There’s a new trend in the world of marketing. It has nothing to do with a fancy new social media channel or the latest viral advertising campaign. The latest movement in the marketing communications space is in many ways a throwback to the past.
More and more conversations are taking place directly between people – and leaving brands out.
Text messages. Email. Private messaging apps.
Some call it dark social. Others would just call it regular sharing.
Call it what you want.
But there’s no denying the growth in these channels is a radical challenge to how brands are connecting with audiences – one that will force them to find new ways of building trust.
A new challenge for brands
Modern marketers have been conditioned to expect that nearly everything can be measured, tracked and viewed.
Analytics platforms provide us precise data on who is interacting with our brand.
Social media channels make visible millions of conversations that previously would have been hidden.
But with person-to-person sharing this once-clear information suddenly becomes opaque.
A Facebook Messenger conversation is hidden from view. Website traffic becomes more difficult to track. Who is sharing what about our brand via email goes dark.
All of this is creating a challenge with which brands haven’t had to cope in a while: How to connect with audiences whose thoughts and feelings are invisible.
A throwback to pre-social media days
Marketing didn’t used to be so data-driven.
Companies would place advertisements in, say, a newspaper. Then traffic at a storefront would just arrive.
There was little to no data connecting one to the other. And any conversations that didn’t directly involve the company were hidden. What data was available, say via customer surveys, was imprecise and incomplete.
We’re not back to those days.
But the rise in person-to-person sharing creates a similar challenge.
How do you find a way to get audiences to engage with you directly?
The answer – like the question – involves going back to the basics of connecting with audiences.
Finding new ways to connect with audiences
Traditionally, the companies that succeeded knew their audiences – literally. They met with them face-to-face. They listened to them. They incorporated their feedback into the product.
That’s changed in the 21st century.
Now “knowing our audience” revolves more around Google Analytics data and searching for what is being said about our brands on Twitter and Facebook.
These are powerful tools for gauging customer feedback.
But they can’t really replace getting to know your customer.
Knowing your customer means recognizing the blind spots in your data and working to fill them with real-life conversations.
It means getting to know what motivates them, what they want out of your product and what they think of your brand.
But more than anything it means building the most important part of a brand-customer relationship: Trust.
Building trust with audiences
The rise in person-to-person sharing is undoubtedly a challenge for brands.
Knowing what our audiences are saying about us is important. So is using data to get an accurate picture of how our company is performing.
But they aren’t anywhere near as important as the ultimate challenge: Building a relationship with our audience.
As more conversations move out of brands’ view, providing meaningful connections with audiences will only become more essential.
What does that mean?
It means providing enough value to audiences that they want to engage with us.
It means offering creative solutions to issues that will make a real difference in solving the problems they face.
It means delivering content that will offer audiences forward-looking solutions on where their world is heading.
Brands that realize this will quickly find more and more conversations emerging from the dark to a place where we want them.
Directly, with us.