One of the questions that many folks have about Jeremiah Owyang’s new collaborative economy framework is, where exactly do marketers, sales people, and public relations professionals have a place in this customer-driven ecosystem? After all, if customers are driving product innovation, word of mouth, customer service, and ultimately the business, where do marketing and PR fit in?

The answer is, in the same ways and places that we’ve always been. Think about it: the important aspects of grabbing peoples’ attention, gaining their awareness, earning their trust, having conversations, and helping service their needs are not going away. In fact, in many ways, the collaborative economy will demand these skills in even greater amounts because in a diffuse, distributed economy, trust and attention will be premium commodities.

Collaborative Economy | Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang | Social Media, Web Marketing

Here’s what the collaborative economy may look like for marketers and public relations professionals. We will increasingly be sourcing our campaigns, sourcing our pitches, and sourcing our marketing materials from our customers and their experiences. Rather than pull things out of vacuums, or just guess and hope, we will rely increasingly on real-time monitoring and improved data analysis to spot trends early, to make the best use of the conversations already happening, and to spread them to identified influencers with similar interests. More important, because the customer is at the heart of innovation in the collaborative economy, we’re going to need deeper understanding of the conversations themselves and how to integrate brands with customers.

What does that mean? Let’s go back to Malcolm Gladwell’s framework of mavens, connectors, and sales people. If you’re unfamiliar with his framework, mavens are the innovators and the trendspotters who can see a trend in its nascent days. Connectors are the people who can take the mavens and connect them to the right people who can help an idea explode. Salespeople are the megaphones, the amplifiers, the idea transmogrifiers who can take a great idea, make it even stickier and even more worthy of spreading, and then get it out to the world.

In marketing and PR, we have gotten especially good at talking to the salespeople, the sneezers. We call them different names – the brand advocates, the kingmakers, the influencers, the media. However, in a collaborative economy, where products and services are constantly evolving, mutating, and altering themselves to best fit the individual needs of people, that won’t be enough. Companies and brands are going to need access to the mavens and connectors, and right now we don’t talk to those people much at all. They have very low influence scores by traditional social media measures. They’re invisible most of the time, especially to traditional PR and marketing tools. But these people are the ones who are going to help a brand iterate its products and services, add value, and change the product early and often.

This is why the field of public relations is already evolving and will continue to evolve beyond what we recognize as public relations today. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Integrated communications, if we do it right, will increasingly mean bridging the gaps among all the layers of the funnel, from maven to connector to sneezer to prospect to lead to new customer to evangelist. Collaborative communications, collaborative marketing, collaborative public relations will be about helping consumers talk with each other. It will be about bringing up new conversations, and adapting the existing conversations to better reflect the reality of what consumers truly want.

Pitching will be less about sending press releases to everyone, and more about brokering conversations casually among the people who really matter to the brand as the products continue to evolve and reshape themselves to what the markets need and demand.

In the same way that recipes have evolved over the centuries, but cooking has not gone away, social media, marketing, and public relations will transform themselves, but the professions are not going away – only those companies, brands, agencies, and practitioners who don’t learn to cook all the new recipes.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


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