Remember when you read a newspaper in the morning so that you would feel informed of the weighty matters of the day?
I’ll bet neither of those things has happened to you for a while.
In pretty much every aspect of modern life, not just when it comes to the news, relationships between the public and the various providers of services and information have changed irrevocably.
You can call it disintermediation.
You can call it the democratisation of the means of publishing.
You can talk about citizen journalists if you really feel you need to.
But those of us who have regular contact with the internet no longer get our news in the old-school manner. Instead we use our RSS subscriptions, lists on twitter, messages via Facebook and other social media platforms and news websites to get our daily feed of news.
And we graze. A lot.
We take a mouthful of twitter-gossip, a bite of bloggetry, and chew on the wares of our favourite news sites. From this we get our fill of news.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a very important role for broadcast news and newspapers. But they’re rarely the first place you get to hear about something.
A growing number of people create content as well as consume it – blogs and tweets are some of the most obvious mechanisms for so doing, but there are others.
Ordinary people, for want of a less pejorative way of putting it, are now right in the centre of the flow of news and information, and are no longer reliant upon the traditional methods of staying informed. This is a trend (dare I even say phenomenon) that can be witnessed elsewhere.
How often does seeing one advertisement inspire you to go out and buy the product concerned?
Not often I imagine.
Would you buy something because a brand you like (or even “like”) is on Facebook? Again, probably not just off the back of that one thing, I expect.
Tweets, likes, reviews on blogs as well as in magazines (and their online variants), personal recommendations and so on, all go toward helping us make what we feel are informed choices about the goods and services we buy, and the ones we avoid. A lot of that information doesn’t come from what might be considered traditional sources, but is user-generated in the main.
Mobile phone companies are experiencing something similar. Do you feel much allegiance to your network provider? Despite statistics I’ve seen from research done by one of my clients (which indicates that two-thirds of us have been on the same network for at least three years) the likes of O2 and Vodafone can only dream of enjoying the kind of brand-kudos many of the handset makers revel in – Apple, BlackBerry, SonyEricsson for example.
It doesn’t stop there. The growing use of data-based services on smartphones, some of which will let you make VoIP calls (via 3G or wi-fi) effectively bypassing the carrier’s voice network completely, is another headache. People don’t get excited about the network they’re on – unless it stops working. The network has been usurped in people’s hearts by the app makers and handset manufacturers.
The common thread in all of this is that the old order is no more.
If your job involves managing customer relationships, or sales, or marketing, you ignore this at your peril.
If customers don’t see any perceived value in dealing with you they will simply ignore you and direct their attention to those people and organisations they feel an affinity for.
The challenge then is how to be valued in what is an undeniably information-rich world where there is no shortage of voices clamouring to be listened to.
You need to be present wherever your customers may be – and in every format they will be coming into contact with. You need to present a human face and treat people with the same respect that you would like to be treated with yourself.
Ultimately you want to be trusted and believable.
And it’s not rocket science, which makes it all the more noticeable when brands get it wrong.