Follow the debate about how the Internet has really changed marketing

The Marketing Society blog is the place to follow this debate with really interesting contributions from the likes of Paul Feldwick, Mark Sherringham and Dr Robert Heath. My twopenny worth….

The revolutionary bit

What is it that the Internet has fundamentally changed? The answer, I think, can be summed up in the phase “transaction costs”. Our ability to send combinations of ones and zeros around the world at very low cost fundamentally changes the way service businesses (in practice most businesses) deal with people.

With low cost broadband and all you can eat mobile tariffs we can gets things right here right now and on the move. It is a global revolution and transaction costs are getting cheaper all the time

People (and what they want from brands) don’t fundamentally change but that misses the point.

Service businesses have to execute differently-joining up communication platforms and investing in technology to keep up. Without good execution all those unchanging high principles of branding- big ideas, brand promises, consumer insights- are but naught. “Every little helps” is both a statement of a brands higher purpose and a promise that all the detailed day to execution will be spot on. Without the latter the former is valueless. The ability to deal with people differently at very low cost enables new functions- most notably the way in which innovation happens through co- creation and open source. And not just mean software is developed- it can also be about household products-see P&Gs connect and develop program

The bit that hasn’t really changed

What about people and their relationships with brands? The idea that consumers are somehow now much more confident and empowered seems to me to have very shallow roots. Activist consumers are still a minority yet the speed and scale of their impact has fundamentally changed through rock bottom transaction costs-people can now easily publish (blogs/tweets/forums) and self organize (social media platforms/email). And this does fundamentally change how service brands deal with people-much more open, transparent and responsive than ever before. But have we as consumers really changed?

We seem to be in state of permanent consumer adolescence-superficially very confident and bolshie, but scratch the surface, and we are as insecure and irrational as ever. We look confident when doing simple things-like finding a cheap flight or buying a DVD online or Googling to find out what is on at the cinema tonight and which films are worth seeing. But give us something more difficult and we revert to type and seek the guidance of brands and the reassurance of others. Barry Schwarz in the Paradox of Choice has shown that we cant really cope with much choice and behavioural psychologists have shown that we are predictably irrational and prone to do things because, well, it’s what other people do and so therefore it’s probably Ok.

This last observation on human behaviour more than anything else explains why mass advertising will never go way. True, the Internet does promise ever-greater efficiency and effectiveness in targeting- a seeming apotheosis of the early CRM missionary’s ideas.

But here’s the thing. The “wastage” of mass advertising is a big part of what makes it effective. It gives public affirmation of the choices that we herding animals make. Agencies will continue to create “the poster”- the cavemen did and we are sure to be putting them up (electronically) in a hundred years time.

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