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September 22, 2008. Missing Link Marketing™ - UPDATEDMISSING LINK MARKETING
The New Landscape - It's an ocean out there.
The new landscape into which advertising and marketing programs are launched today is dramatically different from the "old world" of one-way media such as TV, print, and radio advertising. With the Internet, not only is information abundant and always available, but the opinions of other consumers are also widely available -- e.g. product reviews, yelps, etc. Contrast today's scenario of thousands of reviews from users who actually purchased and used a digital camera to yesterday's scenario of a consumer relying on the small amount of information in a 30-second TV ad or the word of a salesperson about which camera to buy -- talk about conflict of interest!
The "ambient information" available today also empowers customers to do as much (or as little) research as they want before they decide to make any purchase. The abundance of such information drowns out the interruptive ads that advertisers push out and modern users have come to expect more information than could be delivered in TV spots, print ads or radio spots. The objectivity of this information (i.e. not crafted by advertisers) makes it seem more trustworthy in the eyes of customers. The "always-available-ness" of this information makes it more useful to consumers because they can find it when they want it rather than be hit with it when they don't -- e.g. when checking email, watching TV, etc.
The Modern User's Expectations and Habits - Give me what I want, when I want it, where I want it.
That said, "too much information" also presents a challenge for modern consumers -- how to hone in on the right bit of information that he or she needs at that moment in time from the ocean of available information. By way of example, a search on the word "hyperthreading" returns 1+ million results. And the majority of the results pertain to the "hyperthreading" in Intel's Pentium family of chips from years ago rather than the "hyperthreading" in the newest Core 2 microprocessors -- so the consumer has to pick the right "needle" from the enormous ocean of search results, which is time-consuming and difficult.
In the new landscape, modern consumers have developed habits and finely tuned skills to help them find and use information as well as cope with its abundance, variety, and differing levels of trustworthiness and timeliness. Consumers actively skip ads and use technology to help (TiVo, DVRs, pop-up blockers, etc.). Their eyes avoid the top and right-hand margins of web pages because they are conditioned to know ads are usually placed there, according to an Eyetools.com eye-tracking study. They have sensitive "BS-detecting" radars and can easily spot fake product reviews or self-promotional "plants" by advertisers. They rely on sites that have active community participation (e.g. an average Slashdot blog post has hundreds of comments while a PCWorld post typically gets none.). And they trust information that has been vetted and approved by others in the community (e.g. 20,828 reviews of Newegg.com give it an average of 5 stars -- out of 5 -- so even if a customer has never heard of or shopped at Newegg.com, they have others who have to rely on.).
Consumers actively search for information and typically do research online before making purchases, especially on large-ticket items or more complex products. When they do such searching for information, if they can't find your information on the first few pages of search results, you don't exist. You are invisible to them and they will likely go with what they do find there, possibly a competitor's information. They may also have a very specific question or bit of information they need to find. For example, 1) what kind of batteries does this digital camera use -- a proprietary one or standard AAA batteries? 2) Is PCI-Express 2.0 backward compatible with PCI-Express x16. 3) Who has access to my FlyClear fingerprints and iris scans? To each user, this bit of information may be critical to their decision to purchase, or not. In other words, this information is the "missing link" between considering to buy (doing the research) and actually buying.
If answer to the missing link is not found, they may simply not buy, postpone buying, or just buy what they know (previously purchased product, service, or brand).
For example, because I don't know if a competitive bank's online banking is as easy to use as my current bank's online banking, I have not made the switch, despite hating the fees, etc. But you can't see the other bank's online service until you are a customer. Wouldn't it be nice if they let me experience a demo account and actually "look around" their online banking for myself? Is that marketing? Does that cost anything? Perhaps no in both cases. But it certainly does solve a missing link and would have moved me to the purchase (switching to their bank) or at least closer to the purchase.
The right info, at the right time, to the right person, through the right device.
So, couldn't every person have a different missing link? Yes. Doesn't that mean that it would be very hard if not impossible to identify every customer's missing link, let alone solve it? Yes. And even if we could identify each user's missing link, wouldn't it be cost-prohibitive to get a message out to each individual addressing his missing link? Yes.
All of the above would be unfathomable in the age of one-way media. But in the new digital landscape there are new tools, services, and methods which can help solve these missing links; these were simply not available in the "one-way media" world. For example, while conversations were always happening around water-coolers, no one but the parties to the conversation could hear it. Now, more and more such conversations are happening online and are "archived" in forums, social networks, and blogs for everyone to see. Marketers simply have to look at what questions people are asking of each other to pick out some missing links -- e.g. the "is PCI-Express 2.0 backward compatible" question. Marketers may even get clues to how to solve some of the missing links. For example, dozens of reviews of a digital camera by real people who have actually used it may yield the answer to the "what battery does it use" question and even suggest a real-life usage scenario benefit like "because the camera uses standard AAA batteries, you can find AAA batteries at any convenience store or gas station along the way, a major convenience in case you forgot your charger!"
Furthermore, because modern users' habits are to proactively search for information, marketers may not even need to stress over how to get the message out to the user because users will "pull" the information themselves when they want or need it. So when they DO look for it, it is imperative that the advertiser makes the information easily and efficiently findable, through whatever channel the user chooses to use -- computer, mobile device, phone, etc.
One-way broadcast type media are simply not suited for this; whereas two-way media or multi-way social media are. Another best practice is to give users a way 1) to judge trustworthiness or 2) to give context to the information -- e.g. 1) Amazon's reviews of reviews where other users vote whether a review was useful to them and 2) allowing comments on articles and blog posts so the community can "chime in" to clarify, edit, and add to the post, respectively.
In conclusion, missing link marketing is a way to focus in on the tiny bits of information that individual users need to move from consideration to purchase, or at least from one step of the "purchase funnel" to the next lower step, towards the purchase. In the landscape of too much information and users' habits of searching for their own answers, missing link marketing also provides a way to listen for missing links (e.g. what is the difference between this motor oil and another?) and gather ways to solve missing links (e.g. how did a friend convince his friend to buy one motor oil over another?).
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