The question that has plagued marketers for the past decade is this: ‘Why doesn’t my marketing work any more?’ There is no single answer, but rather a combination of societal changes and technology advances that have conspired to disconnect consumers from marketers. In response to this trend, Marketers must change their approach to marketing communications. Let me give you a quick overview on some of the changes in our society and technology, and the unintended consequences for marketers it has unleashed, and a hint of what you can do to creatively re-connect with your customers.

The days of placing an ad or mailing an offer to your target audience then waiting for the phone to ring off the hook with orders is dead and gone for several reasons. First, the average consumer (and business person) is subjected to over 3000 advertising messages per day. These messages, due to their saturation, have become background noise. Some marketers erroneously believe if they just shout louder and more frequently with their advertising messages they will cut through the clutter. In reality, they just create more noise and contribute to the rapid decline of advertising’s effectiveness for everyone. You simply cannot spend your way to brand dominance.

Second, companies and the mainstream media grew accustomed to being the only ones speaking, much like a lecture format. Call it the ‘Marketers Monologue’ – we speak, consumers listen. Today, it’s a conversation, and its happening in real time. Technological advances have for the first time in history enabled the consumer to both target and filter what they see and hear. The remote control, Tivo, spam filters, satellite radio, cable TV programming, pay-per-view, do not call lists, caller ID, etc. act individually as personal conveniences, but collectively they are bullet proof armor against unsolicited advertising messages.

Third, as a society, we have changed. According to media giant E.W. Scripps, readership of printed publications has been declining for over twenty years, and is at an all time low. As a people, we just don’t read anymore. We get our information in abbreviated ‘sound bites’ from the Internet or other sources designed to provide top-cut snippets of information, while our young adults bury their faces in an Xbox, or spend their time Instant Messaging their friends. We have in effect made ourselves inaccessible to mass media.

Finally, and most critically, consumers simply don’t trust marketers to tell the truth. No matter how many times an advertiser shouts ‘New and Improved!,” the consumer simply doesn’t believe its true. And in most cases, they’re correct. Marketers have over time destroyed consumer trust through exaggerated “marketing speak” and creative manipulation of facts. Consumers have learned to trust each other, and not marketers.

In the February 2006 issue of Advertising Age, Jonah Bloom writes that 90% of consumers trust ‘recommendations from fellow consumers’ while trust in various forms of advertising runs from about 40% to under 10%. This would suggest that simplistic marketing strategy based on paid print or broadcast advertising messages or even a pay-per-click arrangement is a complete waste of time and money. Paid advertising still has it’s place in an integrated marketing strategy, but only in a supporting role.

What does this portend for the advertising industry? John Stratton, VP-chief marketing officer for Verizon Wireless recently stated in a speech entitled, ‘The new rules of engagement’ delivered in New York, ‘The failure of traditional marketing solutions has put billions of dollars of advertising budgets into play. Last year I spent well over a billion dollars buying space, time, air hits and clicks across a multitude of mediums. So if you’ve been selling me this stuff, then you need to know I am not happy. And, I’m not alone.’

The battle for market share is not to be won by delivering your canned message to your target audience via mass medium, but rather to establish your credibility and brand trust with your customers and get them talking positively about you. This takes time and commitment, and a different approach.

Join the Conversation

So how does a marketer reach an audience that has emotionally and physically insulated themselves from intrusive advertising messages? Answer: stop being intrusive and join the conversation!

Today, successful marketing is not about what you say about yourself, but what is being said about you by others. Word of mouth advertising is the oldest and still the most effective form of advertising available. And, new technology has made this simple form of communication exponentially more effective via text messaging, email distribution, chat rooms, forums, message boards, RSS, websites and blogs.

Word of mouth marketing techniques go by many names: viral marketing, evangelist marketing, and buzz marketing are but a few. Author Mark Hughes defines the technique as ‘capturing the attention of consumers and the media to the point where talking about your brand becomes entertaining, fascinating and newsworthy. A conversation starter.’ Great word of mouth marketing gets people telling other people about your company, product or service. Word of mouth is pure communication, it is face to face, and competes with no other media. It is absolutely and instantaneously believable because the source of the information is a trusted fellow consumer.

The crux of word of mouth advertising is giving people something to talk about regarding your product, service or expertise. But it cannot be just any subject, or blatantly self-serving. On the contrary, you must tell a story that is meaningful to your audience, and also positions your brand squarely in the center of the conversation. Because the story is meaningful to your audience, it is therefore newsworthy to the media serving that audience, as they will recognize the value their readership or broadcast audience will find in the story. This value is then transferred to the media, translated into greater readership, enhanced circulation or greater broadcast reach. Basically your message resonates with the target audience and the media that deliver it.