Customers could hardly be called empowered these days, but they certainly have more power than they ever have had before. If thousands of people receive poor service, it may not affect the brand or company responsible, or even reduce their number of sales. For example the first Kindles had a habit of dying just over a year after purchase; Estimates indicate around as much as 20% of units sold had this fault, and yet sales were still robust and the Amazon brand has not been damaged. However, it is far easier for larger seemingly untouchable companies to be damaged by online opinion, and larger companies do not have as much of a stranglehold over advertising mediums as they used to.
In the age of digital disruption, the competitive edges that larger companies had have been eroded a little. Distribution power, manufacturing strength, competitive advantage and information mastery are still powerful tools, but they are not as powerful as they once were. A smaller company can make serious dents in a larger company's customer base with nothing more than the ability to engage with customers on the Internet in a big way. Content marketers with no budget can affect sales in a massive way. For example, there is PewDiePie, a social media influencer that has dramatically affected the sales of all the games he has ever posted about on YouTube.
Suppliers, industrial companies, manufacturers and most traditional commercial sectors have embraced online content marketing. Sadly, most of them see a big gap between the amount of engagement they maintain and the conversions they see. Part of this may be because they misunderstand the content marketing process. It is easy to create plenty of funny content online and quickly gain a large amount of followers, but unless you are selling comedic digital entertainment, you are going to have a very poor conversion rate. Traffic and engagement doesn't always mean sales! On the other hand, if you fail to engage with your target audience at all, you are doomed to failure in an online environment.
What may be called more traditional advertising can be replaced with something such as advertising on mobile apps and both have the same amount of penetration and similar conversion results. Free mobile games are so common that it costs many companies money to get people to play a game they are giving away for free.
Some of the best industrial digital-marketing tactics are: "Ask an Expert" forums, online product configurators, product comparison guides/matrix, part number builders, parametric search, engineering kits, mobile apps, dynamic content including personalization, downloadable CAD files, sizing programs and calculators, and video marketing.
Mobile apps and video marketing seems to apply to a great many sectors. Mobile apps are not all about Farmville and Candy Crush. There are a massive number of industry-specific apps that are helping suppliers and service providers reach a broader online audience. Mobile apps also create a high degree of engagement in these cases, with the user seeing the content-marketer's branding almost every day while the app is used.
Video marketing is a little more difficult, but the success of some YouTube influencers is nothing short of epic. The YouTube influencer PewDiePie earns more than Barack Obama from his affiliate advertising on YouTube alone, and he has more YouTube subscribers than anyone ever. He didn't have corporate backing or an advertising budget, plus he has not gone viral in the strictest sense of the word.
The age of disruption is led by the consumer. You can run a well-timed and expertly-planned campaign and build up quite a following, only to have it taken from you once the users decide not to engage. The online community can turn on a brand very quickly. Many times a big PR crisis is well deserved through either the company thinking more about money than the user, such as with Daily Motion, or with the company Applebee's that fired a waitress for posting something on social media and then tried to suppress the massive wave of negative feeling on social media (read story here).
Paid content marketing has the potential to push your business to the top in the same way it can burn through money with no result. You can expect fewer viewers/users/customers but you can get them to engage more, which means a company can survive with 80% of income coming from repeat sales. In the age of digital disruption, companies have to change quickly to adapt to what the customers want or their more nimble competitors will take their customers.
About the author: Mark Knight is a Director at Broadgate Mainland the London PR agency.
Image credit: DigitalRalph