On Three Legs

25 04 2010

I have been teaching this class for over a decade now. It started out as the then-revolutionary topic of e-commerce. Few universities had even broached the subject in curriculum meetings; after all, academia is often the last place new things happen. If anything, a special course in a topic is probably the best validation there is that a topic has merit.

So revolutionary was this subject that back in 1998 I quietly co-opted what was once my Marketing Channels class, and changed the entire course during cover of night. Students were expecting another boring semester learning about distribution methods and strategies, which is about as exciting as watching an old brand die a slow, painful death.

It took another year before I could convince the Powers That Were that the course should be renamed. Naturally, there was resistance. “Are you sure this thing is even going to be around in 10 years?”

Yeah, I’m pretty sure.

And so I was off (and running, not off-base).

Back then, a company’s online strategy had but one leg…the website. If you had one, you were cool and definitely ahead of the curve. This one leg would more than likely be basic brochureware, although there were a few avant garde folks actually selling things from their site. Everyone fell in love with the metaphor of an online shopping cart, for it made the e-commerce experience very relatable.

Fast-forward to 2010, though. That one-legged online strategy has grown considerably, and so has my course (hence the new name, Evolutionary Marketing). We have grown a couple of appendages to the point that a company must use a tripod to prescribe a firm’s online strategy.

And so as we continue to evolve, the three legs of our online strategy must now consider the following:

    • The website.

    • Social Media.

    • Apps and Permission-Based Marketing.

The website is still the website, but it has a much different role today than it did a decade ago. No longer is it the bleeding edge; in fact, it is now really just a necessary evil. Everyone has to have one; you may or may not conduct sales from it. No longer is the website a badge of honor; it is more like a lowly business card. Show up at a meeting without one, and you look pretty foolish.

As for social media, it is now imperative for companies to consider not only The Four Pillars I pushed a few days ago (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube), but also take a look at LinkedIn for employees to network with other associates, and now location-based social network providers such as Gowalla and 4square.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy here, because not all companies will need the same cocktail. Bars and restaurants will definitely benefit from using the leading-edge GPS-based locater apps in order to crowdsource, but an office supply store would probably be stretched to just have a Facebook Fan Page.

Finally, and growing quickly in importance, is Permission-Based Marketing, under which umbrella I lump mobile phone apps and outbound SMS blurbs along with the more traditional email blasts. Email is so last-decade anyway, and pretty HTML-based email newsletters may look nice, but only reach the 50+ segment who still actually opens them.

But outbound text messages are the perfect way to reach customers if they are under 30, for they are glued to their phone. There is perhaps no faster way to communicate directly with a customer short of actually calling them (which is so last century).

Finally, apps are invited by users too reside on their phone, but can be used not just for pull activities, but more importantly, for push messaging. The CNN app lets users accept breaking news pushes; Gowalla pushes my location to my friends whenever I check in somewhere.

Like all tripods, the thing only works when all three legs are functioning. Depending on the shot you want, as well as the surface on which you stand, those legs may vary in individual height. But you still need all three to make it work. It just depends on the situation

And as for this class, I suspect when I step back from the forest again in 5 years, much will have changed. We may very well have evolved a fourth leg. And there will be no denying there are evidences of that vestigial tail of traditional old-school marketing (print and broadcast). It’s hard to make things go away, but in this business, it is not only possible, but desirable, to keep evolving and growing.

As long as we can avoid tripping over all those new feet.

Dr “Channel This” Gerlich


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