Monday, November 19, 2007

Read/Write culture

Lawrence Lessig, one of today’s most influential Web 2.0 thinkers, has written extensively about the phenomena he calls “Read/Write” culture. He argues that today’s culture has replaced the previous read only culture where most members of a society were primarily passive readers. In a strong contrast, today’s culture is a read/write culture in which a high percentage of individuals contribute to the cultural body of a society. I believe that Lessig’s argument demonstrates that the current discussion about Consumer Generated Content has not yet fully covered the broader implication of a read/write culture.

Most marketers associate Consumer Generated Content with cheaply made YouTube’s videos that are supposed to replace the highly professional created TV commercials of Advertising agencies. This thinking underestimates the implication of the cultural shift to a read/write culture that is currently occurring. Let’s dissect the key forces behind this paradigm shift:
  • Technology is changing. Technology democratizes the production and creation vehicles for self expression. No one needs anymore a technology worth of millions of dollars, one can create highly produced expressions with a few hundred dollars worth of soft- and hardware. Additionally the reduced complexity of these expression technologies and the lower expertise level to utilize these tools lowers significantly the threshold for anyone to be a creator
  • Distribution is changing. The Web enables an immediate distribution for anyone’s artistic expression or innovation. The previously existing physical and financial limits for distribution have more or less vanished.
  • The mind set is changing. Today’s individuals have a significant higher interest in self-expression, sometimes within the commercial realm, quite often without any immediate commercial interest in mind. Everyone is still a consumer of offered products and services but the difference between consumption and creation is getting smaller, thereby enabling more individuals to be on the creation side of things
  • Brands are changing. Brands were always a central meaning device that simplified and enriched shopping and consumption experiences for the masses. Now Brands are becoming individual experienced meaning devices for which the control has shifted from the corporate owner to the uncontrolled space of interaction between brand and consumer. The central corporate power play is over.

Most marketers don’t understand that Consumer Generated Content is the wrong technical word, it’s about Individual Generated Content. It ranges from individuals who participate in deciphering the recommendation algorithm for Netflix, the story outline for Apple’s iPhone commercial, or the millions of bloggers who write frequently about their life, interests, and point of views. It’s not just about a cheaper produced commercial but about any marketing function that will be stronger influenced by the so called amateurs.

Marketers need to realize that their professional edge in current functional areas will be replaced by becoming enablers for brand stories that are created, told, and distributed by consumers. The focus for marketing professionals will change from story tellers to story enablers.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Financial imperative of marketing

This week while discussing the challenges of true accountability my colleague Pradeep Kumar mentioned that he believes that every relevant metrics in our discipline centers around one idea: Growth. He calls this focus on Growth metrics the financial imperative of marketing. I like the concept of focusing on financial growth metrics, which could be Sales, Market Share, Lead Volume, Share of Wallet, Customer Lifetime Value etc. Our marketing discipline gets too easily focused on any non-financial market metrics like Brand Preference, Brand Awareness, Click-through rates, etc. We are shying too fast away from connecting our marketing activity with truly growth centered financial metrics. It’s just so much easier to focus on the more indirect metrics not directly related to financial business impact.

Over the next 12-15 months I will write more often about my observations and learning in this critical area of correlating marketing activities to financial success variables. There are a few reasons why we should see quite some progress over the next 2-3 years in addressing this subject:

  • The science to understand causal correlation patterns between traditional brand attributes research and actual consumer behavior that drives financial metrics is getting more and more attention. I expect some further breakthroughs in this discipline.
  • More and more Fortune 500 companies follow the model of Capital One and implement a culture of ongoing testing and optimization The proliferation of In-Market-Tests will help improve the accuracy of predictive modeling between marketing activities and sales metrics.
  • The early excitement of using the Web as the much more measurable and accountable media channel is slowly subsiding. The realities of the vast amount of data and the still very immature state of consistent Web metrics motivate marketers to return their focus on every single marketing channel, not just Online. Google alone will not solve the accountability challenge for marketers. Fortunately most marketers have realized it and are stepping up to address it.

The year 2008 might be the first year where marketing service providers are able to match the confidence of large consulting firms that promise (and sometimes even prove) a 5-10 fold Return on their consulting fees. It’s time for marketers not just too complain about the increasing accountability pressure but to build impactful models that justify the marketer’s existence.