I have been talking for a while now about an important distinction between the content (message) of an attempted communication and the context (channel and timing) in which that content is delivered. The main objective of smart marketing is to successfully engage the customers/consumers at the right time in a useful dialogue, which has become increasingly two-way and interactive, and not to engulf them in a continual and indiscriminate flood of inappropriate and irrelevant material.

If you get all the elements correct (right time, right place, and right message), you're golden. If you blow it, it means nothing but grief for all concerned. And yet, this basic idea apparently hasn't dawned on millions of marketers who just keep mechanically shoveling their shit our way and who think that there's still some value in sheer velocity and volume.

They're dead wrong; they're consistently antagonizing and alienating their audiences; they'll eventually be barred and shut off from these channels, and their clients and companies are paying a heavy price for their ignorance. If they don't quickly change their rationale, their approach and their direction, they'll be left in the dust.

 Given the noise, the clutter and the fierce competition for our fleeting and precious attention, the rule of thumb is: If I'm not listening, it doesn't matter what you're saying. You should save your breath and your bullets for smarter, better and more cost-effective targets. I have previously referred to this need to focus as "smart reach" and you can catch up on the concept here: To Sell More Your Marketing Must Embrace Smart Reach. Basically, you've got to provide each customer with what he or she wants, when he or she wants it, wherever he or she is, and without asking. Otherwise, all bets are off.

 But the idea of "smart reach" alone is yesterday's news for those of us who are focused on keeping ahead of the game as well as the competition. The expectations of the consumer are ever changing and progressive-- that is, constantly rising. We all know that what may have worked well for us in the past (and, in fact, most of our prior experiences and successes) isn't likely to be relevant to creating tomorrow's triumphs. Doing the same old things isn't going to make for better results-- especially as the competition all around us continues to mount. Experience, in times of radical disruption and change, can often be much more of an albatross or a constraint for growing businesses rather than something they can comfortably rely upon.  (See Navigating the Information Superhighway.) And so the moving finger keeps writing new stories and it's those new stories that will create and build the critical connections to the consumer in the future.

And even as sharp and aggressive the focus on "smart reach" still may be for many businesses, I'm afraid that the bar is jumping up again. It appears that smart reach's time has come and gone as a "be-all, end-all" strategy. This is in part because it's a uni-directional concept, a remnant of the old broadcast "one-to-many" era rather than reflective of our new networked economy. Today all 3 of the main nightly network news broadcasts reach only about 22 million viewers while every day more than 160 million people in the U.S. check in with Facebook. This is the new "many-to-many" environment in which we learn as much or more laterally from our peers as we do from any top-down sources.

Smart reach is all about customized mass communication and individualized messaging, but today we need to think more about our interactions with customers and consumers as multi-directional conversations: conversations with us, discussions and interactions between interest groups, and third-party sharing among consumers and their peers and influencers as well --in which we will never be direct participants. We know that we can't be everywhere the consumer is today even if we tried. And we also acknowledge that we can't service and control every channel to the consumer even with unlimited time and resources. But being there when the buyer is ready to buy is the most critical objective of all.  If you can't be found, you will never be chosen.

So the best new strategies have a lot more to do with conversations than communications and a lot more to do with advocates and influencers than with advertising and infomercials. This isn't easy for a lot of folks to swallow. No good marketer ever wants to trust his or her fate to others and give up some degree of control over the messaging. But it's easier than you might imagine once you understand that it's no longer about you or your products and services-- it's all about them. It's their agenda, they want to drive the process, and you need to figure at least how you can hitch a ride.

 If we can't be there ourselves (directly or indirectly), when these critical conversations and decisions are taking place-- and that's increasingly a given-- then we need to have our messages convincingly and consistently carried forth by authentic and motivated messengers.  We need prompted (but not paid) proxies, if you will, who will make it their mission to passionately promote our products and services. Make them care-- create a dream that they can adopt and make their own-- and let them go forth and spread the word.

Consumers today don't really care to hear anything more about the features and attributes of your products. Instead, they want to know how those products will directly benefit them (value) and how they will make a difference in their day-to-day lives (impact). Today we trade our attention for offerings that we believe to have real and specific value for us.  Just adding more information to the conversation has no intrinsic value unless it is (a) effectively and credibly communicated, (b) resonates with the target audience, and ultimately (c) impacts and drives the desired behaviors. If you can't make me care about what you have to say, I'll quickly move on to the next best thing. I call this the "show me or see ya" problem.

We really don't have the time or the inclination to do the heavy lifting of learning about new things or ideas these days, but we are willing to briefly listen. And who exactly do we listen to? Some things (like word of mouth) never change and we're still taking the lion's share of the guidance we seek on product and service selections from our friends and peers. But our universe of "friends" has expanded dramatically (and mainly artificially) to include a lot of influencers and others whose opinions and ideas we've come to trust and value even though they would never meet the traditional definition of a friend. Brands used to serve this purpose-- as shorthand for quality, value, safety and reliability-- but now given the limited time we all have and the vast amount of choices and the frightening lack of quality decision-making data,  we look to loudmouths (not in the pejorative sense), mavens and other mock and manufactured experts to tell us what they think we ought to know.  And realistically, to reach these new audiences, these are the folks that you want to deliver your messages for you. And keep in mind that these aren't by and large  hired guns, flacks, media people or celebrities; they're the ordinary, feet-on-the-street, everyday denizens of the web, who are living the new technologies, and who the crowd has selected, endorsed and designated as the ones worth listening to.

These folks are a curious breed: passionate about being in the know,  passionate about being ahead of the crowd and most passionate about being in front of a crowd at all times. They live by the doctrine that nothing is real until you've shared it and that everything is better when it's shared. For some it's mostly ego, for some it's a desire to educate, and for the truest believers it's an almost moral obligation they feel to share something that has benefitted them with the masses. This is largely their lives (it's definitely not about the money) and they are at it as close to 24/7 as they can possibly be. Here again, in today's short-cycle world, you need people feeding the beast 24/7 on your behalf and these are the ones who seemingly can't help doing just that and couldn't stop doing it if they tried.  I call them WOMbots. Word of Mouth "robots." And as peculiar and different as they may seem to us at the moment, they're a lot more likely to have both an immediate and a lasting impact on your business and our future than all the old-line ad agencies and all the new-line social media marketing businesses combined.