Beyond Brainwash

Recently I learned about a good idea that had been killed by a marketing meeting. This prompted from me an email venting my frustration. Here’s what I wrote:

Marketing is bullshitting — especially to itself. It’s poisoned by the fecal brainwash it’s been gargling for the duration. It sees nothing more than what it wants, fears, or both. It can’t listen. It can’t be conversational. “Conversation marketing” is oxymoronic beyond the bounds of irony.

It must die.

Well, it won’t, and it shouldn’t. I got carried away there.

But there isn’t any shortage of brainwash, or those willing or eager to gargle it. Thus Gartner is probably right when it says,

Internet marketing will be regulated by 2015, controlling more than US$250 billion in Internet marketing spending worldwide. Despite international efforts to eliminate “spam,” marketing “clutter” is abundant in every marketing channel. Pressure for greater accountability means the backlash from annoyed consumers will eventually drive legislation to regulate Internet marketing. Companies that focus primarily on the Internet for marketing purposes could find themselves unable to market effectively to customers, putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage when new regulations take effect. Although experiencing high growth, vendors who focus solely on, and sell predominately to, Internet marketing solutions could find themselves faced with a declining market, as companies shift marketing funds to other channels to compensate.

Which will happen if nothing changes. But some things will. For example (continuing from Gartner),

By 2014, over 3 billion of the world’s adult population will be able to transact electronically via mobile or Internet technology. Emerging economies will see rapidly rising mobile and Internet adoption through 2014. At the same time, advances in mobile payment, commerce and banking are making it easier to electronically transact via mobile or PC Internet. Combining these two trends creates a situation in which a significant majority of the world’s adult population will be able to electronically transact by 2014.

Yes, this is good. But will they transact only with today’s Internet marketers? How about with anybody they deal with, period, including friends and businesses (or combinations of both) in the brick, mortar and social contact worlds? Why not? Consider the interactive devices we’ll carry in our pockets:

Gartner research predicts that by 2014, there will be a 90 percent mobile penetration rate and 6.5 billion mobile connections. Penetration will not be uniform, as continents like Asia (excluding Japan) will see a 68 percent penetration and Africa will see a 56 percent mobile penetration. Although not every individual with a mobile phone or Internet access will transact electronically, each will have the ability to do so. Cash transactions will remain dominant in emerging markets by 2014, but the foundation for electronic transactions will be well under way for much of the adult world.

Do you think the browser alone will be the interactive system through which we’ll do that? I don’t. You might use a browser, just like you use a grocery store’s shopping cart; but the interactive mechanisms provided for you are not yours. They are the store’s (just like the cart). The context is theirs, not yours.

You switch from one vendor context to the next when you go from NewEgg to Amazon to eBay to wherever. In each virtual place a cookie in your browser identifies you as an entity that has been there before, and the system reacts accordingly, giving you a context: a half-filled shopping cart, a history, some recommendations based on that history, and now (thanks to Facebook and others) a social context as well. Remember, this context is not yours. It is theirs, customized for you. Gartner again:

By 2015, context will be as influential to mobile consumer services and relationships as search engines are to the Web. Whereas search provides the “key” to organizing information and services for the Web, context will provide the “key” to delivering hyperpersonalized experiences across smartphones and any session or experience an end user has with information technology. Search centered on creating content that drew attention and could be analyzed. Context will center on observing patterns, particularly location, presence and social interactions. Furthermore, whereas search was based on a “pull” of information from the Web, context-enriched services will, in many cases, prepopulate or push information to users. The most powerful position in the context business model will be a context provider. Web, device, social platforms, telecom service providers, enterprise software vendors and communication infrastructure vendors.

This is fine. But can the sellers provide you with all the context you need? What about your own context? What about your shopping list, which might contain stuff available only from five, ten or more different stores? What about the standing relationships you have with different stores? How about improving those in ways those stores’ systems can’t imagine or anticipate?

Phil Windley gives a great talk (here’s a .pdf) about the history of e-commerce, in which he says, “1965: We got cookies and said ‘Good enough’. The end.” As a result, the context we still take for granted is the seller’s. Not our own.

I was talking to Joe Andrieu the other day about this, and in the course of the conversation we both realized that the browser itself serves as a kind of shopping cart, the owner of which changes as you go from one retail site to another. Think about how every shopping cart you use is provided by the store. Thus the question my wife asked in 1995 (see slide #3) still hangs in the air: “Why can’t I take my shopping cart from ome site to another?” The short answer is, Because it’s not yours.

Well, what would be yours? Whatever the answer, the context needs to be yours too. If you’d like to chew on this, start with Phil’s Building the Purpose-Centered Web.

1 Comment

  1. Jeroen

    I always take my context with me in the evaluation of the product. The problem for the store is that they don’t know my context and therefore cannot adjust their offering according to my needs. In my opinion the problem is not who owns the context but how we combine the context into a unique offer.

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