The Death of Mass Marketing?

CHICAGO -- Too many companies and marketers are spending too much of their time on graphics and other elements with little regard to determining if the marketing is working in sync with the products or services they are offering, Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing and Meatball Sundae, told an audience a the Search Engine Strategies 2007 Conference & Expo here on Tuesday. "If you're going to reach the masses, you had better have something the masses want to buy," he told the crowd. "Seven years ago, no one heard of 'search,' " Godin said. But companies that had dominated the pre-search world did not learn to take advantage of the new technology, he said: If they had, Yellow Pages, rather than Google, would dominate search; Christie's or Sotheby's would operate the most popular auction site, not eBay. Rather than focusing on providing mass products for mass customers, many companies are better served by providing highly customizable or individual products and services, Godin told attendees. He called the approach "the long tail," a phrase coined by former Wired editor Chris Anderson in 2004 to reflect the image produced on a chart detailing product sales over time: Initial sales are all bunched at the far left of the chart, but highly customizable products continue to sell as the chart moves to the right. So companies that provide individuals with more choices, such as eBay, will do much better than will companies with fewer choices, such as Ford. Companies that market successfully via the Web -- such as eBay, among others -- recognize increasing customer power, Godin said. These companies address the customers' need for speed, responding quickly to customer service issues while also recognizing that customers have more power to influence opinion than ever before due to blogs and other readily available information sources. So companies must be able to tell "authentic" stories -- customers no longer will succumb to simple hype. Consumers' attention spans are short, Godin added -- so the marketing messages need to be as well. Even though the average YouTube video lasts five minutes, the average viewing time is only 10 seconds, he said. Search has also enabled customers to find individual items -- including single, hard-to-find items -- rather than needing to buy bundled products. A business model contingent on product-bundling for profit will not be as successful in this era of search. Another notable finding, according to Godin: Firms that cater to the wealthy tend to be more successful than those who sell to the masses. Similarly, successful companies are the ones that aren't focusing on the volume of products or services they sell, but to whom they sell the products. Marketers also need to recognize that outsourcing is a fact of life in most businesses, and should evaluate in-house processes to determine if any might make more sense as an outsourced function. Many repetitive tasks are easy to outsource, according to Godin. Marketers, he said, should consider these trends -- and the changes they should make as a result -- at their next business meeting. Too often, such ideas are put off because other issues come up, so firms tend to stay with their old marketing messages even though the audience they're marketing to has changed in many fundamental ways.

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