I have a special favor to request. I'm re-launching my company Web site. Please wander through the beta version and shoot me any input you have about it at any level, from graphics to content. Thanks!

Typically, an email message like that would result in a polite, “Wow, great site—love what you've done to the place.” However, seeing as I was checking email at 4 a.m., I decided that the only way to cure my insomnia was to review yet another Web site from yet another colleague who believed he had cracked the code for cutting through the clutter of consultant gobbledypoop.

Yeah, right. I mean, the company's tagline was “A Strategic Communications Company.” (Have you ever heard of a non-strategic communications company?) The pages had enough sound and fury signifying nothing to make Faulkner weep. I knew better than to look for something clever. But this site was the marketing version of a lobotomy.

The site had “All the Necessary Stuff,” which was the problem—and one that's been replicated faster than those Agent Smiths in the Matrix sequel, albeit with less charisma.

Several years ago, The Cluetrain Manifesto (if you are not familiar with it, get a clue at https://www.cluetrain.com) begged us to get real, be inviting and maybe just a bit dangerous. And while we marketers were exhilarated and intrigued and climbed aboard with aplomb, we've pretty much continued down the same old marketing track.

Time to face facts: our strategies are stale and our customers are exhausted and (worse) bored. We need something in the mix that is enticing, a new approach without all the preservatives and additives. We need marketing that hits home like comfort food.

Call it fresh-baked marketing.

Fresh-Baked Marketing

Fresh-baked marketing is about offering the stuff our customers are truly starving for—real knowledge and real connections, a voice instead of “the brand.” (Need help? See Bullfighter.)

It's about becoming genuinely interesting instead of shouting for momentary attention. It's about becoming teachers, and listening, and asking questions. But, fundamentally, fresh-baked marketing is about embracing and actually integrating into our marketing initiatives what has happened to every single aspect of our lives due to the Internet and the growth of “multi-mediums.”

Fresh-baked hits home, but it isn't even close to your mother's marketing.

Taking a Fresh-Baked Approach

Today, you are who your markets say you are, because everyone is connected to everyone else and your markets are fast and smart—smart enough to know that truth does not come from, nor is it dependent on, a single source (you).

Being fresh baked requires a new attitude and approach, one that does not necessarily assume that you are the chef:

  • Fresh-baked marketing is listening whether you like what you hear or not. It requires you to become what you say you are.

  • Fresh-baked marketing is capitalizing on “frame of mind” and throwing away the idea that we just need to hit 'em from all sides. It understands the nuances of individuals' interactions with modern media (although that is only one connection point).

  • Fresh-baked marketing is a truly consultative and integrated strategy—where advertising, promotion, Web presence, sales, e-commerce, interactive media, earned media, public relations, direct marketing and employees all deliver maximum market value because they create a cohesive and efficient whole. We are still operating in silos and that means we're missing opportunities—for ourselves, our clients and the customer.

So what makes a company fresh baked?

Fresh-baked companies understand the market power derived from everyone being connected to everyone and the sheer delight people have in being connected with each other. These companies use multiple connection points, make them useful and truly participate in them. They recognize that in networked markets nothing is a commodity.

These companies don't perpetuate a broadcast or an inside/outside mentality. They provide ingredients and let the customers codevelop products—and they put customers in touch with each other. How many companies are willing to allow customers to post negative reviews about products they are trying to sell? Does this really work? I don't know, look at Amazon's brand value and you tell me.

You may not be looking for new ways to market, but your customers certainly are. And guess what? They don't need you as much as you need them.

Being fresh baked requires taking regular trips back to your customers, tweaking the recipe and standing vigilant against becoming stale. After all, the last thing we need is another “Strategic Communications Company” that doesn't get it.

The Four Stages of Freshness

In our minds, there are four stages of freshness:

  • Stale. These companies use marketing language that has no recognizable or differentiated voice. Those inside these companies do not understand how networks are affecting people (markets). They may use interactive media and definitely the Web, but it's the old one-way messaging with enough over-hyped puffery and buzzword language to make Roget blush. This is textbook “create a product, then advertise and market to create demand.” Email spammers, you belong here, too.

  • Day-Old. Here the company's voice is always “managed.” These companies employ interactivity such as webcasting and online communications (mostly to give themselves the impression that they are listening), but to them networks are about the marketing data and not about the connections (opportunity) that networks create.
  • Half-Baked. These companies almost get it. They go partway in meeting the expectations of connected markets, yet they aren't recognizing the enormous power markets have in being connected. They may have developed a voice, but it keeps changing because it isn't consistent and doesn't carry through to every connection point (because it isn't real).
  • Fresh-Baked. These companies realize the sheer delight people have in being connected with each other and the market power derived from being connected. These companies enable connections and truly participate in them. They recognize that in a networked market nothing is a commodity. These companies don't perpetuate an inside/outside attitude. They provide ingredients and let the customers create the products—and they put customers in touch with each other.

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Linda Zimmer is CEO and Gary Goldhammer is President of MarCom Interactive (marcominteractive.com), a fresh-baked marketing services and Internet broadcasting firm. Reach them at thepeople@marcominteractive.com.

Linda Zimmer is CEO of MarCom Interactive (www.marcominteractive.com/), a fresh-baked marketing services and Internet broadcasting firm. Reach her at thepeople@marcominteractive.com.