Look beyond the hype of social media, and you'll see that social networks and community dynamics have fundamentally changed many of the most intrinsically understood truths of marketing communications. They have made marketing a much more complex process while creating a more measurable business practice.

This series of five articles explores those changes (see list at the end of this article for previous and upcoming articles).

Faster Horses—or New Paradigm?

Henry Ford once famously remarked that if he'd asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said "a faster horse." And had you asked B2B marketers a decade ago, back in the dark days of B2B marketing communications, what they needed to market more successfully, their response might have been along the same lines: more data, more information—faster and better. The features-and-benefits sell sheets of the late '80s became the features-and-benefits Web pages of the early '90s.

Instead of faster horses, however, Ford's customers got automobiles—and, with them, a whole new world of experiences.

Similarly, many marketers may think they just want ways to disseminate the same messages, only faster and better. Hence, complaints about Twitter turning into spam, and the advent of vendor comments on blog posts not really responding to the post but touting the commenter's own wares.

But an opportunity to do something different has developed that many marketers are missing in their search for faster horses: new ways of developing progressive, deep, and lasting relationships with their customers and partners. And content is the key to developing and evaluating the strength of those relationships.

By thinking about content as more than just words on a page, and by developing content experiences that are strategic, planned, structured, and measured, an entirely new customer narrative can develop that will bring companies closer than they've ever been to their customers.

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Jen Evans is chief strategist at Sequentia Environics, a Toronto-based firm providing strategy and services to help companies generate better business results from their online initiatives.