When Pavlov trained his lab dogs to salivate on command of a ringing bell, he inadvertently set the stage for over a century's worth of conditioning-based consumer messaging. In the early decades of the 20th century, characters such as J. B. Watson and Edward Bernays "proved" that when businesses rang the right bell the right number of times, they could conjure desire and action in their audience through branding alone.
Even fifty years ago, media outlets were inherently limited by geography and scope. Because consumers lacked broad exposure to alternative experiences, need-based behavioral marketing held sway. Indeed, response in the baby boom-era - folks really did buy the most heavily marketed goods and services - seemed to prove that customers could be conditioned to salivate on command.
Yet the close of the 20th century has been a boiling point for media fragmentation. The advent of the Internet and wireless technologies gave everyone access to information anytime and anywhere. The blossoming of media placed an unprecedented amount of information in the hands of customers, rendering geographic barriers moot. Most importantly, this sea change empowered customers to focus on what's relevant to them and ignore the rest.
The consequence to marketers has been frustrating and confusing. As media fragments, so does the "mass" in mass-marketing. What's a marketer, a sales manager, an entrepreneur, a CEO to do?
The emerging media market is shattering behaviorist marketing assumptions. Businesses are no longer in control of the strings; they can neither evoke desire nor elicit responses like they used to.
The window emerging media has opened reveals a personal experience economy in which customers are in control and brand is defined in their minds by the experience itself. And those customers behave more like cats - notoriously self-motivated and generally not biddable - than like Pavlov's dogs.
In today's increasingly fragmented, always-on media landscape, customers are no longer passive. They voluntarily participate in every exchange and overlook messages that don't interest them. Online and wireless technologies are becoming the glue that binds these customers, offering new ways to communicate and new avenues for researching their buying needs. The exponential development in search marketing and consumer-generated media demonstrates the powerful roles customers have in shaping the nature of voluntary engagement - in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets.
Interactivity has changed the nature of marketing by extending its reach into the more intimate world of sales and customer relations. Marketers increasingly are required to go beyond their traditional roles of raising awareness and driving traffic; they must now create powerful persuasive systems that anticipate and model customer needs, personalize information and processes to meet those needs, and then measure the return on investment for every discrete process in that system.
The best companies have always listened to their customers. However, simply listening is no longer sufficient. All too often, the customer doesn't even know the true complexity of what technology makes possible. Businesses may think of themselves as multi-channel, but in customers' minds, channels are irrelevant and non-existent.
In the past, marketers presented the view they wanted customers to see; today the customer is choosing the angle from which they want to view the product. These angles of engagement reflect different motivations and different buying modes, and occur at different stages in the buying decision process.
Marketers are not accustomed to accounting for the angle from which the customer frames the want or need. However, the growing abundance of alternative information resources provides customers with multiple avenues for researching products or services. Marketers are not in control of this information, but they must anticipate the implications of its availability and incorporate that understanding into the persuasive system.
Information has become the packaging for every product and service. Marketers may design intentional communications suited to their goals, but those communications all too often miss the mark of customer relevance.
How customers frame their wants and needs in their various modes of information-gathering and decision-making defeat superficial attempts at personalization. So how do marketers function in a "pull" marketing environment where pin-point relevance and context are no longer optional?
In our new book, Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?, we describe the ins and outs of Persuasion Architecture, which provides a six-step, Six-Sigma process for creating highly relevant and delightful personal experiences. Persuasion Architecture™ identifies audience segments based on demographics, psychographics and business topologies. It then allows management to set goals and objectives for segments based on an understanding of what drives and motivates each segment. This gives marketers the opportunity to market to customer segments in terms that are meaningful to customers.
"Persona"-lization, the centerpiece of the methodology behind Persuasion Architecture, allows businesses to unify their marketing messages, shape their merchandising, communicate with manufacturers and suppliers, train call center and in-store staff, and, ultimately, choose which products to carry and wrap services around. Marketers will be most effective in a post-mass-market environment when they model interactivity based on personas. These archetypes represent audience segments in various buying modes. Personas allow businesses to empathize with and speak to customers' needs across all communication channels.
By aligning the selling process to the customers' buying processes, Persuasion Architecture makes it possible for businesses to integrate their multiple channels of influence, strengthening the coherence of both their message and their brand.
Marketing, media, advertising and communication professionals, as well as management, entrepreneurs and business owners will discover that applying the principles of Persuasion Architecture leads to increased customer sales, increased customer retention and expanded word of mouth marketing. In addition, Persuasion Architecture makes it possible for businesses to measure and optimize every piece of the system effectively.
The most challenging problem facing business today is planning and optimizing complex persuasive systems. While technological possibilities for managing the dynamic of human exchange are evolving rapidly and changing the landscape of marketplaces, the nature of the "human operating system" remains same - the road may have changed, but those traveling on the road haven't. Customers are not, and have never been, the metaphoric equivalent of Pavlov's dogs.
The rewards will go to businesses that can anticipate what it takes to delight their customers. Instead of suggesting businesses find better ways to ring better bells, Waiting for Your Cat to Bark? provides a context for celebrating meows.