Friday, November 14, 2008

Marketing Needs a New Job Spec ...

I've been seeing a lot of confused marketers and CEOs running around lately. There seems to be a general question: "How come the stuff we've been doing for 50 years doesn't work anymore?".

It doesn't work because the rules have changed! If you've read Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) you'll understand that a paradigm shift is a fundamental change in the basic assumptions underpinning a particular scientific set of knowledge. For Kuhn, the paradigm is not just the current theory, but the world view in which it exists along with essential implications which arise from it.

Communications theorists have been saying for more than a decade that the Internet represents a paradigm shift in communications. Fair enough - arguing otherwise seems pointless, even if we're not quite done with the revolution just yet. And given that it's a technology thing, then it's not too far gone to say it deserves a scientific treatment.

If you use political theory to describe the behavior of large groups of people, then it's fair to suggest that we're still travelling through an anarchical way-point on our way to the final destination. In fact, the Internet allows a more complex form of interaction than any other media channel we've ever experienced.

The rough tools of print, radio, and television allow communication in only one direction. It's easy enough to model message transmission (even if it sometimes ends up garbled like a bizarre form of the pass-the-message game). It's like a sequence of nodes (users) in series. Or translated, it's like talking in some one's ear in the middle of Shibuya Crossing. The most effective and efficient way to transmit a message in this environment is to send it often and and with maximum signal power (loudly).

But social media powered by the Internet is a different game - suddenly you empower each node (user) to communicate with any other node. Everything is connected to everything else, and the number of connections quickly becomes an intractable calculation (meaning you can't find a computer big enough to solve it that fits inside the Universe!). Translation: A million octopuses shaking hands, with a million others. Efficiency and effectiveness come from having a message repeated as often as possible with low signal power (softly). A CSR in a big company connects everyone to each other, and make the whole thing operate smoothly.

The Internet is not a channel - it's a switchboard. Until social media turned the shouting match into a conversation, marketers needed to have a loud voice (lots of media exposure), good lungs (big budgets), and run the 100m in 10 seconds (focus on short-term results). But a good CSR needs empathy (listening to people), angles (interesting ways to interact), and a stack of marathons under the belt (focus on the long-term).

I'd rather be a shaker than a shouter. What about you?

Thought for the Day: Talking loudly with a big stick doesn't work anymore. Maybe you need a new job spec for your marketers that looks more like your Customer Service Representatives'.

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