Friday, December 17, 2010

Slow Marketing

Perhaps you're familiar with the international "Slow Food" movement.  As the name  implies, it is the antithesis of the more familiar cultural term "fast food."  While nationwide chain restaurants continue to focus on how to cook meals faster, cheaper, and more homogeneous, the slow food movement embraces the unique characteristics of regional cuisine and strives to promote sustainable farming & ranching.  At the root, it is an artisan movement focusing on quality rather than quantity, and experience over efficiency. 

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar led by Krista Treide, President of Mav'r'ick Brand Building Company.  During her presentation, Krista referred to the concept of "Slow" as revolution in marketing.  "Slow can manifest itself in any design, object, space or image that encourages a presentation of local artisans, local designers, local flavors."  As examples she pointed to the following new ideas popping up:

Slow Investing - Investing in local businesses and sustainable industries
Slow Parenting - Focusing on family activities and family values
Slow Travel - Eco-tourism and the appreciation of cultural heritage while traveling

As I listened to Ms. Treide, I couldn't help but recognize how this "slow" revolution mirrors my philosophy toward marketing strategy.  I launched Dialogue with the goal of helping businesses recognize the importance of fundamental sales concepts in marketing .  It is about connecting with your customers through conversation, rather than mass media.  Ironically, it is the new technology around social media that makes this concept so relevant today.  With the advent of Web 2.0, a company's ability to converse with their customers one-on-one is more important now than at any time since the late 19th century.

Before the invention of wireless telegraphy (i.e. radio) the concept of "marketing" was really all about "selling."  Word-of-mouth ruled as people bought the products that their friends and the shopkeepers recommended.  But once companies could communicate with hundreds of thousands of people all at once, marketing shifted almost exclusively to one-way communication.  Even as the internet blossomed in the 1990's most companies simply treated it as the new television; buying banner ads and creating online brochures.

Finally, sales is back in vogue.  Yet, it has been so long since people have had to flex their conversational muscles that most have forgotten how to do it.  Simply call the toll-free number of your favorite retail store and you are likely to understand what I mean.  Sales agents seem much more interested in rushing you off of the phone than they do in enriching the relationship you are making with their company.  They may ask “is there anything else I can help you with?” at the conclusion of a call, but it is little more than a signal that the call is ending.  It’s not much better than saying “have a nice day.”

On the contrary, when a sales agent engages the customer in dialogue, they learn more about the client’s needs and are able to ask relevant questions that  lead to more sales.  Engaging customers is a skill, for sure, but one that most companies have failed to train for quite some time.  This is surprising because it is widely known that increasing the revenue per purchase also decreases the cost of the sale.  This leads to higher profit margins.  Yet companies seem obsessed with speed and efficiency to the detriment of developing relationships that increase customer loyalty and encourage referral business.

The idea of Slow Marketing is all about cultivating relationships.  As your customers interact with each other online, word-of-mouth marketing once again reigns supreme.   What your customers say about your business is a direct reflection of how deep your relationship is with them.  The more effort you put into engaging with your customers, the deeper your relationship with them becomes. 

This isn't something that is taught in most schools.  It is up to you to train your employees on how to build relationships.  Teach them how to engage customers in conversation.  Urge them to slow down and get to know your customers.   Relationship development is the most important dimension of your business strategy.  Your competition can copy your products, your technology, and even your marketing, but they cannot replicate the relationships you build with your customers. 

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