Hearst bought Rodale. Meredith bought Time. But these major magazine unions will look relatively small if AT&T acquires Time Warner and Sinclair Broadcast Group manages to take over Tribune Media. And now, CBS is in talks with Viacom to combine. While the valuations in this wave of M&A vary, one thing remains constant: a quest for scale.

Facebook and Google eat the lion's share of digital advertising and practically all the growth. So this wave of mega media mergers illustrates one route to combat the dominance of these internet giants: scale. Each of these mergers amasses an enormous audience in an effort to extend companies' reach in order to compete. And while it will be exciting to see what these mergers yield in terms of advertiser appeal, there's another approach that many marketers should be thinking about.

In today's mass-reach world, it is easy to be blinded by scale. Even in the case of each of these massive mergers, there's something that media brands mastered long ago that still matters: individual relationships. It might sound counterintuitive that corporations like these would know their customers, but the reality is that consumers interact with individual titles, programs, and media personalities. The way that media companies maintain their popularity among consumers is by understanding their interests and serving them. In fact, while consumer trust in the media continues to be low, trust in journalism and journalists is on the rise.

In a world of seemingly infinite reach, that one-to-one connection is more valuable than ever. Here are three things you need to keep in mind so you can get personal with your customers.

1. Make honest human connections. 

Humans are literally wired to connect with one another. When we treat our customers like data or personas or demographics, it can be easy to forget that they are individuals. The really confounding thing about our ability to collect nearly infinite information about our customers is that we don't treat them as well as we did before we interacted digitally.

Trust is essential to form human connections. While it might be tempting to use tracking tools to gather data about our customers, trust is more important. Opting in is the bare minimum for data collection--transparency and consent must be given. Be sure that you treat your customers (and their data) with respect to deepen your customer connection.

2. Exchange ideas. 

As a marketer, it can be very easy to focus on one-way messaging. Let's face it--a lot of work goes into creating those marketing messages. However, genuine relationships are based on interaction and dialogue. Find opportunities to listen. Ask questions and for opinions. Give your customers input and not only will you deepen your relationship with them, but you will also probably receive feedback, criticism, and ideas that you can use. Who would know better what your customers need than they do?  

3. Socialize.

Yes, you can incorporate social media. But this requires actively listening, exchanging ideas, responding to positive and negative feedback, and all of the qualities required in genuine human connection. However, while it can be easy to fall back into the internet-scale trap and view social media as the most efficient way to reach your customers, genuine relationships are rarely based on efficiency.

One of the most effective ways to connect with customers is face to face. Many marketers (and media companies) are adding live experiences to their mix. Work with your customers to understand what sorts of real-world events would be useful, fun, or interesting to them. And if creating your own event seems too daunting, you can find out what events they already attend and what sorts of causes matter to them, or interests they have, and create a custom experience within an event just for your audience. What creates a deeper bond than shared experience?

So, yes, there are many ways to reach your customers, and the internet spawns new and increasingly targeted ones all the time. But as you consider the most effective methods for your marketing objectives, consider whether your topmost objective is scale or if you are looking for the kind of lasting customer relationship that will sustain you in the long run.

Published on: Feb 23, 2018