Information Is the Thing

How can you get your information into the hands of potential customers? Think like a journalist.

marketing journalism

How can you get your information into the hands of potential customers? Think like a journalist.

I’m running from meeting to meeting these days, talking about how the new consumer wants information, and plenty of it. In order to feel secure about buying something as quotidian as an apple, people want to know if it was organically grown under fair trade conditions without gene splicing and within 100 miles of the store. And that’s just a 25 cent apple. Now consider how much information is required to convince someone to lay down $1,000, or $10,000, or $1 million, and look at the amount of factual, truthful information those brands tend to provide. There is an information gap. And as we all work to understand if there is a recovery –in-progress, now is the time to make sure we are providing enough news and truth about our products and services. Only then will we be ready to emerge from under this dark heavy gloomy blanket and be successful in whatever climate the economic gods send our way.

One good example is the real estate development industry. I’m choosing this one as an example as it is very familiar to me; my company specializes in this sector. But the same basic observations are true in any product category, from soup to nuts and including the kitchen sink.

Pre-recession, real estate developments didn’t have to work very hard to sell product, as the juggernaut economy provided all the urgency and incentive required to convince people to buy. I stood in sales centres on opening day and heard buyers explain that they didn’t really care what home in the tower they got, as long as they got one. It was 99% about investment. They wanted a piece of paper that would be worth more money in a few months so they could sell the piece of paper and make a profit, without ever having seen the home.

Today that’s all changed. Today the real estate buyer will likely end up living in the home under consideration. So they will quite naturally want to know more details. The shift our industry needs to make (and indeed, all industries) is to realize these new consumer expectations, and to be prepared to meet them. We have a term for this new marketing approach, we call it “Marketing Journalism,” which I know is an oxymoron and probably has Walter Cronkite spinning in his grave. But all we mean with this term is that marketing today needs to be about facts, about whole truths, about reasoned and researched arguments regarding the value proposition being proposed. It’s not about kooky headlines and stunning pictures. In the real estate sector, it means that picture of the woman on the spa table with the five rocks on her back can finally be retired. Same goes for that shot of a happy couple riding a red moped through Yaletown.

How do you do this for your brand? Think like a journalist. Ferret out every story about your production methods, you pricing, your ingredients, your distribution methods, your people, your community, your philosophies and your beliefs. And then tell those stories. Use every channel that makes sense for you. Certainly your website should be an information hub, with the additional hidden agenda of setting you up as an expert in your field instead of merely as a brand with inventory to move.

Any advertising should be informative; your goal should be to have people read about you and say to themselves “Hmm. I didn’t know that about them.” The other overt goal of your advertising (and by that I mean ads, direct mail, flyers, signage…any traditional marketing tool) should be to get people to your website. No one buys anything today, except perhaps the aforementioned 25 cent apple (and even that’s questionable) without going online first.

And for goodness sake embrace social media. It’s come along and become mainstream at exactly the right moment in our economic history. People don’t want to be sold, they want information, preferably from people they trust. Social media can be a brilliant tool for that, if used properly and with respect for the social conventions therein. Still scared or wary of social media? Get over it. Get some help. Look around your organization for a young staffer who knows way more than you about this stuff, and get them involved. See how your competitors are doing it. And then get into the swimming pool; starting at the shallow end of course.

This isn’t going to be easy. All sectors need to rethink how they communicate and engage with consumers. It will mean new jobs (do you have a social media conversation manager on staff?) and some old jobs becoming less vital. It will mean more resources dedicated to communication. It will mean we finally have to crack that old chestnut of “Truth in Advertising” and make it happen, for real.
Or, you can carry on doing things the way you always have. For a little while at least. A very little while, if my hunches are correct. It’s your call.