Tuesday, April 25, 2006

mantra: postmodern marketing

Readers of ack/nak have no doubt been wondering when I'd get around to explaining what postmodern marketing is. Well, you and me both. I've been quietly dreading the day when I'd have to tell you why it's so important to me and my craft. Because it's a secret.

I'll avoid quoting the great minds of the movement, notably Stephen Brown, who has conveniently written not one (Postmodern Markteing) but two (Postmodern Marketing Two: Telling Tales) books on the topic. And a perfectly marvelous essay you can download and read right now.

I'll also try not to use the word phenominological more than once. Damn, that counted, didn't it.

Nor will I say anything about Bataille, Deleuze, Derrida, and Baudrillard, because none of them could sell their way out of a burning house with a bagful of halon. That and Wired already did quite a nice job of running them down for the modern short-attention-span reader.

Len Ellis is, however, fair game. Most of what he's written - or at least, what I've been able to find - is an obfuscatory fog that reads like it was generated by a program, but he scored points with me when he (or his article creation program) wrote:

Internet workers make their own contributions to this phenomenological marketing approach. Every reader knows the term "user experience" and its referent -- the relationship between human and machine software is designed to create and enable, whether in a browser, game machine, or kiosk. Some may know "flow" -- the state of psychophysiological well-being when one is engaged in self-controlled, goal-related, meaningful activity. Achieving flow is the mission of software design, especially but not exclusively game design. A few may know about "pattern design" -- a concept borrowed from architectural theory that posits a universal set of spatial experiences. A "cozy spot," a "sunny spot," -- hundreds of patterns articulate their distinctive human-spatial relationship. User experience, flow, and pattern design are among several concepts with which interactive designers try to grasp and shape the subjective dimension of human-machine interaction.

Wow! I'd have paid cash for that paragraph. Or for the program that wrote it. But I digress.

Programmers - at least the good ones - are all about flow. No surprise that the software industry treasures flow as one of its core values. It is the shared experience of those who give life to the entire movement. Those of us who don't breathe life into the code itself nonetheless live and work in their ex nihilo world, and golly, we like it.

Especially product marketing folks. Unfettered by the limitations of the real, we operate in a world of potential, exploiting the patterns of relationships we create with our colleagues, our customers, our competitors. Especially our customers. In a moment of lucidity Len described this when he wrote:
Today, we're prodded to leap into an age in which branded value is created by and emerges from staging and cocreating customer experiences.

Postmodern software marketers create reality through a special co-creating relationship with our customers. They imagine with us, and back at the shop, our ex nihilo philosopher kings make the dream real. Or at least, they progressively approximate the dream.

Then our customers tell us when we've got it right, or how to get it right. Because software consumers understand the fact that software is made out of dreams and inspiration through an iterative, collaborative process. They are themselves music-makers and dreamers of dreams, the same as the creators. When it comes to software, everyone creates - customers a little more slowly than programmers. Ergo the allure of shared-source - everyone gets to enjoy the flow.

Traditional marketing types froth at the mouth and run jibbering into the marsh when faced with the indeterminancy of the software "product" and the co-creator status of the software "consumer". Which is why good software marketing is, by nature, postmodern, and which explains why there is so little good software marketing. Because embracing the postmodern mind-set is hard. And, on the surface, a little flaky.

Here's the irony - if you're in the software business and you grok the postmodern mindset, odds are you're a programmer, becuase it's all about flow. If you don't grok the mindset, odds are you're a business type who understands the traditional (non-postmodern) mindset. This explains why most software marketing is out-of-touch with the essential wa of software.

Why have I kept this a secret? Postmodern software marketing principles help me to understand the secret heart of the (software) creator, both programmer and customer. That and it's hard to describe to anyone who hasn't experienced it for themselves.

Stephen Brown put it nicely when he wrote "the postmodern eschews straightforward explanations." This is why I started ack/nak - to try and explain it, over time. Poorly, no doubt, but hey, the honor is in the attempt.

(art credit: Now by Ed Ruscha)


Anonymous said...

Hmm, all I can say is that pomo sounds like nothing more than building a deeper relationship between you, your brand, and your customer. Two way conversations, living the life of your customer, putting the "target" segement at the center of everything you do. Some academics call it "Customer Advantage." You achieve this when customers value the benefits you provide, are willing to pay for them, and believe your brand is the one best able to deliver those benefits. Everyone talks about achieving competitive advantage (using a Porterian term) and building protective moats to deter the onslaughts of potential entrants or existing rivals. But competitive advantage simply ensures you make the sale, whereas customer advantage helps you achieve significantly higher margins. When you connect with the customer across the three paradigms of customer value: functional, economic, and psychological, then you've established a trust and depth that is extremely difficult for competitors to penetrate. Typically management kills this golden goose by forgetting what built the profitability in the first place.

Sometimes I think Marketers due to their own constant efforts to tear down the old and worship the new (which is honestly how many industries function) forget that what is old still offers the same value as an approach, even if you feel you have to dress it up in new flashy terms - but that clearly is what sells books and consulting services. The basics have always been the basics - customers buy because they trust you. This was how it worked in the local village market and it amazes me that people fall all over themselves when someone suddenly pronounces that markets are conversations. What did they think they were? They only stopped being that for the ignorant who believed themselves smarter than their customers and believed they could manipulate their segments into doing anything they wanted. What a crock.

bob said...

The basics of decency, honesty and fairness are as applicable today as they ever were. Scaling these is the big trick.

Marketing, at one level, is about perception management: about moving the rational and emotional state of an individual from A to B. How you do that, and the degree to which you engage the individual in the process, distinguishes the artist from the circus carny.

Postmodern marketing, especially in the software space, is about engaging the customer in the same sense of "flow" that the developers experience. When you're innovating, listening and adapting in real-time, and you're doing so around problems that are truly worth solving, you've transcended the old-school manipulative memes of traditional marketing in lieu of something different that isn't "marketing" anymore.