Here are two big trends in marketing:
Trend 1. Companies organize programs around the customer. This is often called customer-centricity.
Trend 2. Customers are in charge of interactions. This also gets called customer-centricity.
When two phenomena get called by the same name—opportunities for merriment—and suffering—ensue.
Case 1—the occasionally obtuse but always interesting Harvard Business School Working Knowledge series. In Authenticity over Exaggeration: The New Rule in Advertising, Julia Hannah explores HBS professor John Deighton and Leora Kornfeld’s "Digital Interactivity: Unanticipated Consequences for Markets, Marketing, and Consumers." An extract:
5 new rules of digital interactivity:
• Thought tracing. Firms infer states of mind from the content of a Web search and serve up relevant advertising; a market born of search terms develops.
• Ubiquitous connectivity. As people become increasingly "plugged in" through cell phones and other devices, marketing opportunities become more frequent as well—and technology develops to protect users from unwanted intrusions. A market in access and identity results.
• Property exchanges. As with Napster, Craigslist, and eBay, people participate in the anonymous exchange of goods and services. Firms compete with these exchanges, and a market in service, reputation, and reliability develops.
• Social exchanges. People build identities in virtual communities like Korea’s Cyworld (90 percent of Koreans in their 20s are members). Firms may then sponsor or co-opt communities. A market in community develops that competes on functionality and status.
• Cultural exchanges. While advertising has always been part of popular culture, technology has increased the rate of exchange and competition for buzz. In addition to Dove’s campaign, Deighton cites BMW’s initiative to hire Hollywood directors and actors to create short, Web-only films featuring BMWs. In the summer of 2001, the company recorded 9 million downloads.
These 5 aspects show increasing levels of effective engagement in creating social meaning and identity, Deighton suggests, noting that the first 2 (thought tracing and ubiquitous connectivity) change the rules of marketing but don’t alter the traditional paradigm of predator and prey.
In the last 3 (property, social, and cultural exchanges), the marketer has to become someone who is invited into the exchange or is even pursued (as in the case of the BMW films) as an entity possessing cultural capital.
This is Trend 2 type customer-centricity–-recognizing that the consumer is actually in charge. It means moving away from a “predator and prey” model of control and one-way monologue, to a genuinely interactive two-way model of dialogue. In this model, the role of centralized control drops drastically, because the marketer and customer collaborate—even blend.
Hmmm. D’ya think that model might work in the analogue world too?
Case 2. Pharma Voice Magazine, The Forum for the Industry Executive: The Salesforce of the Future quoting Bill Pollock, CEO of Pharmagistics: An excerpt:
In the future [of pharma], salesforces will be much more focused, and they will have the ability to look at each touch point, determine what’s the most effective way of communicating with a practitioner, and do so in a personalized way.
As a result, marketers will have to integrate their sales and marketing efforts into everything they do, treating each and every touch point as part of their total sales and marketing mix. This includes their e-portals, inside telesales efforts, Internet-based virtual sales reps, literature, and direct-mail programs—all of these tactics will be considered a part of the entire salesforce effort and must be integrated via the entire marketing program.
Such a trend would mean that pharma companies will need the ability to track everything that is done and monitor the impact of their efforts on their prescribing customers.
This is Trend 1 type customer-centricity. It retains the predator-prey model and focuses on making sure all the guns are pointed in the right direction—at the customer. The problem is perceived as one of alignment and control. The new world isn’t qualitatively different, this model says, just quantitatively more complex. It retains the focus on centralized control because it’s still an us-vs.-them view of the world. It is restricted to the first two levels in the HBS piece—there is no conception of becoming "someone who is invited into the exchange or is even pursued…" much less of becoming "an entity possessing cultural capital." This kind of "customer-centricity" is not collaborative. It is customer-centric in the way a vulture is customer-centric—laser-focused on its prey.
The confusion around the term “customer-centric” isn’t just a matter of definition or market power. Marketing is only one battlefield in a much larger contest between a network-driven commerce-based view of the world and a command-and-control-driven competition-based view of the world.
Life imitates art. Sometimes we learn more about the analogue world by observing pale avatars in the digital realm.