From the 1950s until the early 2000s, advertising and marketing followed along the path of the industrial revolution. Mass marketing followed mass production. Bigger supermarkets beat tiny markets. Chain restaurants replaced cafes. But the thing is, people’s tastes seem to be changing. We don’t enjoy the same beer anymore, an all-American Budweiser, like everyone else does. Instead, we like what the place down the street makes. It tastes better, it’s local, and there’s something cool about being able to talk to the guy who brewed it. And that does not just apply to beer, it applies to everything.
Report after report is coming out in favor of mass customization, the ability to “skin” products, to design them with us in mind. We want our own mark on everything. And with this desire for personalization in our product selection, our taste for mass communications is shifting back to a desire for more personal interactions.
Now that email overload has crushed us, long after fax marketing came and went, with mainstream newspaper and magazine advertising in decline, and with television ads being deleted by digital video recorders, new methods are being tested all the time. Social media is one of these methods, and its intimacy is hitting a core group of people. They’re sick of being pandered to, so they’ve stepped out of that line because the product at the end isn’t interesting to them anymore. But it turns out they do love something else: the ability to connect with new people, share real experiences, and work toward a common goal, the same human interests that have meant a lot to us throughout human history.
We talked earlier about how the Web creates democracy, and it’s important to think again about this as it relates to scale. The Web allows us to work within Dunbar’s number. It means that we can build business relationships in different ways: Instead of just locally or in a specific vertical, we can channel and stripe and slice in many different ways.
It is vital to understand, though, that this medium has limits. There’s a risk once you start thinking about mechanizing your online presence. Think of the difference between writing a personal message (in email or on paper) and sending out an e-mail newsletter. The language changes. The personality changes. It shifts to what we’re all trying to avoid.
To that end, think hard when planning. Think about this whole Build an Army concept with intention. This isn’t about capturing the “most.” It’s the difference between passionate home-brewed beer aficinados and mass-produced mainstream beer. You’re angling for the former, not the latter. Some quick advice on this front: If you scale, be sure to keep these details in mind:
* Simple gestures matter. Saying a few words back to everyone you can touch in a given hour is a nice way for people to feel heard and seen.
* Remember to visit other people’s sites, to participate in other people’s things, and to make the conversation about them.
* Give as much as you can to your loyal community. Empower people within it to lead in their own ways. Promote people within your community to help them feel part of the core experience.