The year is 2023. Every product, every brand, is now owned by five mega corporations. The debate about saving the rest of our solar system from even antiquated, unabashedly imbecilic advertising quickly ended for Mars, when brand banners began popping up, visible from earth with the latest Apple iSee interplanetary viewer. I mean, billboards on Mars, visible from Earth? How avant garde.
The five mega corporations entered into an agreement whereby all competition was effectively stopped. This quickly led to the merger of all brands, under the cartel of the five companies. The sale of goods and services are carefully planned to maintain maximum capital intake, rendered immune from the buffeting winds of market uncertainty. Global consumption was now managed as a gigantic financial spreadsheet, not as a battleground for Mad Men.
How did this come about? And why?
Because several years before, marketing as we knew it became irrelevant. It reached its ultimate goal, and in doing so, sealed its own fate. The tools for controlling behavior based on personalized marketing through a complex combination of artificial intelligence, neural linguistic programming, data fingerprinting, social network modeling (including crowd bullying) and other tactics meant that marketers could understand completely how to make any individual, anywhere, buy whatever they were selling. They knew that the personalized campaign, via the personal iSee device, with its custom crafted subtle changes in eyebrow movements on the spokes model would literally force Mr. Naught to buy 10 more units of Alpha Block, in the popular rosemary and rue fragrance. Alpha Block, for those living in our Southern protected zone, is a topical cream used to block the effects of alpha emitting radioactive particulates. It was beyond the old adage of right place, right time, right message. It was perfect. And since every corporation had the same powerful technology, competition as the basis for advertising, disappeared. Advertising simply reverted to the most powerful bait ever invented. Compulsory participation. Marketing changed from a discipline designed to elicit desired changes in consumer behavior, to the tool used to mould behavior at will.
The marketing profession does have an ultimate goal. And that goal is to get as many people as possible to buy your stuff as often as possible, above and beyond your competition. Effectively, we want to eliminate the competition. Why else would we as a collective group of professionals constantly clamor for monitoring, measurement, ROI? I mean, isn’t this the natural conclusion? Isn’t that the mantra that we all allegedly draw with our collection of colored sand? Is that it?
Now step back to the present, 2011. We are living in a time when we have device fingerprinting, persistent cookies, slick email and web based marketing software, sophisticated monitoring and measurement capabilities out our kazoos. And yes, we are now putting pressure on the phenomena we call social media to cough up the goods. We have rooms literally full of data, stored in climate controlled, secure facilities. Robust disaster recovery built right into the mix, like red vermouth in a good Manhattan. In short, we are well on our way to achieving the goal of predicting and guiding individual consumer behavior.
Or are we? And is this such a good idea?
There are two things happening out there that should give every marketer reason to think about this in a somewhat different way.
As we see the world become even more connected, especially through highly personalized devices, the users are also becoming more discerning. Right now, many marketers are eyeing the gaming craze as the new secret sauce. And this will undoubtedly become another component in our quest for world domination. But folks just don’t like the feeling of being gamed, of having been played. This is the core of the content marketing pitch, as well as the low key storyteller hustle. And as the push to provide consumers with more data relevant to their behavior (and their demographic pool) gains momentum, this will place enormous pressure on marketers to somehow give them the real deal. And what is the real deal? It is something you as a marketer can’t really provide. Let them discuss, share, rant, sing. Just be there when they need you. You’ll be lucky if they do. Just stop trying so damned hard to throw the same old stuff out there. Stop it.
Sure, we will and should be always finding ways to better measure the results of our efforts as marketers. But what makes the phenomenon of social media fundamentally different is that we will reach a point at which in attempting to measure it, we will adversely affect the outcome. Thus, in some ways, we should be aware that the Uncertainty Principle, as proposed by Heisenberg, is a suitable allegory for how we should approach the event horizon of social media. Essentially, Heisenberg said that the act of measurement distorts the results of the measurement or observation. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be providing some markers to discuss with our CMO relative to ROI, but please think about knowing when to stop. Instead, start treating your customers, the marketplace, and the world at large as fundamentally intelligent human beings. Because they will catch on, and when they do, you have only yourself to blame for spoiling a beautiful thing.
And this isn’t 2023.
The hardest part for many corporations is the notion that they relinquish control. Control of the conversation (which historically has never been a conversation, but an oration). Measure, but don’t get caught in the uncertainty of a most certain demise.
“The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide” Fight Club