By The Books

26 06 2012

One of the challenges in teaching a course in Evolutionary Marketing is figuring out how to blend the new with all of the old that has gone before. It would be inappropriate to focus only on the new (in spite of there being an abundance of it), nor would it be appropriate to lean too heavily on the old. Somewhere in the nebulous middle ground there exists a happy balance, a place where both coexist in the right measure, one complementing the other. After all, the goal is to get people to buy more stuff, and it is imperative that we use what works…whatever that might be.

Equally challenging is finding books that strike this balance. This summer we have used Martin Lindstrom’s Brandwashed, and Dan Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness. The former, while summoning every modern tool of the trade, focuses on the age-old concept of getting consumers sucked into the brand, while the latter jumps into the deep end of the social media pool and explains how ideas go viral.

Having done a lot of research lately on controversial topics, companies and organizations that bore the brunt of virality (e.g., Lowe’s, Susan G. Komen and Facebook’s Timeline feature), I have a much deeper appreciation for how things can get out of hand. Fast.

I was deeply enamored of Lindstrom’s final chapter in which he re-created the fictional movie account of The Joneses, except he did it in real life. He noted a lot of interesting influences we exert on one another. While we have always known that WOM (word-of-mouth) was powerful, it is when we take this notion and plug it into the social graph that things get interesting.

Lindstrom observed that males and females respond differently to peer influence. Women tend to be more egalitarian, and are more likely to consider the inputs of virtually all others in their social circle, while men are more likely to question another man’s authority and only accept input if that other person is indeed deemed to know that of which he speaks. But men and women alike are both influenced by others…it’s just that we are influenced differently, and regarding different product categories.

Now consider Facebook. I have begun to notice more and more “personalized” sponsored stories showing up both on my Wall and my phone. Invariably, these feature my friends, and in some cases even show their profile pics. “John Doe likes New Belgium Brewing” may greet me the next time I check in.

And God only knows how many times my liking has shown up on the devices of people I call my friends. Actually, I pity them, because I have over 400 likes. I’m sure my friends really don’t want to know all the pages I have “liked” simply because I was intrigued by their social media strategy and not their products.

Still, those little sponsored stories are the 2012 equivalent of Lindstrom’s little wine-and-cheese parties, or guys gathering ’round the workbench. They are endorsements…and we never even knew we were making them.

Worse yet (or better yet, if you are Facebook), FB is selling our likes to companies so they can be the conduit of these glowing endorsements. Typhoid Mary should have been so efficient. And profit-centered.

The long and short of it all, though, is that we still live in the balance of modern and traditional marketing techniques. We still need brand managers whose task is to get our jaws flapping about products. We still have to advertise and communicate. But we do it differently.

I have enjoyed reading both of these books this year, and hope that my students will hang on to them (whether in print or e-book format). There’s a lot hanging in this precarious balance, and companies who simultaneously understand the past and present are those best poised to survive into the future. And perhaps one of my students will write the book telling us how it all happened.

Dr “Brand Aid” Gerlich

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