Top 3 marketing concepts made obsolete by the Web

getting the message

Trite, but true: the web changes everything, including the nature of the relationships between companies and their customers. To me, these three marketing concepts look unlikely to survive these changes:

1. Brand positioning

For companies, one of the joys the Web offers is the opportunity to outsource activities to customers – they can serve themselves so you won’t have to.

For customers, one of the joys of the Web is the opportunity to interact with each other, so they won’t have to rely solely on the information a company churns out.

Before the industrial interruption, a business was as good as its product. Then, with mass media emerging, a one- to-many broadcast model of marketing took hold. Firms had to compete on marketing savvy, their brands had to be pushed to occupy a distinct spot in a consumer’s mind. When internet first took off, many predicted that this marketing paradigm would rule the roost in the online world. It didn’t turn out that way, as Deighton and Kornfeld explain in their wonderful paper on digital interactivity:

 ...while meaning-making remains the central purpose of
marketing communication, the shift from
broadcasting to interaction within digital
communities is moving the locus of control
over meanings from marketer to consumer

Now, your customers are basically defining your brand for you. Martijn Kriens made the point the other way round: If you want to join in the conversation, cease control of the message.

So, while brands and branding remain a factor, it’s no longer useful for companies to suppose they can control the message.

2. Demographics-based targeting

In the pre-internet era, customer data had a limited number of formats:  Name, Address, Zip/Postal code, age, and so forth. For tele-selling firms, these constituted pretty much all there was to know about customers. Of course, the really smart direct sellers retained information about customer contacts in their data systems, but these were seldom used in targeting.

Now, much of the targeting out there is behavioral.  Of course, Google is behavioral targeting‘s king. When people look for information using a search engine, write Deighton and Kornfeld, it is as if curiosity itself is revealed. It doesn’t end there: now  a company can ask an advertiser to show their ad just to clients that have been to their company website earlier, a practice called retargeting. Alternatively, companies like dzyre turn the targeting process into a sort of conversation.

Granted, demographics-based targeting is not going to disappear. But companies relying on it solely will lose out to those able and willing to test and refine additional, superior targeting methods.

3. Information edge

Marketers have long had an information edge on consumers. They knew more about competitor’s offerings and their prices than the average consumer did. No more. Today, most markets are more transparent for consumers than they are for producers: If you look for a product and consult an aggregator site, you’ll have an overview of offerings tailored to your situation. There is no company that can match this level of insight for all its customers: that would take far too much effort and time.

It is safe to say that the internet has profoundly changed the whole process of segmenting, targeting and positioning, making all three steps much more interactive. All the more surprising, then, that the marketing books I recently read all deal with segmentation, positioning and targeting on a 100% inside-out basis.

Maybe that is just testimony to the speed with which the internet changes marketing practice: Marketing theory has some catching-up to do.

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