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Consumer Affairs
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Don’t interrupt me, I’m busy

Reading Seth Godin’s book makes me realise just how backward South Africa is. Telkom’s monopolistic grip on most of our communication infrastructure is seriously damaging the economy and preventing progress.
His book, entitled Meatball Sundae, (published 2007 by Piatkus) discusses the meaning of the Internet in terms of what he calls ‘New Marketing’. The nub of the debate is that the Internet is a not new tool existing organisations can simply pick up and use. Instead, it is the other way round: a channel that requires businesses to change their existing marketing model completely. He says too many of them are failing to understand this distinction, and too many of them are failing to market themselves properly. At the same time, network TV, newspapers, tele-marketing and cold-calling are all in trouble (because they are trying to work the meatball). ‘Interruption’ media is no longer working.
“How can we make this new stuff work for us?” is the wrong question. The right question is: “If we’re not going the way we’d like to, how can our business be altered?” Companies must “get into synch with the new systems” if they want to survive
The new marketing is also transforming what we make and how we make it. He goes on to outline 14 trends that are “redefining what it means to be a marketer.”
New marketing is also demanding better products, better services and better organisations. So marketing no longer supports the organisation, the organisation must support the marketing. Godin says whether marketers like it or not, consumers are ignoring the old marketing of “interrupting subscribers” (that is, by advertising, TV inserts, knocking on doors to interrupt strangers, and so on).
Instead consumers are finally achieving what they’ve wanted all along – to be treated with respect and to be connected with other people. More and more of them are skipping advertisements. Indeed they’d rather interact with one other than watch TV.
He says the web is the single worst medium ever devised for interrupting people. It costs too much and simply doesn’t work. In other words, the Internet won’t let you do the old thing better; what it will do is find people to spread the word for you.
The Internet is the death of mass marketing, because advertising is no longer in charge, and its ‘big ideas’ no longer travel well. Distribution and marketing can no longer use leverage to create a barrier to entry on the part of potential competitors either. He goes to say that “You can’t afford to buy mass and to interrupt as many people as possible as cheaply as possible any longer. The big ad campaigns, mass advertising and so on in magazines with a claimed mass readership is too expensive and ineffective.”
The mass market is dying; micro media is thriving.
The interconnected world has also made it easy for consumers to become producers. People can make specialty things and find a market for them without needing shelf-space, middlemen or marketing. The Internet does its own marketing for them, and people looking for the remotest things can find them.
Godin says the Internet has also reversed the Bell Curve, (he interprets it as a graph of price versus volume). Previously the big lump in the middle (the bell) was the typical consumer buying average products at good prices (the mass market). Either side was the people to the left buying cheap regardless of quality, and the affluent on the right buying extremely high quality regardless of price.
The graph is now upside down, because the middle has become mediocre. There is no point buying ‘average’ because it is either over-priced or under-exclusive. The Internet allows the consumer to buy the best quality products at the cheapest possible prices. Networking very quickly kicks any faulty products out to touch so there is no space for cheap, but unreliable. At the other end of the spectrum are exclusive, high quality products. They are expensive, in limited supply, specially made or branded. So you either sell food as cheaply as possible, or as expensive and exclusive as you can make it. Stores sitting in the middle are now in serious trouble.
Another thing is the blogs. Why read a press release or a ‘vapid idea’ when you can enjoy real-time feedback from consumers via blogs who can tell you the real story about their experiences. Marketers can no longer control the story. With blogs now everyone’s a critic.
Far too many companies have created their own sites and tried to control the proposition. “To create a site for your company for your clients with the idea of keeping them there is a proposition that YouTube has proven as ridiculous,” he remarks. “You can no longer control the experience because there are too many networked communities out there sharing their own information. You either enter the public square and engage in conversation or you stay on your own web page and remain irrelevant.”
Tough talk, but from where we are sitting at Insurance Times & Investments and ITInews Online he’s making far too much sense to ignore. You’ve simply got to read this book (price R204).
It’s no longer divide and rule. The consumer is so tightly knitted together in the global community we call the Internet (with 3 billion pages of information and growing) that the new marketing requires you to engage, communicate and share. Producers must either be part of this or they will simply be ignored.
So it is no longer a case of giving people what they want, or what you think they want; you must ask them what they want and provide it. By Nigel Benetton

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:21.9 1st October, 2008
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