17 Oct 2016

Welcome To The Age Of Discovery

Studying history in my youth, my favourite aspect was the stories of the great adventurers. Magellan, Columbus, Drake, and Cook were chartered by kings and queens and set out to explore a world of which they were largely ignorant. When they returned, they regaled the royal audience with tales and trade goods. Indeed, Drake gave us two of the western world’s great impulse purchases; potato chips and cigarettes.

While our modern perspective takes some of the lustre from these heroic tales, it is worth remembering that humans are ultimately machines of discovery. It is one of the base drives that has seen humanity smear itself into every available ecosystem of the planet; inventing, destroying and occasionally learning along the way.

This drive to discover helps marketers understand how the way people find, share and act on ideas changes in the modern communications ecosystem.

The New Age Of Discovery

The internet allowed individual discovery on an unprecedented scale. For the first time, a person could be connected to the totality of human knowledge at whim. In marketing, it broke television advertising ‘s monopoly, which was built through aggregating large audiences and owning their point of discovery.

From there, the smartphone meant the tool of discovery now fitted in our hand and became our constant companion. Increasing the power of search, created a habit of being able to find information both on demand and whim. This has affected retail, brand communications and of course, pub trivia nights everywhere.

Social media too altered things in a different way. It provides a framework for discovering the experiences of friends and family, but also offers a social reward for acts of discovery. Find a new cafe or curiosity and the likes and comments are a tangible form of social capital. It’s a small ego stroke that delivers the dopamine and other brain chems our actions are unduly driven by.

And contrary to what you might think, these behaviours are not limited to impulse-level consumer interactions. Large and complex sales are now influenced by these new and increasingly ingrained behaviours.

The Old Model Of Doing Business

When I started my career with SAP, veteran sellers in the company used to speak, misty-eyed, about the days when orders used to come through by fax, and the most time-consuming part of the process was cutting the contract. Companies were short of information about what technology could do for their specific businesses. That knowledge was scarce, costs were high and performance was expensive.

As the internet has come of age, costs have fallen and performance has continued to increase exponentially to the costs charged. There are many more solutions put forward to solve pretty much any niche problem that can be articulated and enshrined into code.

But most of these businesses, new and old, are making a common mistake.

Technology businesses are excellent at turning interested audiences into customers. Service and subscription models have lowered the up-front costs of entry and professional sales teams are excellent at ushering people along the road from lead to sold. Their success in this sales phase of the process makes it difficult to challenge failings in earlier stages.

Businesses tend to treat new audiences the same as ones who are already interested. They lead with details of products and offerings, create marketing materials that look, read and feel like product brochures. They jam ten product features and three executive quotes into press releases to drive media coverage. They create marketing where the brand is not just central, but the absolute ass-kicking hero of the story.

By doing this, your brand runs the risk of becoming the most annoying guest at a dinner party, the one who is only interested in talking about how wonderful, successful and awesome they are. Not the person who you are gushing about and planning to have over for drinks at yours next week. In short, they make their marketing perform in exactly the opposite way it should and push audiences away, instead of bringing them close enough for that excellent sales process to work its magic.

This is not a problem that is only present in technology companies. I see these behaviours in businesses big and small, and across every sector and category. Those doing it well dedicate part of their marketing budget to talking to people while they are in discovery mode.

The Way To Be Discovered

You can find revenue by creating stories that are based on the things that are interesting and relevant to the audiences and people we wish, as businesses, to attract. The best forms of discovery marketing place the audience in the central role and not the brand.

It is time that businesses discovered a better way.

At Spectrum Group, we are helping our clients with these type of approaches in Australia, across Asia-Pacific and around the world. Get in touch if you’d like to understand how this type of thinking might apply to you.

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