As customers spend less time in all the usual web locales, new marketing practices are needed to capture their attention.

What are they and how can you create them? Here’s how you can start. 

Fundamental elements of the customer-marketer relationship are changing faster than marketers can adapt. In fact, they’ve already changed! While it seems obvious, most of us are only beginning to appreciate something important: How customers interact via the web with a brand is an experience.Jeff Molander

At some level this is not about clicks, conversions, optimization, and it’s not about the numbers or the metrics. It’s about your ability to create hunger, desire or capitalize on a human being’s latent intent. It’s about stimulating, comforting, rescuing and helping.

The web is inherently interactive and increasingly social. This sounds trite and simple but it cannot be under-stated.

Last week, I suggested that authentic digital experiences must be the future of online customer acquisition and challenged the affiliate and search marketing industries to step up to the plate. This week I’m qualifying the opportunity a bit more since some are a bit skeptical. I’m also explaining why it’s urgent to start making change.

Marketers are continually hearing the mantra: “Participate and have a conversation with customers”. Why? It’s because of this newly realized element of interactivity among Web users. The power of this element is breathtaking when one considers its raw experiential power; the web’s ability to make humans feel a certain way.

According to Keller Fay Group (2008), Americans have 3.5bn brand-related conversations per day. With a population of 300m, that means the average American engages in over 10 such conversations per day.

We know that 8 out of these 10 are likely more influential than any advertisement or paid sponsorship. Why? Because nearly 80% of consumers trust recommendations from friends, family, and trusted sources over any form of advertising.

What are you doing to foster such conversations under your umbrella?

Perhaps you don’t see the opportunity clear enough.  You may ask, “why should I bother to foster conversations?”

Here’s why: By providing customers and/or prospects with access to trusted recommendations (and other forms of authentic, relevant, engaging content) marketers stand a better chance of winning their business.

Customers are finding new ways to participate in various online activities. Sure they still love search, but they’re rapidly finding more social and participatory elements such as product reviews, product design suggestions and a new thing called “crowdsourcing” (more on that in weeks ahead) to be helpful and even fun. Remember fun? It’s powerful stuff!

According to Jeffrey Rayport, founder of Marketspace LLC, the world belongs to companies that can…

  1. Identify the right micro-verticals where consumers engage deeply.
  2. Activate new or existing consumer communities that welcome their participation.
  3. Make the network effect’ work for them through syndication & aggregation.
  4. Think the way industrial designers think about ergonomics – in our case it’s form factors of media consumption.

So how can one become one of these companies?

As new customer behavior patterns emerge, new marketing practices are needed to capitalize on them. We need to create them. Customer acquisition and retention cannot survive on traditional strategies like affiliate and search marketing alone. Intercepting customers during buying processes isn’t enough.

What are these new strategies? Some call it “conversational” marketing. Whatever name you give it, this emerging practice area is all about joining in with customers – listening to them and interacting on a more intimate level. 

Quite literally this translates into socializing with customers and prospects – a skill set that is a bit foreign to most marketing departments (beyond traditional market research). After all, we’re not formally trained in good listening skills or prone to making altruistic gestures. Rather, marketers expect measurable return on investment (ROI).

Some marketers are satisfied with following the crowd, others blaze trails. This begs the question: Can you afford to wait to implement pioneering and innovative digital marketing strategies, or will you help lead the charge?

The best way to answer this question is to make sense of and prioritize these emerging, digital acquisition and retention strategies. Your decision should ultimately be based on your market’s active use of digital technologies. If a social, experiential marketing approach is right for you, begin testing now. Eventually you must vet strategies to decide which are worth continued investment.

Before all else, the key to success in today’s digital, multichannel shopping world is a bold, new mindset. This way of thinking is what feeds new decision-making and creative strategy development processes. More on that next week.

Jeff Molander is the CEO of Molander & Associates and is a regular guest blogger at E-consultancy. The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those held by the publisher.