The Times They Are A-Changin’.com

It used to be different. Advertising was simple. Just a fancy picture and some inflated diction, and you’d have yourself a stream of sales. You had complete control over your message and your brand, and they had a strong influence on the customer. That’s how it was 100 years ago.

Let’s say it’s still 1909 and you are opening a new department store downtown. You want everyone within a day’s travel to know about it, because if you bring in more people, you get more sales. And if you get more sales, you keep more profit. And you like money. Who doesn’t?

Your best option at the time probably would have been to run a newspaper ad. Readers would have passed the paper along and told their neighbors about the opening. You would have announced the opening to the community, let word-of-mouth work its wonders, and you would have waited for the crowds to come through the doors.

Now let’s say your store is 50 years old and you are throwing an unprecedented anniversary sale. What do you do? Run an ad on television, of course. You’ll get people singing your jingle in public and passing the catchy tune like the common cold. Then you’ll get hoards of jingle-infected customers seeking a material cure at your store.

But now it’s 2009. We still have newspapers and television. We still have radio and magazines. They’re all still great advertising media and essential in the marketing mix. But we also have the Internet, and it’s changing the way marketers look at advertising and word-of-mouth.

That’s because the Internet has gone social. What people used to have to do face to face, on the phone, or through the mail, they can now do instantly with computers. Word-of-mouth spreads at the speed of light, and it isn’t based only on newspaper ads and television jingles. Now it’s based on viral videos and online review sites.

To some it may seem like advertisers have lost control of the message.

Have they?

Not only has the Internet given consumers more flexibility and options with word-of-mouth, but it has also given advertisers new opportunities to forge stronger, more meaningful relationships with their customers. If advertisers take advantage of these opportunities successfully, the results are stronger brands.

Stronger brands lead to more new customers, increases in repeat purchases, and intangible, but very real, brand equity and loyalty. Your traffic through the door is no longer the only measure of marketing effectiveness. You also have to look at online brand interactions, Web site stickiness, customer retention, and limitless other metrics for the countless online touch points between your brand and your customers.

It’s no simple task. That’s why there’s a trend for companies to either hire dedicated online personnel or outsource the work to agencies. People to monitor, analyze, and interact with customers. People who know how to keep the online word-of-mouth in your favor.

These people and agencies manage your online presence through sites like Facebook, Twitter, and your own Web site. They keep your message atop the conversation. They give you as much control as possible over your brand.

And what if you don’t have anyone managing your brand’s Internet presence?

Then you have no control over your brand online.

And no amount of newspaper ads or television jingles can change that.

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