What clients and prospects want has changed. Well, really, that’s not true, but what’s available to them has changed – there’s a lot more information out there these days – so their levels of expectations have changed.

Marketers in 2012 need to realize that they are on a new playing field and the old game plan won’t be a winning one.

We wrote last week about the new era of preference marketing, in which customers have much more control of the buying process – they begin their research and self-education about your products and services way before you know that they’re thinking of making a purchase. High-quality, news-oriented content on your website is a significant piece of this new marketing puzzle.

A new study from consulting firm Copernicus shows that a brand’s message drives perception and conversions as much as any other element of their products and services. At a core level, when prospective customers are researching your products or services, they’re looking to see if you have their best interests at heart. Do you care about them? Are you trying to help them, even before you know them?

As Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote in 1999, this is a new economic era in which all businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers. Business is theater, and customers want to be thrilled. They will buy accordingly.

Will you deliver? Are you thrilling them? Or are you selling on price and overly focused on your competitors? Are you making award-winning ads that make people laugh but that don’t deliver ROI?

Brands that focus on old school tactics are very likely doing more harm than good. They’re often showing themselves to be tone deaf, unaware of what their customers really want. As this infographic from email marketer Help Scout points out, there are new numerous social psychology studies that show very clearly what your potential customers are looking for.  Take a look, and you’ll see that a lot of this pretty obvious to you. But many brands come up short in connecting this thinking with their marketing actions.

You should change that.

To do so does not, frankly, require great strategic thinking. It requires making a decision, and then getting down to work. The rinse-and-repeat action is what makes the difference in today’s marketing reality.

Content creation is about rolling up your sleeves and getting to work, and then doing it again and again. Engaging with your clients and prospects on social media is about being present all the time. Providing thrilling experiences is about a mindset change that empowers your team to give the client a little extra.

Thrilling your clients happens in the little spaces between the big events. It happens because your team is on its toes and focused on your clients’ business. And it happens because you never stop focusing on delivering that great experience.