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