A Conversation with Francois Gossieaux

by Chris Kenton on June 19, 2008

Hi Francois

Thanks for replying to my post yesterday. I think we’re probably more aligned than not. We both think social media is a major phenomenon that requires marketers to behave differently, and we both think marketers must truly understand that difference, and not simply embrace social media techniques as a new way to implement the same old manipulative, message controlling tactics. That’s a good foundation.

I guess our main difference is our belief about ~what~ exactly has changed, and how that impacts marketing as a practice. Clearly the technology has changed, and has opened the floodgates to a higher degree of consumer participation in the shaping of brand image and purchase influence. But the imperative for companies to engage with customers directly, and to build meaningful relationships with customers has seen many iterations–including just in my career, one-to-one marketing and CRM as the prime examples. We can argue over the efficacy of these movements in *truly* developing customer intimacy, but I’d argue that the rules haven’t changed so much as the equipment used for playing the game. To me, it’s less of a radical shift than it is a transformative stage in an iterative process that’s been playing out for well over a decade. But certainly the tipping point is dramatic.

My caution in embracing the "radical change" bandwagon is that I believe marketing as a discipline is already dangerously light on grounding. Most marketers have no grasp of marketing history, which makes it not so surprising that as a profession we tend to flit from trend to trend. The effect is that minor trends are blown out of proportion (can I sell you some land in SecondLife?), and major trends like Social Media start to seem "old" to marketers after the excitement wears off. Marketers need a more grounded perspective on what’s going on, and I think that perspective comes from being clear about what’s changing, and where the fundamentals are holding true.

In my mind, a historical perspective shows clearly that social media represents a return to a broader balance of power between businesses and consumers that has existed since the beginning of commerce. The assymetrical control of communications technology by businesses in the past 150 years threw the relationship between companies and customers out of balance, but the commoditization of communication technology taking hold today is leveling the playing field once again. When I hold that perspective in view, it helps me put social media into a broader context, and helps me understand ~why~ this is happening, and how important–and in fact inevitable–it really is. It also helps me cut to the core of *why* people are compelled to connect online. It isn’t the brilliance of Facebook or Twitter. It’s a fundamental drive to share knowledge that helps us each make better decisions. That’s something anyone can understand, and which cuts through the trendy hype of Web 2.0.

On a side note, this is not the first time there has been a surge of interest in social phenomena. There was a huge interest in sociology in the mid-1900s, and the academic literature is packed with ideas that will undoubtedly gain new interest in the age of social media. Just as likely, a few years down the road, we’ll find ourselves moving on. The cycle keeps going.

I look forward to your thoughts. This is a great conversation to have online. 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

francois gossieaux June 20, 2008 at 6:58 am

Hi Chris,

I expanded on my original thought here – http://tinyurl.com/624wma.

I share your fear of marketing screwing things up once again – as they did with email marketing and many other things before. While the changes that are afoot are profound and in some cases maybe radical, the good news is that you can adjust without radical change.

What needs to happen is an appreciation of what the changes actually mean.

I’ll give you one example. As part of our research on how companies leverage communities (http://tinyurl.com/6xzdkn), we ran into a company that truly had passionate users who made up a vibrant community. Unfortunately the marketing department looked at the community as another “channel” through which to reach their customers and in essence spammed those passionate users with special promotions. Needless to say that they nearly killed the whole community.

That is why I think it is important to understand the changes that are upon us and to make sharp distinctions between what’s different and what’s not.

But in the end I agree with you that we are pretty well aligned :)


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