red-tree-220133_640The nature of advertising is changing, and the way it is changing is both curious and intriguing. Much of the change is reflected in, and probably attributable to the ongoing changes on the internet, but in many ways, marketing is devolving, just as the internet is devolving.

Celebrating Our Tribal Natures

I would imagine that statement raises eyebrows, and possibly even protests. How can our high-tech internet be devolving, and why would advertising follow suit? The answer is simpler than you might think. The internet is going social. No longer is it this great, monolithic virtual library, indexed by search engines.

Social sites are now the mainstay of the internet. People log on to connect with friends and family. With people like themselves. Little virtual tribes are forming all over the internet, and that trend has only just begun. There’s actually a website called Triberr (a social networking and marketing company, no less) that has reached the same conclusion for the same reason.

This change to a more social, more tribal internet is changing search algorithms as well. In the “old days,” search engines delivered search results in an “agnostic” way, without preference as to where the content of the search results was coming from. Increasingly, however, search is shaded and colored by your social connections. You’re more likely to see results that your friends have seen and liked. This is because people are more likely to trust a friend’s recommendation than they are that of a complete stranger. Search is simply changing to accommodate this truth.

Advertising is changing in the same ways, and for the same reasons. Here are four ways to make it work for you:

1) Get involved

You can’t play the new game if you don’t show up, and in this case, “showing up” means being a good corporate citizen. That starts with you taking an active interest in the communities your business does business with and in.

2) Identify the “Tribes” that use your goods and services

The reality is that companies aren’t all things to all people. You already know this, but instead of calling them “Tribes,” you refer to them as “Customer Demographics.” Every company has them, and yours are different from those of your competitors. Mass marketing doesn’t work as well as it used to. You need to devote some serious time to figuring out what “tribes” use your products and services, and how they use them differently from one community to another. Then, armed with that information, you need to start advertising to them where they hang out, using your findings as a guide to get started. Don’t worry, if you stray, your customers will be quick to let you know!

3) Create local advocates and champions

Just as the internet has bloggers and opinion makers of import in each niche, so too, do communities. If your company doesn’t already have an advocate or champion, you can help to create one. You do that by finding out what your local customers care about (other than your great products, of course!), and getting behind those causes. This “links” you and your products with those causes, both in reality and in the minds of your customers. They’ll do the rest.

4) Tell compelling stories together

It’s not enough any more to sell a good product. That’s where you start of course, but that should only be viewed as the beginning, not the end. The rest is connection. Finding ways to connect with your customers locally, and empower them to tell compelling stories with you in a supporting role.

The biggest thing to remember about the new marketing paradigm is that it’s driven by the consumer up, not from the top down. You don’t get to arbitrarily decide what the message will be, or even what specific products and services will be advertised in this manner. Sure, you can influence things at the margins, but local social marketing has to come from individuals talking to each other with you as a part and partner in the conversation. It can’t work any other way, and because of that, it means that (by definition), you have to surrender a measure of control.

For some companies, that can be too terrifying to even contemplate. For others, it is transcendent.