Section 5.1. Marketing


5.1. Marketing

At the peak of the dot-com boom, the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto took center stage with their passionate cry for the end of business as usual. With scathing wit, they dissected and discredited mass marketing as a nasty industrial age hangover. The book hit the bestseller lists, and the authors were promptly lifted onto pedestals. Then the bubble burst and their revolutionary call to arms suddenly seemed out of place, quickly forgotten amid the rubble. This is unfortunate because the manifesto's message still rings true:

A few thousand years ago there was a marketplace. Never mind where. Traders returned from far seas with spices, silks, and precious, magical stones. Caravans arrived across burning deserts bringing dates and figs, snakes, parrots, monkeys, strange music, stranger tales. The marketplace was the heart of the city, the kernel, the hub, the omphalos. Like past and future, it stood at a crossroads. People woke early and went there for coffee and vegetables, eggs and wine, for pots and carpets, rings and necklaces, for toys and sweets, for love, for rope, for soap, for wagons and carts, for bleating goats and evil-tempered camels. They went there to look and listen and to marvel, to buy and be amused. But mostly they went to meet each other. And to talk.[*]

[*] The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger. Perseus (2001), p. 910.

Markets are conversations. Or at least they were until the holy trinity of mass production, mass marketing, and mass media derailed the discussion. And in the swirl of cultural, economic, and technological change that surrounds the Internet, the conversations have begun once more. But many have forgotten how to listen. Herein lies both problem and opportunity. Markets are changing faster than marketing professionals. This results in terrible channel noise as old messages are pushed through new media with increasing intensity and desperation. But for those who are willing to listen and learn, today's marketplace offers opportunities for interaction, insight, and innovation unseen since the ancient bazaars of spices, silks, and magical stones.

Marketing Defined

The process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational goals.

American Marketing Association

Marketing is a societal process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating, offering, and freely exchanging products and services of value with others.

Philip Kotler, Marketing Management


So what are these changes? How is the new economy different from the old economy? Well, for starters, today's consumer enjoys more:


Buying power

The Internet (and online services like Priceline, Orbitz, and Froogle) have shifted the balance of power from business to consumer by dramatically increasing our ability to compare competitor prices and product attributes.


Variety

The selection of goods and services at our fingertips is remarkable. Amazon alone boasts several million distinct items in its product catalog. No physical store can match this. And we can shop internationally without leaving our homes.


Information

From Consumer Reports and Epinions to discussion lists and blogs, our access to product evaluations and reviews is unprecedented. Greater knowledge and transparency brings a welcome shift in emphasis from packaging to quality.

Of course, as Herbert Simon noted, this wealth of information brings a corresponding poverty of attention. So many channels. So many choices. And from the perspective of marketing, so much competition! Equilibrium has been punctuated. Marketing has entered a period of high-speed evolution. Emergent species include one-to-one marketing, permission marketing, viral marketing, cross-merchandising, product placement, ambient advertising, and spam. Only the fittest will survive.

And in today's attention economy, fitness requires a new balance between push and pull. The playing field has shifted, and yet few companies understand the new rules. In their bias towards push, marketing is missing opportunities to make products more findable. Those of us in design see this every day. We advocate more user research. We argue for better search and navigation, fewer banner ads, and cleaner code. Let's make it easier for our customers to find what they need when they need it. But marketing doesn't listen. Perhaps we need to speak louder, or plaster our message on a few million bananas.