Breaking News: COVID changed everything.
But really, it did. Especially in marketing. If you’re still trying to grow your business with the mindset of “sell, sell, sell,” you may as well quit now. The only place you’re going is straight to the spam box, literally and metaphorically.
You’ve likely heard the statistic that we see as many as 10,000 advertisements a day. Whether we like it or not, our daily lives are heavily, heavily infiltrated with content telling us what to do, what to buy, what to think. There’s no escaping it - that’s just the way our culture is now.
However, when the world shut down, a major shift took place in the way people feel about these advertisements. People no longer want starkly sales driven content. Instead, they want content that makes them feel human - they want empathy, understanding, and connection. As waves of socio-cultural advocacy continue to sweep across the United States, brands that push sales instead of connection are quickly being filtered out.
So, what does this mean? How can businesses sell their products without alienating a large portion of consumers? By aligning their business - and most importantly, their content - with genuine connection.
In late 2021, entrepreneur and social media expert Gil Carlos re-released his 2019 novel The End of Marketing. This updated version looks into the role COVID played - and continues to play - in the demise of marketing as we once knew it. In the opening section, Carlos writes that today, “Consumers’ expectations of the brands they follow should be to engage with empathy first.”
Think about the last few times you’ve scrolled through any of your own social media feeds. What was your response to any heavily sales-driven ads that appeared? Did they engage you, did they make you stop and think “yeah, I should buy this. I totally want/need it.” Or, did you just scroll past them?
Let me take a guess: you’re having a hard time even remembering the last heavily-sales driven ad you saw. If this is the case, you’ve proven my point.
Instead of peaking our interest, blatant product advertisements now fall into the “seen, but not registered” category of the thousands of advertisements we see everyday. The advertisements that we do connect with are the advertisements sheathed in genuine communication - the advertisements that make us feel like we’re part of a community.
By sharing content that creates a place for conversation, engagement, and relatability, you remove the need for ads as we once knew them all together. How so? By encouraging your audience to do the selling for you. When people trust your brand - when they feel as though you care about them, not their money - there’s a high chance they’re going to tell your friends about you. By humanizing your brand, your audience does the selling for you.
Gil Carlos drives this idea home in his explanation that today, “Your challenge isn’t how to market to your target consumer; instead, your objective should be how to engage your target demographic to become an advocate for your brand.”
So, what does this look like? Here are a few of my favorite recent examples:
- Difference Makers | Dick’s Sporting Goods
- Anheuser Busch | Let’s Grab A Beer, Safely
- The Self Esteem Project | Dove
Each of these campaigns captures exactly the sort of marketing businesses should be leaning into: marketing that makes a difference. Dick’s Sporting Goods “Difference Makers” is a four-part campaign for 2022’s Black History month, focused on highlighting community leaders across the country. Anheuser Busch’s “Let’s Grab A Beer, Safely” advertisement encourages people to get together with their friends for some much-needed quality time. Dove’s “The Self Esteem Project” is a continuation of their well-known “Real Beauty” campaign, this time featuring resources on how to encourage body positivity for young people.
All of these campaigns align with the empathetic, passionate, relatable qualities that are necessary for successfully positioning your brand. But they share one other thing, as well: not a single sales pitch. These ads are focused solely on sharing human stories with the goal to create a better, happier world. As you move forward with marketing your own business, this is the type of content that will garner you a loyal audience.
If you take away anything from this reading, let it be this: marketing is dead, and genuine human connection killed her.