Sales, Marketing & Communications in a Virtual World
By Kathryn R. Burke
On a trip, my kids always asked me, “Are we there yet?” Well, when it comes to sales, marketing, and communications in a virtual world, yes, we are there! And what’s more, if we can’t learn to navigate our way on this new technological world, we will soon be lost.
Exponential technological advances over the past few decades have brought about a revolution in the business world, affecting nearly all aspects of a working life. People can now reach others throughout the world in a matter of seconds (where once it took hours, even days, to get a message through, sell a service or product, or share vital information).
On the positive side, increasing technology has resulted in increased efficiency, performance, productivity, and exponential speed of communications. We don’t have piles of paper everywhere anymore (theoretically). But there’s also a down side to social media networking: increasing worker isolation and loss of face-to-face interpersonal skills, and dissemination of misinformation, because there are no internet police to oversee what people post—some true, some not, and virtually all of it with a personal agenda. Another negative, most would agree, is the time consuming ‘sorting’ and ‘saving’ of virtual data, which often disappears when we are clumsy with how we store and save it—lost emails, forgotten search terms, can’t remember passwords. So, although we get the good with the bad, technology is here to stay. The future marches on, and we can’t turn back to dependence on typewriters, ‘wordprocessers,’ paper checks, and snail mail with a stamp on it.
We’ve gone from a personal world to an interpersonal, virtual world. It’s kind of like Dorothy encountering the wizard in Oz. Good or bad? Real or not? Some of both but twisted reality none-the-less.
Where we are today isn’t all that different, not really. Our Land of Oz is a world of multi-dimensional virtual reality. For many of us, especially if we are in sales and marketing, the ruby slippers that get us where we need to be is social media. And the method that gets us there is social networking. We can’t click our heels to use it, but we can click a keyboard or tap a responsive screen.
Oz has gone hi-tech. It took us a while to get there. The technological revolution in all aspects of life—business, education, entertainment, travel, lifestyle—occurred slowly, but consistently, over the past few decades, even as far back as the invention of telegraphy in the 1850s. But tech advances over the last 60 years have been enormous and exponential, as we’ve gone from land-based to satellite-based communications.
I think to understand where we are now, we must first understand where we’ve been. There have been a number of great inventions that radically changed our world, but the one with the most impact in most of our lifetimes is the computer. So, let’s break down the industrial, technological, and scientific revolutions into BPC (before personal computers) and APC (after personal computers).
BPC (Before Personal Computers) the 19th Century.
The technological revolution in the business world gained momentum during the Industrial Revolution with inventions that revolutionized how we communicate and transfer information. Among them: Railway steam locomotive (1808); Electricity (1820); Telegraphy in the 1850s; Transcontinental railroad (1860s); Offset printing in the 1870s; Telephone 1876. (These are not necessarily the dates certain things were invented, but more representative of when they came into use.)
APC (After Personal Computers) the 20th Century.
The technological revolution in the 20th century is one of the most remarkable in human history for its unparalleled rate of technological and scientific discoveries and as we advanced from land-based to satellite-based communications. This era was the birth of digital technology and near-instantaneous, worldwide computer communication. We went from snail-mailing to e-mailing, to texting.
The first half of the 20th century was impacted by two major wars and weapons developed to fight them: wireless radio (1900), airplanes (1903), color photography (1907) nuclear reaction (1942).
The 1950s saw changes in domestic lifestyle and the beginning of significant changes in how we do business: credit cards (1950), television (1951), commercial jet service (1952), fiber optics (1955), the first computer hardisk (1956), integrated circuits (1958), and the computer modems (1958).
The 1960s was an era with mixed messages: war (we are always fighting someone somewhere), improving life at home, and trying to communicate beyond our own planet. 1961 was the year of the first transcontinental telegraph and the first robot, followed by AT&T satellite (1962), beginning of the Space War with Mariner in 1962, cassette tapes (1962), computerized encyclopedia (1964), first Internet sent message (1967), stand-alone computer monitor (1968), and the first ATM (automated teller machine) and ‘super computer’ (1969).
The 1970s were dominated by the space race, with Apollo 13 & 15 (1970-71), Voyager I and II (1977), and Pioneer 11 in 1979. The compact disc was developed in 1976, and Apple came onboard that same year.
The 1980s—things slowed down in the 1980s, although we did see the first IBM PC (1981), Apple Lisa (1983), Microsoft Windows (1985), disposable camera (1986), Doppler radar (1988), and the real biggie that changed the world—the cell phone in1988! Soft contacts and HD TV (is there a connection there?) were also developed in the 1980s.
The 1990s technology timeline shows the first Internet dial-up access provider in 1990 when the World Wide Web was invented. MS released a lot of versions of Windows, the Linux operating system began in 1991, and the first computer virus struck in 1992. CD Rom was also invented (1991) as a one-use media with expected life span of 120 years. It’s already outdated, and soon, it may not be readable on any device. More lost data!
VR (Virtual Reality) the 21st Century.
The 21st Century—so far—is not a stellar example of mankind. Unfortunately, much of our current technology has been and is currently focused on fighting each other, fighting terrorism, political bickering and battles, trying (and mostly failing) to predict natural disasters, managing commerce in times of recession, and developing methods of high-speed global communication that let us be reactive rather than proactive and avoid direct engagement.
Our biggest advances are in how we shop, play, buy and sell ‘online’ in a digital world that provides misinformation as much as accurate information. That house looked good on the website, but it’s a dump in real time. That outfit you just bought that looked so great online, is made of shoddy material and doesn’t fit. Send it back. Your I-phone isn’t working right, hope it’s still on warranty. Your last software update messed up your computer or smart phone. (That one resonates, doesn’t it!) The food you ordered doesn’t taste good. The FDT flower delivery for your mom’s birthday is not what was pictured. That cute guy you met on Match.com turns out to be … well, not datable.
Virtual reality encourages apathy and disconnect, perhaps because of TMI (too much information), which gives us a virtual headache. The technological advances from 2000 to the present are increasingly fostering interpersonal interactions. ‘Face time’ is digital. You meet and greet through a touch screen, choose ‘public or private’ and present the face you want to present. Nobody has a bad hair day, because there is time to fix it before you go online. Kids have smart phones and tablets, not books; they learn to email, and cursive writing is no longer on the curriculum. They don’t write ‘notes’ to the kid seated next to them, they text. Same goes for the guy you work with in the adjoining cubicle, assuming you even work in the same office. You don’t get up and go speak to him; you send him an email or text, even if he’s only a few feet away! No wonder diet programs and products are so popular—and many of both are…available online!
Not surprisingly, the 2000s saw development and of release of iPod, Xbox, iTunes, YouTube, iPhone, Twitter, Firefox & Safari web browsers, Wikipedia, Blue Ray, and a bunch of computerized game stuff like Nintendo and PlayStations. Kindle came along in 2007, and the first Smart Phone appeared in 2010.
In the past seven years, 2010 to the present, we have seen the creation of 3-D (2010), solar panels (2011) which change the way we get and use energy, iPad mini (2012), Google Chrome (2013), 3D printing and electric cars (2014), Apple Pay (2014) and Mobile Pay and Apple Smartwatch (2015), a succession of fancier, faster iPhones (that are now a little hand-held computer and multitasking communication device). This period also sees a huge change in communication device). This period also sees a huge change in how we do business: online commerce, e-sales, digital transactions.
Where are we now?
How does all of this technological history affect us today? We have a generational communication issue. For sure, we aren’t talking grandpa’s language, or even the language of the boomer generation. Millennials don’t use traditional media (newspapers, radio, even TV); they sleep with their phones, listen to music on their IPods, stream their entertainment, and get their information from social media. Gone is the handshake deal, the trusted advisor, the Rockwell doctor, the 9-to-5 with promised pension on retirement. Gone is the pension! In this virtual environment, how do we market ourselves, our products, our services? How do we buy and sell what we need or want in a virtual world? Technology, galloping along at the speed of light, impacts every aspect of our lives. We may not like it, but we have no choice but to embrace it…or be hopelessly left behind—and have to depend on others to do our communicating for us.
Real Estate. You can buy a house without ever seeing it in person, attending a closing, or handing over a check. It can all be done with virtual communication and transfer of funds. All you have to do is move in.
Retail. Who needs brick and mortar when you can shop online? Amazon Prime delivers, free shipping. EBay has good deals and better deals every day. Small stores are closing, and if they can, selling with a virtual store, but finding it hard to survive when bigger retailers can buy in bulk and underprice them. Even box stores, like Walmart and Target, can keep less merchandise on hand and offer it online instead, to be picked up at the store or shipped directly to your door. Again, buying without actually seeing what you are buying.
Medical Services. Many doctor’s offices have you ‘check in’ with a little tablet that replaces the gal at the desk. With a stylus and touch-screen, you enter personal and medical history and pay any outstanding bill from your last visit (by swiping your credit card in the tablet’s convenient swipe slot), before you can incur a new one. When you see the doctor, he looks at your information on a computer, looks up meds on his smart phone, and often concludes the visit without ever having touched you, or even looking you in the eye. MRIs and CT Scans and other computerized equipment looks into and through you to see what’s going on in your body. Mechanical and metal body parts replace tissues. And surgery? Robotics cuts down on invasive surgery and speeds up healing time.
Food Service. Yup! Big change here, too. You do have a server rather than a robot (but that’s coming), who takes your order. And then, using a finger, the server enters your choices, through a touch screen, into a system that generates your food order…and your bill. In many restaurants, you can pay at the table by swiping your credit card in the handy little machine that also lets you play games while you are waiting for your food. And groceries? You can order online, have them delivered to your door—or, do a drive-by at the store and have them delivered to your vehicle, where someone places them in your car for you. All done with online shopping and online credit. No need to go to the store at all. But if you do, you get automated ‘bonus points’ toward your next automated gas purchase!
Automotive. Which brings us to gas ‘stations.’ Once upon a time, before the land of Oz, someone visited with you while they pumped your gas, washed your windshield, checked your oil. Today you fill your own tank, pre-pay with a credit card, take your car in for ‘service’ where your computerized engine is scanned by a service computer that determines what needs to be fixed. At least we still have a mechanic that does the fixing. So far, anyway.
Banking. You can bank anywhere, anytime, with a virtual account and digital funds transfer. Many people no longer have a ‘checking’ account or use paper checks. Everybody has an ATM card, although cash is quickly becoming obsolete. Your paycheck, if you get one, is an electronic transfer into a virtual account, from which you pay credit cards that you use to purchase goods and services. Banks don’t need tellers anymore, although there are some that still use them. Banking, and most other financial services, depend on digital processing, and that is all done by computers rather than people.
Jobs. The ‘nine-to-five’ is his history, and working until retirement? Not anymore. Millennials work in a virtual world, managing digital communications with digital work in a virtual world, managing digital communications with digital devices from wherever they happen to be. Live where you play, work anywhere that has access to global communications, and that is…virtually everywhere. Don’t believe me, Google it. As of April 28, 2017, almost 2.4 billion people worldwide use a smartphone.
Entertainment. Movies are ‘streamed’ right to your home or hand-held device. Date night at the local theater is history. Sports are still played by real players, on a real field but you can shout and encourage (or dis) the players from the comfort of your own home or sports bar. You can also ‘play’ any sport yourself from your Xbox, with ‘virtual’ friends around the globe. Kids don’t play outside, or at the arcade, they play on their ‘play station’ or Nintendo, or Xbox. Bookstores are closing, libraries, too, as people ‘read’ e-books on a Kindle or electronic reader (don’t do that in the bathtub, folks!) and forgo paper books. Cuddle up with a book? Be sure your device is charged first.
Travel. Self-driving electric cars now come with all-around cameras so you can see what you’re about to hit, or who is about to hit you, before impact. Just make sure there is a charging station within your projected travel distance. And soon? Cars will become airplanes, so you can drive/fly to a final destination, without ever having to touch the controls. Driver’s licenses will become obsolete. How will this impact auto insurance, fuel delivery, mechanical repairs. Airport security is a nightmare today, and it’s going to get worse as terrorism increases. Budding technological inventions are already addressing that problem.
You ‘see’ what you are buying with ‘virtual’ eyes. Buyer can communicate with seller without ever meeting them in person. Services are digitally transcribed as much as they are physically delivered. The information you receive is often directed to you based on your ‘browsing history’ and identifiable likes, beliefs, ideology. It’s no longer a world of ‘You get what you see’ but ‘You get what you thought you saw,’ or even scarier, ‘You get what you want to see,’ without being able to consider other options.
How do you successfully market in a virtual world?
Be careful about the information you present and how you present it. From a seller’s standpoint, integrity is of paramount importance. Same goes for service provider. Do your best to provide accuracy and deliver what you promise. Be careful with how you use social media: identify your market, target your buyers, but don’t take advantage of them. If you display a product on your website or social media page, make sure it’s a true image. If you publicize a service on the same media, make sure it meets expectations. When you receive a ‘Contact Me’ response, a text, or a voice mail, respond quickly.
Stay on top of technology, but maintain positive and personal customer service. Handshake deals may be dead, and buyers accustomed to non-personal transactions, but you can still develop and nourish personal relationships. At the end of the day, you will find, the referral, even the digital referral, is your best marketing tool.
So yes, we live in a virtual world, and technology drives our marketing skills and determines our forms of communication. We can only guess where we are headed next.
We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
20th Century Timeline 1900-1999. https://www.thoughtco.com/20th-century-timeline-1992486
20th Century. Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20th_century
Timeline of the 21st Century https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_21st_century
Major Technology Advances Since1900 https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/major-technology-advances-since-1900
Future timeline http://www.futuretimeline.net/
Kathryn R. Burke teaches Social Media Marketing classes, monthly, at the Montrose Association of Realtors. Classes are open to the public and $20/pp.
CICK HERE to find out more here or sign up for a class or the Social Media Newsletter.