Today’s guest post is written by Ken Mueller.

I’m a technical moron. (That sound you hear is Gini yelling, “A-freaking-men!”)

I spent 13 years in NYC, and part of my job was helping radio stations set up live broadcasts from our facility.

Their tech people would call me and ask technical questions. I would spout off a few specs, and quite often this was enough, until they started asking deeper questions.

Then I had to admit that I was merely parroting what my tech person had told me. I knew enough to be somewhat helpful, but it didn’t take long to realize I had no clue what I was talking about. I was giving them useful information, but I didn’t know what it all meant.

Similarly, the Internet gives consumers unprecedented access to gobs of knowledge. They can go to YouTube or a blog and learn how to do a gazillion things.

We all have access to insider information and industry-specific lingo that was previously only available to those working in that industry.

Who hasn’t gone to WebMD to search for symptoms, only to find out you either have a common cold or some incredibly rare, incurable disease which will make your eyes spew blood and then explode? This is why in small print, at the bottom, WebMD runs the disclaimer: “WebMD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.”

As marketers, all this content can present a real problem as our customers now know more than ever before.

How are we to approach this issue of a more informed customer base?

  1. Recognize they do have more knowledge than before. It’s the nature of the beast. We have an informed public and we can’t ignore this. We can’t BS our way out of things. It makes us more accountable, and puts a higher premium on the ideas of authenticity and transparency. We can’t fake it. As we market to them, be truthful. Real answers are only a Google away, and if they think we are feeding them a line, they will call us on it.
  2. Understand that in many cases this knowledge is limited. Yes, they know more than before, but that doesn’t mean they know what to do with that knowledge, or that they fully understand it. This provides us with the opportunity to help them navigate and use that knowledge. But be careful: Customers have been told for decades that they are always right. They may THINK they know it all, so we have to be careful how we approach them. This means we need to be proactive in showing them we actually do know more. (Of course the imperative here is that we need to make sure that we DO know more!) My clients might read my blog and learn a lot about social media and marketing. But they probably don’t have the hands-on experience, and they can’t keep up on all of the latest trends. That’s your job. And you need to find ways to articulate itto your customers.
  3. Temper your distribution of knowledge with caveats. By all means, continue to educate your customers and provide them with free information. But like WebMD, make sure you offer caveats. I give away a lot on my blog, but it’s not a substitute for the hands-on personalized consulting that I offer my clients on a regular basis. Sometimes customers need to be told “don’t try this at home.”
  4. Shared knowledge is a point of engagement. If in fact our customers do know a lot about us, we need to embrace that. It opens up a chance for greater dialogue and engagement. We can identify those who truly seem to know a lot and bring them on board as brand advocates. Make believers out of them and equip them to help us in our job of getting the word out.

I believe an educated and well-informed customer base is a good thing, not something we should fear. It forces us to do our job better, and gives us greater opportunities for education and engagement. What do you think?

Ken Mueller is the proprietor of Inkling Media, with 30 years of experience in the media industry.