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Viva la revolución?

Don’t feel threatened by talk of the internet revolution changing everything you used to take for granted. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Excuse me for bringing up a tired old cliché, but I’m going to compare the arrival of the internet with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1440.

It’s true that both heralded revolutions marked a clear line between an old and a new way of doing things, but when people start waving the ‘revolution’ word around, some wild assumptions are made. ?I often hear it said that the internet has turned marketing theory and practice upside-down. The internet revolution apparently requires businesses to think differently, overturning everything in a new, confusing world of digital commerce.

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Poppycock. No wonder so many managers are intimidated by a technology that threatens to invalidate their years of experience and business acumen. But technology doesn’t change how people think or behave – it merely makes certain tasks easier, faster, more efficient, and further reaching.

Sure, both Gutenberg and Tim Berners-Lee invented amazing technologies that transformed not only how we communicate but also how fast and how far we can communicate. But, crucially, neither changed what we wanted to say to each other. Neither changed what we were willing to read. And neither changed the rules of marketing – merely the scale and the tools.

Revolutions in communication delivery shouldn’t be confused with revolutions in communication behavior. The fundamentals of marketing haven’t changed since the first time someone swapped some brightly colored shells for a piece of meat. It remains, as always, about understanding what the consumer wants. Listening and responding remain far more important than broadcasting and promoting. It doesn’t matter what you promote, if you don’t understand your consumer, chances are you will miss the mark.

So you shouldn’t approach the internet any differently to how you may have run your business for years, pre-digital. If you’re a small business, you probably already approach marketing in a way perfect for the internet. Any shop owner understands the same principles, whether today in Melbourne or 1440 in Gutenberg’s Strasbourg. They know the value of positive word-of-mouth.

They know the importance of locating the shop where there is a high amount of passing traffic. They actively build relationships with the local clientele, generating customer loyalty and repeat business. All of these things are as true today as they were before Gutenberg started banging out Bibles or Berners-Lee clicked his first link.

What has changed are the tools with which to achieve these goals. Instead of the high street, we now have search engines. Instead of? word-of-mouth spreading from neighbor to neighbor, we have social media spreading it around the world in a matter of seconds. Email marketing helps build relationships and repeat business, just as flyers and mail drops once did – though for a fraction of the cost.

So stop thinking the rules have changed. Only the tools have shifted. Once you approach the internet as a massive toolshed and not a strategy in its own right, you will realize everything you always knew about online marketing and business is still exactly the same.

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