A few years ago I attended a screenwriting class taught by a friend at UCLA. The topic that night was television. After some discussion about the major television networks, a student asked what they generally looked for in a script.
“Well, who are their customers?” my friend asked the class – mostly mature students looking to break into full time writing. Hands shot up, and we all agreed that the viewers, the television audience, were the customer.
“Okay,” he continued, “what is their product, what are they selling?”
“The shows are the product,” a student answered, voicing the consensus.
“Nope,” my friend, a film and television producer, smiled. “Advertisers are the customers.”
“The product is you.”
It makes sense, of course, when you consider the origins of the televised serial narrative – the soap opera – funded by detergent brands in order to promote their wares.
It makes sense, and yet hearing it put like that, well, left a sour taste in the mouth. Something about that model just felt wrong. Obscured. Perverted.
But I’m not here to talk about television.
‘Advertisers are the customers.’
When Facebook went public earlier this year, much like television, people were no longer the customers. Brands were. Users simply became product to sell to advertisers.
When analysts spoke of Facebook’s need to monetise the platform, what they were really saying is that Facebook needs to monetise the users.
Since its IPO earlier in the year, Facebook has been building and testing, deploying and upgrading, optimising and tinkering. Why? To make its ads more effective.
To make users, Facebook’s product, more valuable. Users. You.
But I’m not here to talk about Facebook.
‘The product is you’.
Twitter is battening down the API hatches and locking the doors to its user base in order to more effectively monetise. Tumblr has begun rolling out (thus far relatively un-obtrusive) ad-supported content.
But I’m not here to talk about those platforms, either.
I’m also not here to talk about users, followers, likers, players, gamers, subscribers or customers.
Today I want to talk about people.
Today I want to consider the human.
Humans are an okay bunch. Most keep to themselves. They eat, they sleep, they love and laugh. They live. For a while anyway.
Humans have limited time, which makes them worry. They want ways to make their life easier, less complicated. They want less clutter.
They like new, shiny things. They like information. They like stories. In fact, humans love stories.
Humans buy what we sell. Sometimes because they need it, sometimes because their neighbour has one. If they like it, they’ll tell other humans. Sometimes, those humans will buy one too.
As marketers, humans are very valuable to us. But a single human can be subjected to as many as twenty thousand marketing messages a day.
That’s not very human friendly.
Marketers are human sometimes, but probably not often enough. Instead of finding ways to talk to other humans, to listen, to understand their needs, we spend time and money trying to shout louder than other marketers, and creating new places to put our messages.
How often do you hear a human say, ‘Well golly, those clever souls at Brand X found a devious and downright genius new way to show me ads. It’s amazing – the ad followed me around every other site I visited for days until I just had to buy one of their products. I just had to. It’s brilliant. I’m telling everyone!’
That’s not a speech I’ve ever heard a person give. Marketers… maybe. Perhaps this one is more recognisable:
‘I just read/watched/heard the most amazing/heartwarming/incredible/funny story. Brand X just shared it. It’s really good. I’ll send it to you.’
Humans love stories, not adverts.
When you’re thinking about your marketing plan for next year, when you’re allocating your budget and planning channels; consider the human.
Take some of that budget and hire content producers. Hire storytellers. Start campaigns that put humans first.
2013 is not the year of mobile, or whatever new social network your kids are using. 2013 is the year of the human. 2013 is about finding the right platforms and the right campaigns for the people who want to buy what you sell, and creating stories just for them.
Marketers are human sometimes. Why not think and act that way all the time.