.0) understanding of marketing; stop weaponizing marketing with technology. 
  28. Fix your product. Don’t expect to be able to cover up anything mediocre. 
  29. Make your website amazing. Everything converges on the web. You simply can’t have a mediocre web presence and not expect everybody to go around it to the best
  30. Don’t make ‘fake offers’ (discounts, self-flattering comparison infographics, content pointed at selling, but that are not ‘brochures’). These have relative (but not absolute) value, are still seller-centric. Don’t do it. Seller-centric thinking has a way of posing as altruistic, as buyer-centric. Cleanse yourself of those demons and genuinely put others first. Watch what happens. Be humble and generous. Give with no expectation of receiving. Watch what happens to your credibility when you – sometimes – advise people not to go with your product (in certain circumstances); see what happens when you provide information that helps them solve their problem, not necessarily solve your problem by enriching you. 

Make an amazing and differentiated product. Give objective content upfront with no strings attached. See what that does for word-of-mouth and social shares. See what it does for your credibility and thought leadership.

Pursuing people with all the money and brochures and technology in the world cannot match the effect of people *wanting* to come to you. You are *one* agent, and you are biased about your product; the public outnumbers you, and they believe *themselves* more than they believe you. You will get rolled if you try to control, rather than cooperate with, these realities.

Mark W. Schaefer's Manifesto For Marketing

In summary: vendors must understand that it only seems like buyers’ need for a solution and your desire to sell them a solution are aligning interests. In truth, you want their money, whether it’s the right fit or not (most of the time), and they want to research, consider, and choose the best fit for their problem.  Go upstream helping them get to a solution, rather than trying to corral them toward giving you their money.