Is marketing dead? The Harvard Business Review seems to think so. In this article from August 9th , business consultant and author Bill Lee flatly states “…in today's increasingly social media-infused environment, traditional marketing and sales not only doesn't work so well, it doesn't make sense….traditional marketing isn't really working anywhere.”
The evidence bears him out. In 2012, the most important factor in making a purchase, according to 86% of consumers, isn’t TV commercials. It’s not billboards. It’s not magazine ads. No, it’s search engine results . That means Google (or Bing or Yahoo!) is now a brand’s best friend.
And the hunt for the perfect product continues in the online forest. Half of consumers are now combining search engine results with social media to further narrow down their buying choices. Moreover, studies show that companies that successfully engage their customers on social media have more loyal customers--and that those customers end up buying 20% to 40% more  from that brand than they would otherwise.
In other words, in the last decade, the entire paradigm of purchasing, from a consumer’s perspective, has completely been transformed. The Internet, social media, and the explosion of mobile advertising have changed the rules; unfortunately, change is not always welcome by companies that have systems, metrics and reward structures based on the old methods. To blow those structures apart can be expensive and difficult.
To stick with them, however, can be market suicide.
Brand engagement is the definitive way in which consumers interact with brands today. Any marketing/branding/advertising activities should be based on engagement touch points, in both old and new media. If they're not, change them. The impact of traditional methods will continue to deteriorate--which means consumers will continue to leave your brand for something more tangible and (you guessed it)....engaging.
When you play by the new rules of brand engagement , your company moves forward instead of being left behind. Here are a few of those new rules and why they’re so powerful:
*Enable Real Conversations
Before social media, tracking word-of-mouth buzz on a brand was a pretty hit-and-miss process. Today, it’s not; because consumers will put their opinion right out there in an online review that could really help your sales or hurt them. 70% of consumers say they trust these reviews , even if they don’t know the people who wrote them, which means you must have a strategy in place to deal with them. Monitor your reviews at sites such as Yelp! and on your various social media sites, and, rather than confront, begin a conversation about your customers’ concerns and how you intend to address them.
*Create Benefit for Both Parties
Marketing has traditionally been a one-way street. Brands told consumers why they should choose them and the consumers were supposed to listen. Now, consumers expect some value in return, either by the brand providing free entertainment or special offers (special offers, by the way, are, by far, the main reason someone on Facebook will “follow” or “like” your brand ). At the very least, consumers now expect companies to be responsive to their requests, needs and complaints--and to engage in real conversations whenever possible.
*Be Organic and Authentic
Parents know when their kids are snowing them to get something out of them, and likewise a consumer is savvy enough to understand when a brand is posing to make a sale. There was a time when McDonalds actually tried to promote candlelight dinners at their restaurants--do you think anyone actually bit at that hook? People love to buy, but they hate to be sold. When you’re genuine  in how you present your brand and how you position it, your customers appreciate it and respond with increased loyalty.
*Be Available Everywhere
Remember when customers had to make a phone call or write a letter to reach a company? Well, some companies still have that 20-year-old mindset firmly in place. Today, people are ruled by the mobile experience and they want to be able to reach who they want whenever they want. Mobile apps are being used by consumers, on average, roughly 667 minutes a month  and ten times a day--and 78% of them are using those apps for customer service purposes! If you’re not engaging your brand with your customers in the way they most like to be engaged, you’re cutting off a vital opportunity to connect and nurture relationships.
So marketing isn’t dead, it's just different. As long as companies need to sell products and services, marketing is still a vital component of their business; as a matter of fact, it’s more vital than ever before. The main question to ask is if you’re branding like it’s 2012 or 1992. If it’s the latter instead of the former, then your marketing might still be alive, but it’s definitely on life support.
[Image: Flickr user Dustin Diaz ]