Business Tech: Marketing - Part 3


Joe walks into a computer store and says to the employee, "I need a memory stick." The girl at the desk now begins to guess. Does he mean Memorystick, which is a Sony-specific technology used in cameras and other devices? Does he mean a stick of memory, which is a slang term for the populated daughter boards used to add internal memory? Most likely, he means a USB flash drive. Joe is not a good example of Marketing's third M: Modification.

Sally, however is a model of modification. She goes to the sales associate (because show knows they aren't just employees, they are sales associates) and says: "I need a PNY flash drive, 4 GB, in blue." She's also been known to insist on "Boar's Head Salami." Getting Joe to do what Sally does is a core goal of all Marketing — making you talk in product names and brand names.

Obviously, commercials play a huge role in this sort of modification, but there are other forces at work. The most powerful is word of mouth. When dad calls all music players 'iPod', then junior will use the term when he looks to buy one. When mom asks you if you could pick up the Hi-C, you don't look at the other fruit drinks even though she meant it generically.

Certain groups have truly made their lingo our lingo. We often don't even realize where some of our words and phrases originate. How many people realize that "garage" is a French word that English borrowed? How often have you heard "on the level" or "giving the third degree" without knowing that these terms come from the Freemasons? Or perhaps you are Jewish and say "Zizen Peseach" without knowing that it was originally a matzoh slogan and not a normal way to acknowledge Passover? Maybe you've offered someone a Kleenex even though Marcal actually made the tissue you are holding.

Can you Xerox a Xerox on a Xerox?

That last bit is an example of modification going too far. Kleenex has become so synonymous with the word tissue that they run the risk of losing exclusive right to the brand name. Once a brand makes the journey from pseudo-word to common word, the owner is forced to cede control of it. That's why Xerox has been known to put out ads in writing magazines asking people to stop using Xerox as a synonym for photocopy.

Google even parodied this phenomenon on April 1st of this year. Anyone going to their site on that day was treated to their new logo 'Topeka' and could click through to a story about how Google was changing their name to Topeka. In the middle of the story, near the part about their joint effort to colonize Mars, was a warning that it was improper usage to say, "I topeka'd him on Alta Vista."

The People are Revolting

Of course, we all think of ourselves as independent thinkers, and while we all know that advertising and other marketing activities impact our actions, we hate to think that they have that much influence. The sad fact is that they do.

Tune into Jon Stewart and count the number of times he runs a clip of a Fox News anchor saying something followed by a clip of a Fox News viewer expressing the same opinion word-for-word. Of course, I'm not one of those mindless zombies, I just quote Jon Stewart verbatim... wait... oh. To be fair, a lot of this sort of parroting comes from us pre-selecting our brain washers. People don't just mindlessly repeat anything. They mindlessly repeat things said by people they generally agree with on multiple topics. So, we aren't being zombies. We are selectively using professional talking heads as our personal speech writers.

The People are Revolving

That last sentence is something we in Marketing call spin. Taking a negative and rephrasing it as a positive is not new. I was once discussing database technologies with a friend, and he asked about a certain functionality. I pointed out that the database in question couldn't be made to do that, and he corrected me. "It's not that it can't do it, it's that people who use this database are protected from having to do that."

I was in a meeting once where it was suggested — as a negative — that the U2 User Group was giving a voice to people who use the product but have stopped paying maintenance. I responded with, "Sure. But to get the features and updates they are proposing, they'll have to go back on maintenance. We are giving you a focus group and a chance to regain existing customers." Clif Oliver, who was sitting in on the meeting, started laughing so hard that he nearly choked. He knows spin when he hears it.

This last example clearly illustrates that spin is not lying or even misrepresenting. Everything I said was true, on point, and won the argument in my favor. Everything in the opposing view was equally true. Now some people do try to label their lies as spin, but that doesn't make spinning and lying synonymous. After all, they are a bunch of liars.

Back to IT

For those who remember that this is a Business Tech article, we should discuss how Tech plays a role in all of this. Obviously, modification needs re-enforcement. So, look at the web, look at the printed literature, look at everything your system generates that ends up in the customer's hands. It all needs to tell a consistent story. If any part of that story includes IT deliverables, then you have to look at those as well. Often IT is the product, or is part of the product. This is the so-called Information Economy. So we have to make sure that our contribution to the whole meets not only the need but also the message.

We have to support all three of the M's to support Marketing's objectives. We have to adjust as their plans adjust. And that's why I wrote this on a gleaming MacBook Pro in picturesque Westin Hotel while sipping Dr. Pepper, instead of pounding it out on a computer while drinking soda in my room.


Charles Barouch is the CTO of HDWP, Inc. He is also a regular contributor to International Spectrum Magazine, a former Associate Editor for both Database Trends and for Gateways Magazine, a former distance learning Instructor for CALC. He is presently the Past President of the U2UG. Mr. Barouch has presented technology and business topics in front of hundreds of companies, in a wide range of product and service categories. He is available for on-site speaking and consulting engagements in and out of the United States.

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May/Jun 2010