How the Information Age Has Forever Changed Marketers’ Lives

June 14, 2016 Lizzie McQuillan

content technology in the information age

For marketers, the information age—and the technology supporting it—is like an office chair: After you’ve sat in it for while, you start to forget it’s holding you up.

I became a marketer a year out of college and got in the door with my love for writing and storytelling. The first digital consultancy I worked for crafted and curated stories for a wide range of clients, from thriller authors to Healthcare IT clients. As time passed, I began to realize that my role involved more than crafting a message; it required me to connect the dots between different ideas, channels, and people. Along the way, technology, from social media management platforms, free-of-charge website graders, keyword rankers, to influencer scales, gave me the light I needed to navigate through the dark rooms full of prospective customers and the experts and authorities they went to for advice. For all marketers in the information age, today’s technology allows us to test ideas without sacrificing budget, and ultimately gives us a seat at the leadership table.

That’s not to say that the journey of becoming a marketer in the digital age has not come without its challenges. Technology is evolving rapidly and shepherding consumers along at the same pace. You can safely bet a new search algorithm change or iOS update is in the near future. And through all the advancements, it can be hard to step back from all the passwords we’ve forgotten and realize where its brought us and the ways that its added new depth, clarity, and possibility to our jobs.

To continue to find success in the next evolution of the digital age, we have to recognize the opportunities it’s provided, and the steep trails that we must guide our organizations through.

Information age path to successThe New Guardrails in the Information Age

The team at Skyword, led by founder and CEO Tom Gerace and CTO John Mihalik, realized early on that the world, and the way that consumers acted in it, had fundamentally changed. They had worked together for years, first at Be Free, an affiliate marketing company that eventually was acquired by ValueClick in 2002, and then Skyword, where they continue to lead the company’s growth and technology development.

As social media gained steam, they realized that information would no longer be validated, mined, and prioritized by an exclusive set of people, but categorized by the users themselves. For example, a blog post on global warming could gain widespread exposure from the number of retweets it received in the environmentalist community, even if it had never been read by esteemed and published scientists. For brands to truly understand what the market valued, they needed more insight into these interactions.

“We live in a socially connected world,” says Gerace. “Authority is no longer determined in a vacuum—it’s an ever-evolving criteria evaluated based on the individuals and communities a person interacts with online, and conversation topics and stories that come out of those interactions.”

With this understanding of how the digital landscape was evolving, the team created PeopleRank, a system that could measure how influential people are within a certain community or topic area. They filed for the patent in early stages of the social media takeover (when Twitter was barely two years old) and received the official award this week.

“PeopleRank allows marketers to assess information and authority based on how it’s shared, rather than how pages link to it,” Gerace says.

In addition to the system’s ability to organize and identify information based on influence, PeopleRank provides insight that can help marketers validate sources, find content creators with the knowledge and expertise that can help them for brand stories, and make content recommendations based on areas of interest.

The Reshaping of Our Expectations

Because of marketing and data technologists like Mihalik and Gerace, marketers can now connect with customers as people, instead of simply consumers.

But people are not the same as they once were. They have different expectations and ways of communicating. And they expect more from brands as well. As Puneet Gupta writes in Wired, “Human beings are evolving into a different species because of technology.”

It’s because of these expectations that marketers have moved beyond a one-sided service role and morphed into strategic, data-driven, big-picture-focused leaders. Marketers are charged with creating a compelling digital persona for the brand, one that evolves, surprises, and delights while never straying from its roots and core story.

Maintaining this balance isn’t easy. It’s hard to monitor new opportunities while simultaneously scrutinizing other initiatives. Marketers have to risk quickly, analyze outcomes thoroughly, and answer to the new and evolving tastes of the audience. This all has to happen around the clock and across different channels.

The only way to thrive in this digital world is to accept it head on and understand the new pockets into which your brand must fit. Throughout the past few years, Kohl’s has walked down this path by developing a technology-driven culture. The brand dove beneath the brand’s big box, doorbuster appeal expanding focus beyond the physical storefront through a personalized, mobile-friendly loyalty program. General Electric spent the past year expanding its brand perception as a high-tech innovator, through Owen, a young computer programmer who fails to impress his friends with his GE job offer.

Technology may provide the data, workflow, and scale that brands need to be relevant in consumer’s lives, but it’s up to marketers to re-imagine what that experience will look like, and assemble the team, content, and channels to bring that experience to life.

Making the Most of the New Data Landscape

There was a time when information weighed us down. It was stored in encyclopedias and lined up on dusty library shelves. Only a few editors, publishers, and writers controlled what was created, updated, and prioritized, and niche groups of archivists handled its assembly.

That’s not the case anymore. In the information age, everyone is in control. With every story we share on social media and link we click on, we add depth to information and provide clues on how the different pieces fit together.

However, the more hands shaping information, the more complex and endless these repositories of data become. According to Mihalik, search technology was not originally built to serve marketers’ needs. “When you have a database of thousands or millions of pieces of information, using one term is not going to be an effective way to navigate,” he says.

Nearly a decade ago, the Skyword team created a filtering technology that refines searches and gives users the ability to connect different facets of information together—such as the car make (Toyota), model (RAV4) and color (black)—to filter down to the exact items that they were looking for. “The facets are driven by what people are expressing—what they are interested in, and what topics they find useful,” he says. Mihalik and Skyword founder, Gerace, went on to leverage the technique in the Skyword Platform, giving users the ability to find contributors, assets, and topic ideas throughout the brand storytelling process. The team earned a patent for its invention in February 2016.

In the information age, marketers are the ones that deepen the brand experience, filling in the gaps, and telling stories that move audiences forward. Technology gives us the ability to structure, organize, and add to this information in ways that make sense.

It only took a week into my first marketing role to realize that I wasn’t there to take orders but to continually assess the whole picture, figure out the next steps, and allow my clients to continue to expand and strengthen their connections. Technology provides the foundation marketers need at every step of this process, and will continue to be the engine that pushes us into the future.

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