Rant: The Internet Killed the Traditional Marketer

This is part 4 of a five-part series. Read part 1 here. Read part 5 here.

The match that lit this was a comment Ethan Banks made in his latest anti-Klout post:

If you’re in marketing, you need a better way to discover who the influencers are. My recommendation is to engage in the communities you want to market to. Make friends with those people. Find out who matters. It’s more work, but you’ll end up with something much more nuanced and real than a Klout score. You’ll have a relationship with a human being who knows other human beings. That’s where social is *really* at. Community – it’s not just a word.

I read that, set it to stewing on a back burner of my mind, and went back to editing whitepapers. But only for so long.

Oh, I know what you’re saying, my fellow marketeers:

not dead yet

But consider this little anecdote:

Consider the relative hit rates of branded content (At-A-Glances, whitepapers, etc.) compared to even corporate blogs. Blogs generally win by more than 10x in any given period of time. The one exception is datasheets. Maybe because all most people really want to know is…

*     *     *     *     *

Everything about the modern marketing organization is based on the mass broadcast model. We now have over a century of marketing best practices developed around reaching the greatest number of people–through the newspapers and magazines with the biggest circulations–and then through the three or so TV channels.

But then, unfortunately, somebody had a brilliant idea: market segmentation.

Keep on focusing and segmenting until we dominate the industry!–Pointy-haired boss

So now we have hundreds of TV channels and zillions of websites to cater to every conceivable sensibility and area of interest. We now have to create a staggering multitude of messages for every different audience, but yet maintain a consistent brand “feel” across all of them, since consumers may encounter our product messages across any number of different venues, depending on whether they’re feeding their interest in crocheting, beer-making or foreign affairs at a particular moment in time. We have to create and place exponentially more content across all these different channels. And then track the metrics of all of it. What a great way to increase marketing budgets, right?

We’re still aggressively focused on getting as many people into the funnel as possible, so the overall noise level in all channels keeps growing. And because consumers get hit by many of the same product messages over and over again, not to mention the sheer volume of messages, they’ve gotten really good at tuning them out almost entirely.

I may sound like I’m talking about the poor hapless consumer marketers, but things aren’t any better in the B2B world. That’s because B2B customers are also mass-market consumers in the rest of their lives and bring that cynicism to B2B interactions. And now, thanks to the Internet, there are alternatives to listening to what companies have to say about themselves.

The Internet democratized and sped up publishing, and in so doing swept the rug out from under the codified institutional authorities: newspapers, government spokespeople, industry pundits of various types. Now any schmoe can research and opine; independent, authoritative sources of information about a product or company are suddenly far more numerous and ever-proliferating–which is very hard to manage scalably from a traditional PR perspective–and at the same time they’re very easy for consumers to find, and they’re generally more trusted sources than the corporations themselves.

The marketing profession may have best-practiced itself to a point of no return.

*     *     *     *     *

So here we are, marketers: hoisted by our own petards. The internet meteor has hit our profession at last, and the die-off has begun.

What to do about it? Well, I certainly have no greater knowledge of what the Marketing Organization of the Future will look like than anybody else. But a few observations might be worth pondering and developing further:

Platforms and technology can change very quickly. Human habits of imagination change far more slowly, and human nature hardly at all.

John Troyer brilliantly demolished that modern marketing horror, the webinar, in a recent post. He observes that they simply reproduce the stultifying lecture, handed down from medieval times, in an online venue. All the bells and whistles of webinar platforms faithfully reproduce the usual activities in a physical classroom.

This leads to my next observation:

Instead of porting old tactics onto new platforms, start fresh. Think through what a new platform could allow you to do that you haven’t done before.

Surely you’ve seen the original horseless carriages? They look exactly the same as other carriages of the day, except the motor is behind or underneath the seat instead of out in front. They were about as fast and efficient as other carriages too. And higher cap-ex, with relative TCO unproven. No wonder many thought they were an expensive fad.

That’s because both designers and consumers were operating from their pre-existing mental model of what a personal vehicle looks like and performs like. But once the mental model for the automobile began to shift–the point of comparison was perhaps not the horsedrawn carriage but the steam train, which could travel longer distances in far less time–suddenly designers began focusing on improvements to engine performance to support those speed and distance goals while staying within the physically compact dimensions of the personal vehicle. And then a whole ecosystem sprang up around the car–paved roads, interstates, rest areas and towns, national chains to provide familiar services in a location-independent way.

Assume the validity of Dunbar’s number, and plan around it.

This goes back to accepting human nature as it is. The theory of Dunbar’s number–the idea that one can really only maintain meaningful relationships with about 150 other people–is based on the average size of primate social groups as correlated with brain size and complexity. Exactly who those 150 people are is a very fluid thing–different relationships loom larger or smaller in one’s life depending on the ebb and flow of shared interests and activities.

Now, you might well protest that all this returning to the ancestral village and artisanal marketing doesn’t scale globally and the modern corporations need to be able to do just that. And you’d be partly right. But, hey, B2B marketers, guess what? Unlike our B2C friends, we don’t have to reach billions of people somehow. We only need to reach much smaller subsets of people, whose interests we already we know we share.

So why not organize marketing workstreams around communities of interest? Maybe a corporate website is simply the backplane for a number of dynamic microsites, which themselves are understood as peer nodes within the larger digital universes of their respective communities of interest. The corporate microsites would represent your company’s voice and views within that ecosystem, but any given ecosystem will have a relatively finite number of nodes–perhaps around 150 or so? Some nodes will have greater importance–those will most likely be independent sites, the community watering holes, so to speak. Corporate nodes will have to operate as feeders and contributors to those spine nodes.

Don’t think in terms of fixed structures.

Communities are living, ever-evolving organisms. Individuals within them join and split with as great a frequency as any collection of cells in your body. Build processes that assume this. Don’t try to fight Nature. Be wary of trying to maintain a platform beyond its natural life simply because it’s there and you’ve invested in it. Fight the urge to build processes around platforms at all. Build around ideas about how to solve given sets of challenges. Plug your product literature into those contexts as appropriate, but don’t make the corporation’s product tree the organizing framework of anything outbound.

See your customers and prospects as fellow human beings. Treat them accordingly.

Nuff said?

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One comment on “Rant: The Internet Killed the Traditional Marketer

  1. Pingback: Response: The Internet Killed the Traditional Marketer & New Influencers

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