Marketing Mechanization

I’m working on some of the materials for my launch next week, and one idea broke out of my framework today. I’m not going to go into the entire framework now, it’s enough to say that I’m processin a lot of the meta ideas about marketing, its role in business, and its role in society.

There was a paper in the Journal of Marketing back in Summer 2003, called "From Market Driven to Market Driving: An Alternative Paradigm for Marketing in High Technology Industries", which was later published as a book. I don’t know how popular the book was, or how it was received in academia, but it had an interesting premise–that some companies lead markets by developing new technologies and compelling others to follow them, while other companies are driven by the market, especially by focusing on customer needs and responding to them. One company blazes a new path (often failing), while another follows in the market wake.

This is not an exclusively descriptive or prescriptive view of marketing. It’s an interesting filter through which to view a company’s activities, and it has some nice intersections with other corporate and marketing strategy theories–particularly the concepts of Positional vs. Resource-based Strategies. Some companies will naturally do better at one or the other approach, and the myriad other factors that contribute to success or failure will always obscure the degree to which adherence to a specific strategy actually determines an outcome. But that’s a thread for wonks.

What popped out at me today is a distinction that I don’t think is adequately explored by this paradigm, which is the Manufactured Market Leader–the company that embarks on a market leading course not because it truly has a visionary product it is convinced the market will adopt, but because it is convinced that it can sway the market despite the product–through partnerships, distribution, licensing, whatever.

It’s one thing for a couple of passionate engineers to leave their jobs, set up shop in a garage, and knock out a prototype that ignites the market because it is a transformational disruption. It’s quite another to try and manufacture a process that delivers the same result. For one thing, such attempts typically get captured by the "market-driven" paradigm, because finding the revolutionary product leads to a lot of market research and reactionary thinking. But the other effect is more troubling: a culture of marketing that is based neither in a true pioneer mindset, nor a true customer-engaging mindset, but a manufactured hybrid–a marketing approach that wants to artificially generate the benefits of successful pioneering–the wild fan base of acolytes–without taking the time or trouble to be responsive to the market. The symptoms are loud branding campaigns and highly aggressive lead-gen techniques, with poor customers service and short product lifecycles.

I realize this is probably more navel-gazing than most people enjoy on a Thursday afternoon, but’s a piece of a larger puzzle for me. It’s part of a series of observations about how marketing is evolving in different sectors, and how the increasing focus on marketing performance is creating a mindset of efficiency-driven mechanization. I’m not wringing my hands over it, as much as I’m amused to watch the equal-opposite trend continue to emerge–the growing power of consumers who are increasingly driving market decisions through information networks and greater scrutiny of marketing practices. I hope companies that are investing heavily in marketing mechanization aren’t under the illusion that their man behind the curtain will amaze the market forever.

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