Recently, around the time my second daughter, Marisa, was born, I was thinking about the world she would be entering, how much it differed from the one my first daughter entered (8 years ago) and how dramatically it differed from the one I came into in 1969. What struck me the most was the sheer number of choices we have today, and the bombardment of messaging and noise we encounter as we make those choices.
Choices, Choices, Choices!
From tens of thousands of restaurants serving just about any kind of food you can imagine, to grocery store aisles filled with the ingredients that make the world’s home-cooked meals. From small town squares filled with brick and mortar businesses that have been around for 100 years, to thousands of online businesses that pop up every week representing a new age of entrepreneurs. From basic cable with its 50-70 channels (10 times what we had using an antenna in 1969) to satellite television boasting thousands of channels, on-demand movies and vast libraries of recorded media (can any one family watch that much tv?). From hardback books to the Kindle, iPad, Galaxy and other tablet devices (will Dad’s den with old wooden bookshelves become a thing of the past?). From the iPhone to the Android to the Blackberry (maybe not for long) – phones that are truly smart devices, helping us navigate, communicate to thousands of people at once, organize, plan, the list is endless. Our world presents us with a constant stream of choices, and for Marisa’s generation (The Choice Generation) they will have exponentially more than we can imagine – choices that haven’t even been invented yet.
For people like me, the marketers of the world, the amount of choice in the marketplace requires us to know more about our prospects and customers than we ever have before. And, our job, jockeying for the preferred choice position, has become far more challenging. Marketing has always been a science, but today’s science is much different from the science of the past. Today we can collect more data, helping us understand behavior and because of technology, we can test more theories. But as we test these theories and adjust our formulas, I wonder if the marketers of the world are realizing that marketing today is still about trust and value. What are companies doing to earn the trust of their prospects and customers? And if that trust leads to business, what is the value of that relationship to the customer – in other words, why should they continue doing business with them and, more importantly, why should they tell others? It’s the age-old WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) question?
Business has always been built on reputation (trust) and the delivery of a reliable product or service. But today, business professionals and consumers are in control and have the ability to gather a plethora of information about your company, product or service and that of your competitor, before you even know they are a prospect. So, chances are that, before they are even on your radar, they are into their decision-making process. So, while reputation (trust) is still key, it is the value of the information you publicly share that earns you “a place at the table” and determines your opportunity. And I am not just referring to information about your company, your product or your service, but information about the industry you are in, the applications of the types of products you sell – the useful information that could help someone make a better decision, even if it doesn’t directly lead to an immediate sale for you. Is this such a radical view? I don’t think it is. I think when it comes time for the Choice Generation to make their choice, they will gravitate toward the brands or resources that most delivered on their promise (whatever it may be). And they will gravitate to those who delivered it consistently, while thinking more about their customer’s needs and less about their own. Think about it from your customer’s point-of-view. If you give them the information they use to make a better decisions, wouldn’t they begin to rely on you more (i.e trust you) for the decisions they need to make in the future? If your marketing team focused their efforts on delivering a consistent stream of information that is aligned with the buying cycle of your prospects or customers, wouldn’t that produce more sales-ready leads and higher rates of conversion? Content facilitates nurturing, creating demand along a buying cycle which can eventually lead to conversion (if the audience member is profiled properly). Good content can act as the catalyst to educate and inform prospective buyers about the options they have, the decisions they need to weigh, and the potential risks and/or benefits of choosing an option. Whether it’s through independent expert analysis, peer-to-peer sharing, or content biased to a particular product or service, all content has some intrinsic value and the more value you can offer, the more trust you can build. Ultimately though, trust is solidified after the transaction, when the business professional or consumer can reflect on the buying process and determine that a) they made the right decision and b) it was you who helped them make it. For the Choice Generation, the companies who focus their energy on earning and retaining trust and delivering value beyond their product or service will be the ones who are chosen. Moreover, it will be the companies who respect the choices that business professionals or consumers have made, who will retain their preferred status and experience growth.
And so I ask you, are you thinking about your prospects and customers in the way I’ve outlined above? Are you really thinking about the next click they will make after seeing your email in their inbox – and where they will go afterwards? Or are you more interested in whether they simply “opened” the email? Are you thinking about where they will be when they need the information that will help them make a better, more informed decision – is it at their desk, on their mobile device or at a live event? Will you be there? And will their experience be positive? Are you thinking about how you engage and retain your customers, did you earn their trust by delivering valuable information that builds a relationship – or will it take another discount, contest or giveaway to earn their business each time?
The Choice Generation is upon us, and their choices are becoming infinite. How will your company stand out among them? And when it comes time for them to make their choice, why should they choose you? I’d love to hear you thoughts on the Choice Generation or content marketing, or anything else you’d like to discuss. Just comment below, drop me a tweet (@johnmuehling) or hit me up on LinkedIn.