Effective Marketing In The Internet Age

Marketing and advertising have been so closely related to each other. Additionally, for the traditional marketer, advertising is the center of the marketing universe. However, today, there is a clear shift in how both these are viewed, as well as how they work. The world of marketing needs to be revamped.

Marketing, today, goes much beyond advertising, and advertising is now an accompaniment to other marketing strategies if not a dead-end for many. Marketing has taken a deeper meaning and needs a new approach.

This Is Marketing (2018) by Seth Godin delves deeper into what marketing actually stands for today and how marketers and companies can align their marketing strategies with the new age!

The Redundancy Of Mass Advertising

Traditionally, mass advertising aimed at reaching the masses. Also known as ‘the Coca Cola method’, is focused on getting a lot of ads to reach as many people as they could, via different media, mostly print, radio, or television. The keyword was ‘mass’ and included mass media to reach the masses.

Coca-Cola has, year after year flooded media with ads, with an aim to convince that everyone drinks coke. It was a great strategy in the 1960s when there were only 3 television channels broadcasting, and catching a slot on prime time reached millions. However, today, one has a million options right from channels on TV, to platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, and even different media such as smartphones, tablets, etc.

The Internet has been a game-changer for marketing. While on one hand, it has proven to be the biggest mass medium that has connected millions across the globe, it also has proven to be the least massive, because people can customize their viewing, have personalized Facebook and Twitter feeds, and even have tailored Spotify and YouTube playlists.

This splintering of mass media also resulted in the fracturing of mass culture that once surrounded mass media. Mad Men, which showcased the early world of advertising ran from 2007 to 2015. It adeptly narrated the shift and was itself an example of how media and the masses have changed. While it was touted to be a great show, it was reported that only 1% of the US population watched the show in actuality.

This Is Marketing (2018) by Seth Godin
This Is Marketing (2018) by Seth Godin

The Features And Limitations Of Internet Advertising

The Internet, like all other mediums, has its pros and cons. While it doesn’t provide the mass reach that a prime-time slot on a popular channel would earlier, it gives marketers the ability to target a precise group – a more effective strategy to reaching prospective customers.

Websites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Google, can help one find the right demographic and reach them at the click of a button. Additionally, the Internet does not have limitations on geography, and customers, literally the world over, can be reached anytime. No need to wait for that prime-time program.

Perhaps, the more useful feature of the Internet for marketers has been the ability to measure the success of their ads – a feature that advertisers back in 1960 could only dream of. Marketers can see the number of people their ad has reached, the number of people that clicked on it, and the number of people who purchased a product after viewing the ad. Thus marketers today are able to tweak content based on actuals and optimize their advertising budgets.

However, the Internet has but one major drawback. It’s available to everyone, everyone uses it to measure the success of their ads, work with optimized budgets, and reach a targeted audience. Thus, the target audience is bombarded with a million ads, and finally, end up ignoring most ads even though they are the correct demographic targeted.

There is a viable solution to this problem – Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Using optimized or the right keywords can help searches lead customers right to you. However, even this can be tough as not everyone can get the right mix of keywords that lands them on the first page of a search; and search engines, especially Google, yields so many pages with so many other competitors vying for the audience’s attention.

There are however, other approaches to get the right marketing strategies in the Internet era.

Make It Worth Buying

To begin with, marketers should make their product ‘worth buying’, a feat that is easier said than done. While many would argue that this is in the hands of the designers, marketers play an essential role too. How?

Take an example of a quarter-inch drill bit. No one wants to buy a quarter-inch drill for its own sake. They buy it for the hole it makes. At the same time, no one needs the quarter-inch hole in itself either. They need it for, perhaps, putting up wall shelves. 

And why would people need wall shelves? To make their homes look tidy by organizing things, to have a little bit of semblance or organization in their environment, or even perhaps, to make their homes look good so that their visitors admire and respect them for the way they manage the look of their home.

Therefore, the quarter-inch drill becomes only a tool to satisfying another need, a point that was made by Harvard’s marketing professor, Theodore Levitt.

Similarly, effective marketing begins by understanding the underlying needs and wants of customers, which often lead to emotionally resonant aspirations like adventure, strength, belonging, freedom, etc. that are buried deep down. People buy a product when it can resonate with these aspirations.

For example, when a man buys an SUV, he may have made his buying decisions on the premise that he can go off-roading with it. While he might never actually go off-roading, the mere promise of the ability is what attracts him. It perhaps resonates with his underlying need for adventure.

Thus effective marketing begins at the designing and manufacturing stage, where our man with the SUV and his thirst for adventure is kept in mind to build a compelling product that helps identify with people’s aspirations.

What Desire Means To The Target Audience

Everyone has different needs and desires. Additionally, people define the same desires differently. For example, for one adventure could mean thrill, whereas, for another, it could mean travel.

Every product embodies the definition of the desires it satisfies. More importantly, marketers should remember that their target audience shares that definition and desire. This target audience can further be classified into adopters and adapters.

While adopters are thrilled by the prospect of trying new, innovative products, which they have never encountered before, adapters prefer the sense of security and comfort of familiarity. They tend to shy away from new products, preferring to use products that they are used to. Adapters, when given no choice, will adapt.

For example, people who still use flip-phones will eventually, yet reluctantly adapt to smartphones.

Marketing should first target adopters, because they will be excited to try out something new that offers them a novel way to fulfill their desires. Adapters, on the other hand, won’t be comfortable making changes to their already successful ways of fulfilling their desires and turning to something new that is unproven.

For an initial target, adopters are the audiences to aim for, even if they make up the smallest viable market that can make a product profitable.

How Personal Values Affect Buying Decisions

In addition to deep-seated desires and needs, people also make buying decisions based on the things they care about while they pursue what they want. These are their personal values.

For example, a person, wanting to satisfy the basic need of nutrition, will choose a snack based on the values that define him. Thus, if the person cares more about affordability and popularity, the choice would waver to the cheapest ‘big-name’ brand on the shelf. However, if health and sustainability are the values that influence the choice, then the person will opt for a local, organic brand.

Each value can be paired with its opposite, forming the extremes of a spectrum, such as trendiness and old-fashionedness, professionalism and casualness, dependability and risk, etc.

As a marketer, one can either choose the middle ground on the spectrum of values chosen or aim for an extreme. For example, a popular extreme for most marketers is affordability, as the value resonates with most buyers. However, one should also remember, that these safe or middle-ground values are where most products are marketed. The competition becomes fierce and thus it becomes difficult to stand out from the crowd, especially if the company is a start-up.

It is often seen that the ‘smallest viable market’ lies at the extremes of the spectrums and isn’t overcrowded by many competitors. The trick to finding one’s smallest viable market is to probably try linking two opposite values together or have a combination of extreme values to reach out to.

For example, the rock band Grateful Dead, despite having only one Top 40 Billboard hit from 1965 to 1995, became one of the most commercially successful rock bands in history. They chose two extremes in opposing musical values. They would give perform long jams at concerts giving the audience raw and loose music. However, their albums were 13 slickly produce, polished and concise, with songs that were cut shorter.

They gained a die-hard fan following that comprised audiences from a core group. This led to them grossing more than $450 million in sales from records alone.

The Tribe And Its Shared Worldview

To find the smallest viable market for any product, marketers need to keep in mind that this very ‘core group’ of loyal customers already exists. It is simply a matter of showing these fans that the values governing their desires and needs connect with the products the marketer has on offer. Thus marketers have to find a way to connect all like-minded customers into a new ‘tribe’.

A tribe can be defined as a group of people that share a similar worldview and have affiliations with each other. These affiliations, and their shared worldview, tell them how to pursue what they want, need, and desire.

 Thus, the next strategy is to create, connect, and lead tribes by telling them stories that match their worldviews. In order to tell a successful story, it has to put forth a promise in the language the tribe understands. 

By appealing to the assumptions that lie at the base of the tribe’s worldview, the language of the story can make the promise believable. For example, JCPenney, the discount American departmental store, wanted to connect and create a tribe of shoppers who valued affordability and a desire to play above all. JCPenney put forth the promise that their customers’ need for bargain hunting and deals would be fulfilled. They made their promise feel believable with coupons, clearance sales, and discounts, held every other day; symbols that made the tribe associate JCPenney with bargains and deals.

JCPenney also implicitly sent a message to the world, ‘this is how we are and how people like us do things’. The ‘we’ and ‘people like us’ bring the tribe closer.

In 2011, when Ron Johnson took over as CEO of JCPenney, he got rid of the ‘coupons and bargains’ culture, because that was too tacky for a high-end store. This resulted in about a fifty percent drop in sales, as the bargain-hunters lost interest.

Thus ignoring the shared worldview of the tribe and its symbols can indeed be a major misstep.

Challenge Statuses And Create Tension

The next step after creating and connecting with a tribe is to get them to actually go out and buy the product. Marketers have to create – within their customers – a pressure of discomfort, for which their product becomes the antidote. In other words, they have to create a sense of tension, which can be only relived with the purchase of your product.

Every tribe has a hierarchy or a sense of hierarchy that dictates it. In this case, marketers can create tension by challenging the status of the members of the tribe, with respect to owning it, being a champion for it, or even having first-hand experience knowledge of the product, etc. Members of the tribe will feel their statuses challenged if they sense the threat of separation from the tribe. 

Once a person feels part of a tribe, they don’t want to get left behind, especially when it changes direction or moves forward. Marketers should create this sense of ‘being part’ of the tribe by broadcasting this message to the members that the only way, is to adopt the product.

Additionally, marketers have to understand the types of people who belong to the tribe. Members are of two types, depending on how they approach the status relationship.

  • Affiliation Approach: The members seeking affiliation within the tribe look for kinship and status within the hierarchy of the tribe. Such members respond to signals of popularity. For example, having celebrities attending the launch of the product is one way of attracting them.
  • Domination Approach: People of this category have three aims: to reach the top of the hierarchy of the tribe, to make their own group outrank other groups or a combination of the two. For them, signals of domination, and a “winner” attitude works best. Uber, for example, during its early days took on conflicts with competitors and even local governments, sending out the message to domination-oriented customers and investors.

Expanding Beyond The Tribe

The aim of all marketing is to keep expanding the customer base beyond the tribe, to the general public, unless the product is super-specialized for a niche customer. Thus, effective marketing requires marketers to build a bridge that helps the product spread to a larger audience. To do this, marketers have to have an understanding of how wide the gap between the tribe and the others is. 

To a marketer, all the members of his tribe are essentially adopters, whereas the general public can be classified as adapters. Thus, due to the basic differences between these two groups of “disrupting the old way of doing things,” the product is a hit with adopters (fans) and not necessarily with the adapters (others). The trick is to build a bridge to the adapters or the general public using a strategy called the ‘network effect’.

The network effect takes place when any product becomes more valuable as more and more people use it, setting a stage for a loop of positive feedback.

An online collaboration platform for co-workers called Slack is a great example. In the initial stages, it had a small fan base of those interested in learning a new program that wasn’t used by others. Once this small base learned it, they started converting their co-workers into users, because the platform became more useful as more co-workers started using it. Soon, as its popularity increased, even adapters within the crowd, otherwise resistant to change, wanted to be part of the collaborations and conversations that others were having.

Thus network effects can help a product reach the mainstream audience – and it will be the tribe, or the fans that help build that bridge.


The redundancy of mainstream advertising in today’s times has created the need for effective marketing strategies that keep up with the technological advancements of the Internet age.

Strategies such as specializing products to the needs and wants of customers at the manufacturing and R&D stage itself, analyzing how needs desires, and values of buyers influence buying decisions, creating a tribe and aligning its shared worldview, and finally using network effects to expand to the mainstream audience.