Why DIY?

In an article in Advertising Age about the 50 top marketing ideas of the past year I was interested in the comment about Facebook:
Facebook's growth really started to accelerate in May, when 23-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he would allow third-party developers to create applications for the site.

Mr. Zuckerberg saw the importance of providing valuable communication and entertainment services to Facebook's users. He gave developers the incentive to make money off their creations, and innovation -- and services for Facebook users -- exploded, making the social network a much more valuable place.

In a sense this kind of thinking flies in the face of most marketer's conventional ideas about their brands. The budget is something to be spent controlling the brand's presentation. I would go as far as to say that brand 'management' is actually brand 'control'. The question on the minds of many marketing managers is about how they can make (force) consumers to accept or adopt their idealised view of how their product fits into the prospective user's perceptions. For example, if a tile roof manufacturer sees a shift in the market towards flat, modernist roofing it is likely they will spend their resources trying to convince the market that flat roofs are wrong - though probably not directly. They might respond with a campaign to convince buyers and specifiers that traditional tiled roofing is stylish and sophisticated - new colours and textures etc. It would be ridiculous to suggest that the company simply go with the market and produce a genuinely modern product that reflected the wants and needs of the market because the investment in plant and equipment on which the jobs of hundreds of employees depend would be monumental. It is the rock and a hard place.
The marketing manager has a frustrating road ahead in these kinds of situations when marketing is an alternate term for sales, rather than the wholistic, company wide concept of marketing as described by Theodore Levitt.

Imagine the vinyl record business responding to the threat of Compact Disc by promoting the benefits of vinyl records.

Despite the continuous and significant improvements in both the price and the quality of long-playing vinyl records and stereo turntables - and despite the enormous investment consumers made in records and record players over the decades- the entire industry is well on its way to extinction (1991). The reason, of course is the advent of the compact disc technology. By 1989, just five years after they made their commercial debut, CDs were outselling vinyl records by a hefty margin that was growing wider with every passing day. Similarly demand of CD players had almost completely replaced the demand for conventional turntables.

The point is that simply making the best product is not enough. The excellence of typewriter technology did not cut much ice with consumers when relatively inexpensive word processors began to become widely available. Nor did nearly five hundred years of virtually continuous improvement in the design and manufacture of spring driven analog watches count for much when quartz crystal digital technology came along.

In short, …whether selling cars or clothing or computers or cat food, (you) are in the business of change. In a world where the nature of demand is infinitely plastic (that is, it is constrained only by the virtually unlimited ability of technology to make things cheaply enough), the businessperson must always be on the lookout for what is coming next-and what is coming after that.…there is no end to what people can, will and must have." Prof. Paul Zane Pilzer, Unlimited Wealth

One of the ways that moribund marketers can move forward (especially given the limitations of resources in a small market like New Zealand) might be to learn from Facebook. Rather than depend on your own genius to move forward, engage independent developers to help meet your needs. Make surprising connections - if your industry depends on heavy investment in plant and equipment it may be that software developers could help make profits in areas you have never imagined. I remember the story Tom Peters tells about the printing company who developed software that created operational efficiencies for their equipment. The firm then licensed their software to competitors. Not only did this ammortise the cost of development but it also funded the next iteration of the software. In effect the organsation was always one step ahead of their competitors.

Imagine being a paint manufacturer - what if you invited software developers into your business? Say they created a way for customers to scan an object, say a swatch of fabric, upload it to your site - software analyses the image and develops a range of colours that would compliment - either from a published range or from a customisable set. You produce a personalised paint sample swatch for the customer (who might be a pro, architect, interior designer etc, or a home renovator). The service might have a small fee attached to cover consumables but the return could be enormous. Putting aside controlled innovation - the real issue is what could an independent third party bring to your business that you might never have imagined?


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