User. That word can take on many meanings, most of them pretty negative. Drug addict? Gold digger? Phoney friend? No thanks. But what about all of the companies that you reward with your business and hard earned money? Lots of them call you a user too. You’re a software user, cell phone user, internet user, even a shampoo user.
Over the years, the same companies that have been trying to earn business have called people lots of very un-human sounding names. In addition to user – we’ve been called a visitor, reader, set of eyes, buyer, shopper, target, and even a head in bed.
As technology has transformed our lives, it’s changed the marketing world as well, shifting from a culture where companies essentially worked to buy “buyers” to a landscape where buyers can’t be “bought.” People don’t want to be sold to or bought with gimmicks and jargon. They want to be communicated to authentically and have trust in those they do business with. This shift has also fueled the concepts of content strategy, UX (user experience) design and transparency as fundamental approach to marketing. It’s about being helpful not harassing, and understanding and delivering what people want when and how they want it, which is the foundation of the content marketing industry.
Transparency on Both Sides
I remember the days of sitting behind a one-way mirror, watching groups of women talk about product trials, reviewing product names, samples and thoughts on the description of product benefits. While I never valued the outcome of these quick snapshot focus groups, the idea of asking people what they want is essential to success. Now, no one wants to sit behind a one-way mirror, but have clear, open and transparent conversations with companies, and the people who work for them, often in front of millions of other people online.
Where once businesses relied on manipulating audiences into buying, now the focus is on building mutual trust, which is built on transparency. Businesses big and small, in direct-to-consumer and the business-to-business space, are all now expected to participate in forums of open public dialogue and real-time responsiveness. There is no one-way mirror or corporate façade to hide behind. People don’t want just the latest and greatest product or servic, or to be sold to with bells and whistles, but authentic experiences, ethical business practices, customized adaptive technologies, helpful information and traceable resources.
The Value of Relationships Over Dollar Signs
Many companies have been so focused on the bottom line and dollar signs that the value of cultivating customer relationships has not been taken into account as a measure of success. Success can’t be effectively measured purely by sales, but the value of authenticity and mutual respect between people, not “users” or “buyers” and businesses.
Communicating person-to-person and really relating to someone’s needs will not only increase their loyalty but also sales when done right. Going into 2015, no business, big or small, in any industry, can afford not to adopt this mindset of transparency and stop hiding behind a one-way mirror. If you’re in need of a fast and inspiring read over the holidays, our book Brands in Glass Houses is all about creating authentic content and becoming a more transparent company. Here’s a little gift to you: