Introduction: The Consumer Revolution

The fact that you picked up this book and are thumbing through its pages says something about you. It might mean that you have an odd fixation with the human navel, in which case I recommend a good psychologist or meditation instructor. It might mean that you thought this was a funny name for a book and were intrigued with what it was all about. However, it might also mean that you realize that business is changing rapidly and it is important to understand the trends that drive marketing today. If it is the latter, then welcome – you have come to the right place.

Marketing From the Navel has nothing to do with lint, strange piercings, or even citrus. If you have ever enjoyed the pleasure of working in corporate America, sooner or later you come across the phrase “navel-gazing”. The term actually comes from the practice of Omphaloskepsis, which is the act of contemplating one’s navel as an aid to meditation. This term is often leveled at those who are a bit too self-absorbed or in reference to some sort of strategic planning process, such as, “We’re going to an off site planning meeting to do some navel-gazing.” In the context we will use in this book, navel-gazing is the practice of deep self-reflection and is the first step in the process of becoming self-aware as an organization.

So this brings about the natural question, “What does this have to do with marketing?” I am glad you asked. Marketing doesn’t work like it used to. It used to be that a catchy tagline or a snappy jingle was enough to sell a product. It used to be that simply showing the new features of your product could make most consumers salivate. It used to be that running a commercial simultaneously on ABC, NBC, and CBS in the 1960’s could reach 80 percent of American women. It is simply not the case any more. Marketing has changed more in the last 5 years than it had in the previous 50. Today we hear terms like social media, viral videos, social tagging, blogging, user generated content, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, crowd sourcing, and the list goes on.

According to the US Department of State, there are over 11,000 magazines in print in America. In fact, these magazines “circulate more copies than there are Americans to read them!” This is not to mention the thousands of newspapers, catalogs, and other printed publications currently in circulation. Anyone with cable or satellite knows there are hundreds of television stations to choose from, even more if you have any sort of deluxe package (and we still say “there’s nothing to watch”). Throw in HD radio, satellite radio, and Internet radio and there are hundreds of radio stations. Even Google indexes over 4 billion web pages. What was once an easily accessible consumer is now anything but.

Media has become so fragmented that advertisers have decided to spray you with as much of their advertising as possible in hopes that something sticks, otherwise known as shotgun marketing. Depending on your source, you will find that the average consumer is exposed to anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 ads per day (those living in urban centers are higher on the spectrum). If you were to remember the 1% of ads that advertisers expect, that would be 30-50 ads. Personally, I would struggle to even name one. According to a 2004 Yankelovich study, 65% of us believe advertising is out of hand. I would guess that number is even higher now – 6 years later. When there are ads above the urinal, within a video game, and in the bottom of the security trays at the airport, there is too much advertising. So how do consumers react?

To begin with, they go away from the traditional media sources that serve up advertising en masse. According to a March, 2009 report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, circulation was down a record 7% for the six months ending March 31, 2009 for the nation’s largest daily newspapers. Even Sunday circulation is down 5.3%. We have also seen an explosion of advertising avoidance technologies over the last 5 years, such as satellite radios, digital music players, DVRs (or Tivos for you loyalists), e-book readers, and a myriad of websites that allow anyone to consume content void of any interruptions by companies wishing to hawk their wares. We are now willing to pay so we no longer have to listen to your pitch.

This brings us back to the original question, what do navels and marketing have in common? If you were thinking about the latest beer commercial, then you’re missing the point. With the marketing landscape in such pandemonium, we need to drastically re-think how we attract, approach, and engage with consumers. Marketing From the Navel is a new paradigm, one that requires an inside out approach. Consumers today demand transparency, honesty, and realism from any brand before they will vote with their hearts and wallets. Organizations today, if they want to compete, need to step back and do some serious soul searching, or navel-gazing, before they can identify what they genuinely have to offer the marketplace. Only then will their message resonate. Only then will they be able to move beyond just a transactional relationship with their customers. Only then will they truly be organizations worth talking about.

The Evolution of the Revolution
I know no better term to describe this shift in power than a revolution. Revolutions have littered human history as the tired, the worn, and the downtrodden have risen up and taken back control of their lives. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, and even the Bolshevik Revolution are prime examples of the disadvantaged masses exercising their right to self-governance. As Wikipedia (a revolution itself) defines it, “A revolution… is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.
The consumer movement we see taking place today is most accurately defined as a revolution. There is a change in power structure occurring right before our eyes and many businesses are choosing to fight and ignore rather than embrace and engage. In fact, on December 13, 2006, Time Magazine named its person of the year…You. Or better put, Us. We changed history. According to Lev Grossman’s article, “It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.” 

The fact is this change in power structure is not new. It rivals major changes in thought throughout history including the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. These revolutions typically occur as a result of “disruptive technology”, or some innovation that fundamentally changes the marketplace or even society as a whole. In the case of the aforementioned cultural shifts, these have all been a result of disruptive technology that improves access in some way or another – access to information, access to knowledge, or even access to each other.

There are three major revolutions that have fundamentally changed the way we as marketers engage consumers. The first of these is is what I like to call the Knowledge Revolution. The disruptive technology that changed the world: the Gutenberg Printing Press 

Before the printing press, the collective knowledge of humanity was held by a select few. Books were created through a laborious handwritten or block printing process, therefore, there were only a few of them in existence, they were extremely expensive, and they were well guarded. The 15th century marked the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press that would forever change the access that the general public had to the collective knowledge of the ages. In fact, by 1500 (a mere 60 years later), more than 20 million volumes had been produced. The famed philosopher, scientist, and statesman, Sir Francis Bacon, went as far as to say, “Printing, gunpowder and the compass… these three have changed the the appearance and state of the whole World.”

It is no coincidence that the Renaissance coincided with the invention of the Printing Press. With the proliferation of movable type, books and knowledge could be mass produced and mass consumed, creating a revolution in the education of the masses. This democratization of knowledge also laid the foundation for the knowledge-based economy which is so ubiquitous today.  

The second revolution is what I call the Information Revolution. The disruptive technology that changed the world: the Television.

Although the radio was the first mass communication device, the television was right behind it and ushered in an entirely new level of information. It is as the old saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Now scenes from all over the world could be broadcast instantaneously into millions of homes. Ordinary citizens had access to images that before, were seen by only the select few. The Apollo Moon landing, The Tiananmen Square massacre, and the fall of the Berlin Wall became vivid reality, not just imagination. Simply put, we became aware of the world around us.

Introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair, television also provided an incredible opportunity to reach mass audiences with marketing messages unlike any medium before it. During the decade of the 1950s alone, the percentage of homes with a television grew from 10 percent to 90 percent. For 50 years, television ruled as the primary medium for marketing. In fact, advertising became synonymous with the 30 second spot and advertising agencies became giant conglomerates fed by commissions from buying time on television to show their spots.

With advertisers firmly in control of America’s primary entertainment medium, another revolution became only a matter of time. It was inevitable that Joe Public would eventually stand up, say “that’s enough,” and change the power structure. The third revolution is what I call the Consumer Revolution. The disruptive technology that changed the world: the Internet (with search engines being the primary access point)

In this case, as the famous song goes, “The revolution will not be televised.” With the advent of the Internet, consumers had unprecedented access to information. As Richard Saul Wurman said in his 1989 book, Information Anxiety, “A weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in seventeenth-century England.” In addition, a 1987 report estimated that “more new information has been produced within the last 30 years than in the last 5000.” Think about how much more information has been produced between 1987 and today. Wurman obviously didn’t foresee the explosion of blogging, YouTube, or even Wikipedia.

The effects of the consumer revolution are many, but they can typically be grouped into 3 specific categories: education, choice and control. Consider for a moment how the Internet has changed how we shop: 

  • I can walk into a car dealership with the exact price the dealer paid for the car – including rebates
  • I can compare prices in a local camera shop instantaneously with hundreds of other retailers across the world, both online and off
  • I can read hundreds of reviews of a product or service that will inform me of almost any issue that I might have during its use
  • As an advertiser, I had better have my facts straight or thousands of deputized detectives will uncover the deception
Or how we get our news:
  • I can research any media story to see if the journalist is telling the entire truth or omitting key facts so that the story reads according to his or her own political leanings
  • Most news stories are scooped long before they end up on the evening news or in the newspaper the next day
  • On January 15th, 2009 just after 3 pm, US Airways flight 1549 crash landed in the Hudson River and within 10 minutes I had not only heard about the crash, but had seen cellphone pictures
We have access to information at the speed of thought and are connected globally in ways that were never thought possible. With modern advancements and the advent of social media, or participative technologies, anyone can share their knowledge with billions of people around the world instantly. Whether you are musing about the geo-political effects of the World Trade Organization on Western Africa or filming yourself lighting flatulence on fire, you can now share your inner most thoughts and antics with anyone interested enough to become a subscriber. After the June, 2009 Iranian elections were heavily disputed and protesters took to the streets, it was not the state-controlled news agencies that provided coverage but citizen journalists with Twitter accounts. In fact, the US State Department asked Twitter to postpone its schedule maintenance in order to avoid any disruption in the coverage. 

There are people with whom I am connected on my LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter profiles whom I have never met but who live in various countries around the world. I am fascinated by the depth of knowledge I have access to just in my own personal networks. Many of these people have blogs (which I try and read as often as I can) and when I have a cultural or subject matter question, they are more than accommodating. Advancements in social media have done more to accelerate globalization than any government, organization, or treaty.

However, the Internet offers consumers something else that is even more compelling than just information and education, yet wasn’t previously available – choice. We now have within our power the ability to control what information we receive, how much of it to receive, and when we will receive it. The Internet made technologies like DVRs and digital music players possible, it offers television content without any of those pesky commercials, and it delivers billions of pages of content with the simple click of a mouse. Consumers have leveraged this powerful new weapon to take back control of their lives and the traditional media is only starting to feel the effects of this seismic shift.

As marketers, this shift has forced us to fundamentally change how we sell to consumers. We can no longer talk at them with one way sales pitches, but we must talk with them. With access to so many resources, it is consumers who determine when, where, and how to use our product or service – or whether to use it at all. You have often heard that an unhappy customer will tell 10 people on average. Now that can literally become millions with this giant megaphone called the Internet. They control the message, the medium, and our brands and our job as marketers has largely become facilitating and participating in conversations.

The 4 Ps

In 1960, a concept was introduced by E. Jerome McCarthy that identified the four basic tenants of marketing as Product, Price, Place, and Promotion or, as it is more commonly known, the 4 Ps. Anyone who has ever taken a marketing class from then until now is taught the 4 P’s as the basic overview of marketing. These simple questions are what make up the basis of marketing:

  • What kind of product are we going to produce?
  • What is the right price for this product?
  • How are we going to distribute this product?
  • How are we going to promote and sell this product?
The purpose of McCarthy’s model was to further the understanding that marketing is much more than selling and advertising. In actuality, Selling and advertising only make up the promotion component of McCarthy’s model. According to McCarthy in his book Basic Marketing: A Global-Managerial Approach, “The aim of marketing is to identify customers’ needs – and to meet those needs so well that the product almost sells itself.” Easy enough, right?  

The problem is that today many marketers are declaring the 4 P’s dead, or at least no longer relevant. There are many marketers who have even added more P’s to the mix, such as people, process, or physical presence. The big question is can any product almost sell itself, or are there other critical factors in the new reality of the consumer movement?

The Missing Ingredient

While the 4 Ps offer a good basic framework for understanding the all encompassing nature of marketing, they are missing one key ingredient that has been made blatantly apparent by the consumer revolution – the consumer’s involvement in the process. The 4 Ps are segmented like an organizational chart, chopping up the functions of marketing in 4 bite-size chunks. But what about the fickle nature of the consumer? What if what meets their needs well one day doesn’t the next? What if your product is priced correctly, but so are the other 153 options on the market? What if the best person to design your product is the consumer? What if the consumer discovers your product is manufactured in sweat shops in India by 8 year-olds because someone walked in with a camera phone and then posted it on YouTube, their blog, and their Facebook page? How do you account for the consumer’s participation in the process?

As I mentioned before, the world has changed since advertising’s glory days in E. Jerome McCarthy’s 1960s. However, many marketers have not. I have had the opportunity on many occasions to guest lecture in a university marketing class or judge a high school or college marketing competition and am disappointed, to say the least, to see that our marketing education has not kept pace with the changing nature of marketing. It has been my experience that marketing educators still spend the majority of their time on the 4 Ps (with some attention paid to segmentation) and then dive into advertising. Some might say that this is due to the fact that so few educators are practicing marketers within the wild west of the last 5 years and some might even say it is a flaw in the system.

According to the existing system, educators lump this new reality of the consumer revolution into “interactive marketing”, because a significant portion of it occurs online. What they fail to see is that we need to re-address the underlying models upon which marketing is based. It goes beyond adding more “Ps”, but needs to address the new reality that we as marketers face today. While the 4 Ps highlight the four basic job functions of marketers, we need a model that helps us understand the X factor that the consumer plays in the marketing process. We need a model that helps us connect with and engage the consumer in ways that they are most comfortable with. We need a model that helps cut through the clutter that exists in the commoditized markets in which we compete by tapping into the ability of human beings to influence each other.

Strategy First, Then Tactics

I have a favorite saying by the famed war strategist, Sun Tzu, that says, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” In the marketplace today, there is a lot of noise. Anyone who learns how to use Facebook is all of the sudden a social media “expert” and the bookstore shelves are littered with publications giving their take on what this new reality means from a marketing perspective. Most of this literature tries to tell you what is going on in the market but few give you the tools to do something about it.

If you were looking for a Twitter or Facebook “tips and tricks” book, then you have come to the wrong place. There are plenty of excellent publications available that will help you hone your skills in one particular technology or another. There are some publications that will give you a task list (i.e. “write a blog”, then post it on Facebook, then Tweet about it). Others will give you a list of rules for online etiquette.

Stephen Covey talks quite a bit about “paradigms” in his writings, such as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A paradigm is a mental map, or the way in which we see the world. He uses the analogy of an iceberg to illustrate that the tip of the iceberg is our behaviors or our attitudes. If we want to make small changes in life, we work on the tip of the iceberg. However, if we want to make large, quantum changes, we work on the mass of the iceberg beneath the water, which is our character.

At one time, the common belief was that the world was flat. It took a few brave sailors to prove otherwise. Likewise, it is rumored that back in 1981, the great Bill Gates pronounced that “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” It didn’t take long to prove himself wrong. When we live under a certain paradigm, we are limited by the self-imposed constraints of our perceptions. It is as Blaine Lee states in his book, The Power Principle, “The principles you live by create the world you live in; if you change the principles you live by, you will change your world.”

I believe organizations work the same way. For so many years, we have operated under a certain paradigm. The industry as a whole has been making small changes by simply changing their tactics or their attitude about the consumer revolution. We have merely added social media or viral marketing as new arrows in our quiver. I want to do more than change your list of tactics, I want to change your paradigm. I want to change the way you think about marketing.

Secondly, while much is changing in marketing there are a few things that don’t. That may sound like a contradiction. You most likely hear a lot of “noise” in the marketplace about new marketing tactics and how the old ways are dead. The Internet bubble of the late 1990s taught us many lessons about hype versus substance. The biggest lesson of all was that core business principles don’t change, but remain constant. For example, you still need a business plan that will generate revenue at some point (being bought out for millions of dollars because you have a lot of users doesn’t count). Also, cash is still king, and the faster you burn through your venture capital money, the faster you will make it to the unemployment line. This is the reason is still growing, yet is a mere sock puppet memory. The Internet bubble taught us that though the delivery mechanisms may change, the core principles stay the same.

While there is significant hype about new forms of marketing, whether it be new media, word-of-mouth, or simply new places to plaster ads (i.e. cell phones, urinals, bases in baseball stadiums), there is a risk in all the hype. People are again forgetting the basic principles of marketing that still apply and are more important than ever. Like core principles in the universe (i.e. do unto others as you would have them do unto you), there are core principles in marketing that never change – despite the tactics. Many of the technology tools available today, such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn didn’t even exist 5 years ago. The tools may change, but if you apply some of these core principles to the new paradigm you can be successful no matter what the hot new technology or tactic is.

In the following pages, you will hear familiar terms, such as “positioning”, “customer segmentation”, and “customer experience”. Do not be alarmed! These are simply some of the core principles of marketing that, when applied correctly in the new paradigm, are just as powerful and more relevant than ever.

In this book, I introduce two separate models. The first model will help you develop a company worth talking about. This is the strategy component. Before you do anything online or off, you have to create something worthy of our attention, worthy of our passion, and worthy enough to pass along. Otherwise, you will merely create the “noise before defeat.” The second model takes the buzz-worthy organization you have now created, and shows you how to deputize your own customers to take your message out and spread the word. This is the tactical component that will help you achieve a quick “route to victory.”

There were many who were too comfy in the existing power structure and existing paradigm. Marketers controlled the message, the medium, and the content. Today, they are no longer in the conversation, and that elicits great fear in executive corridors and ad agency war rooms. However, those that embrace and implement the following models and principles will find that it is an amazing time in our profession. Never before have we been able to engage with each consumer on a one-to-one basis. Never before have we had the key influencers in our target market gathered together in a central location. Never before has a message been able to spread so quickly.

All you need are the tools… the tools of the revolution.


2 thoughts on “Introduction: The Consumer Revolution

  1. Magnificent post, very informative. I ponder why the other experts of this sector don’t understand this. You must continue your writing. I am sure, you’ve a great readers’ base already!|What’s Going down i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered It absolutely useful and it has helped me out loads. I am hoping to give a contribution & aid different customers like its helped me. Great job.

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