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Q&A with David Meerman Scott: Developing a real-time mindset for today's digital world

By James Smith , Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ahead of Symposium Las Vegas, Sitecore’s VP of North American Marketing, James Smith, sat down with David Meerman Scott, internationally acclaimed strategist and keynote speaker at this year’s Symposium. David shared his take on the trends and technologies that are changing the way customers and brands interact, along with his advice for marketers navigating an ever-shifting digital landscape.

David Meerman Scott

David, what do you see as the most important technology trends impacting marketers?

The biggest change I see is the way people buy has changed dramatically.

We’re fed up with unwanted phone calls interrupting us at home and at work. We hate wading through hundreds of unsolicited emails. We’ve had it with intrusive social media messages. We’re tired of poor service from companies that don’t treat us with respect or that send us into a phone mail maze that wastes minutes of our time and never connects us with a living person.

At the same time, all of us — you, me, and all our existing and potential customers — turn to the Web to solve problems.

Today technology means buyers are in charge! The idea of mystery in the sales process is over. We research someone online before agreeing to a first date—is he a creep? We fire up LinkedIn an hour before an initial business meeting—does she have anyone I know in her network? We watch an on-demand movie trailer before deciding which film to see that night at the theater. We check out restaurant reviews and browse menus before booking a reservation.

There’s a huge disconnect between the way people research products and services they are interested in and the way companies market and sell.

The good news is we can do something about it.

The Web has liberated us from the tyranny of paying for attention! There are four main ways to generate attention: You can BUY attention (this is called advertising); you can BEG for attention (this is called Public Relations); you can BUG people one at a time to get attention (this is called sales) or you can EARN attention online by creating great information that your buyers want to consume such as YouTube videos, blogs, Twitter feeds, photographs, charts, graphs, and ebooks—and it is all free.

Best of all, we can communicate with buyers in real-time, reaching them at the precise moment they’re interested in what we have to offer. 

What can marketers do to gain a competitive advantage?

Gone are the days when you could plan out your marketing and public relations programs well in advance and release them on your timetable. It’s a real-time world now, and if you’re not engaged, then you’re on your way to marketplace irrelevance.

Real-time means news breaks over minutes, not days. It means ideas percolate, then suddenly and unpredictably go viral to a global audience. It's when companies develop (or refine) products or services instantly, based on feedback from customers or events in the marketplace. And it's when businesses see an opportunity and are the first to act on it.

What counts today is speed and agility.

But this real-time mindset recognizes the importance of speed. It is an attitude to business (and to life) that emphasizes moving quickly when the time is right.

Developing a real-time mindset is not an either/or proposition. I’m not saying you should abandon your current business planning process. Nor do I advocate allowing your team to run off barking at every car that drives by. Focus and collaboration are essential.

The smart answer is to adopt a both/and approach, covering the spectrum from thorough to nimble. Recognize when you need to throw the playbook aside, and develop the capacity to react quickly.

An immensely powerful competitive advantage flows to organizations whose people understand the power of real-time information.

Developing that capacity requires sustained effort: encouraging people to take initiative; celebrating their success when they go out on a real-time limb; cutting them slack when they try and fail. None of this is easy.

What advice would you give marketers trying to adapt to a fast-changing digital landscape?

My two biggest suggestions are: Let’s bring humanity back into business and let’s stop pushing products and services and instead be helpful.

A hundred years ago our great-grandparents knew the people who sold them chickens, or nails, or cloth. Today, the Web allows humanity again after decades of faceless mass media advertising.

We’re human, and we crave interaction with people who know us and respond as individuals. That’s why real-time techniques work so well.

Marketers, salespeople, and customer service representatives working with your constituents should be hired for their social skills and traits like empathy. And they should understand context before they act.

When you communicate with customers in an agile and human way, you build a relationship with people much like you would if you met them in person.

We all want to do business with other humans. We want to know there’s a living, breathing person behind the communications. And we want reassurance that those humans on the other side understand and want to help us.

There’s no secret to building a great brand. The answer is to be human.

At Sitecore Symposium Las Vegas, taking place September 8-10 2014, David will discuss the real-time revolution and how real-time marketing can grow any brand. To find out more, visit