Saturday, April 26, 2008

Is target marketing dead?

I’m reading a terrific book by John Berendt, former editor of the New York Magazine also known for his marvelous book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Set in Venice, Italy this somewhat autobiographical story, The City of Falling Angels, deconstructs the true events that surround the devastating 1996 fire that destroyed Venice’s historic Fenice opera house. In one particular scene the author tells a delightfully comic tale of an evening he spent reveling at a Bacchanalian Carnivale in the company of the mysterious Massimo Donovan, the creator of—in his own words—“the world’s best rat poison.”

Unlike the poison of his competitors, what makes this rat poison so effective, its culinary creator contends, is that it is concocted of cuisine that is corollary to the region where it is sold. “’My competitors approach rat poison the wrong way,’ he said. ‘They study rats. I study people… Rats eat what people eat.’” Essentially Signor Donovan adapts his rat poison to match the food preferred by the culture where he sells the poison; for Germany, he makes poison that is 45% pork fat, for France he includes a lot of butter, for India he adds curry, and for America he uses “vanilla, granola, popcorn, and a little margarine.”

This story represents an amazing adaptation of the traditional theory of target marketing: the technique marketers use to categorize their audience into demographic buckets to market to them more effectively. The methodology maintains that the more marketers understand their customers—by lumping them together into easily defined categories like homemaker, teenager, or the “Ward Cleaver” father figure—the better able a company is to make certain assumptions about them including what like what they like, listen to, or look at. This purportedly provides clues that help companies determine where to advertise and how to craft their messages so they will resonate best with each target market.

But the new internet age, and its evolution into one giant social network, calls into question this long-valued and oft-touted marketing strategy of old. As Chris Anderson eloquently captured in his book The Long Tail, the ubiquitous 24/7 online access provided by the net has opened us up to a wider variety of movies, music, and media than ever before. And because of the diversity of available content on the web and in the world around us, and the ease with which we can access it, we are no longer a generation of predictable personas.

What I mean is that very few folks fall into simple stereotypes these days and I’m a perfect example of that. For instance, I’m a mom. But that isn’t my entire identity. I’m also a thirty-something professional woman, a political activist, a writer of six different blogs, a generous non-profit supporter, a lover of New Orleans funk music, and an addict of the online “game” Second Life. So I dare anyone to lump me into a category. C’mon, I dare ya!

The point I’m making is that marketing has changed—majorly! In this post post-modern, mashed-up, media-savvy era where viral voices and mavens influence what’s hot or not, the techniques we marketing professionals practiced in the past no longer apply. Sure elements of them can still be part of our toolbox. But if we don’t think differently and acquire some new tools and skills that help us adapt in the ways we reach our constantly connected customer base, we run the risk of becoming irrelevant or worse.


Anonymous said...

When you consider your traditional web site marketing strategy I am confident that targeted marketing still must play a key role. At least for the foreseeable future.

We (people pushing social media) are so entrenched in our attempts to control this new transmedia world, that we forget our traditional websites exist.

Like any trend you will always have a sites that lag behind, and while I think sites that include community (or social networking) support will rise - we need to continue to support existing site visitors. Visitors that have not caught on to the shift and are not willing to have a public profile but still have tangible likes and dislikes.

Maybe what will happen is that websites will reach out to social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to determine your "likes" and "dislikes" instead of what content you visit.

chas said...

You dared me to create a category that would describe you. Well, here's the category: CURIOUS.
OK, it's broad, but it also describes a thread common to all you do and your style about everything you touch. It's what differentiates you from our current political leadership. It sums up why you have been successful where others have failed. It is a foundation for creativity. It is an orientation to information rather than a lifestyle or geo-eco-ethno-whatever.
What I like about your rat poison story is that it is a great example of reframing teh question. Questioning the categories that we use to box our comprehension into manageable containers. Thinking outside the famous box is not difficult if you can delete your assumptions, recognize and overcome your patterns, and most importantly, overcome inertia that expects the future to be a mirror image of the past.

naturelimit said...

I have to agree with you. The most important factor in marketing is targeting.

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