In the old days, marketers were in control. They might not admit it publicly, but many of them privately described their trade as a form of manipulation designed to talk consumers into acting in specific ways. Companies told consumers what products they needed and give consumers instructions about how to buy those products. It was that way for a very long time.

But the arrival of social media changed the playing field considerably. Combined with better-informed consumers, social media moved the power from the marketer to the consumer. It transformed small local conversations among friends to international discussions that can quickly make or break a company’s reputation.

Today, marketers can’t force consumers to take specific actions. Instead, successful marketers have recognized that their job is to help consumers become better informed about the products they are offering and the need for them, and to engage in conversations with those consumers about their needs and about the products. Any blatant attempts at what we used to call hard selling or manipulation are quickly exposed, damaging the marketer’s reputation.

That extends beyond think consumer products, too. Even if you’re selling on a business-to-business basis, your ultimate customer is not a company – it’s an individual at that company who is going to make the buying decision or make the recommendation to the people who buy. Just as an individual would not respond in the consumer marketplace to an arrogant approach, the same holds true with the business-to-business marketplace. Here again, the companies that will do best are those who provide information and set themselves up as a resource to help the prospective customer make the buying decision.

In a way, all this goes back to the earliest days of the marketplace, when buyers and sellers knew each other well. Transactions were handled through conversations on a one-to-one basis. Keep that reality in mind when approaching your own company’s marketing efforts, and you’ll be likely to be more successful.