Is Mass Marketing Dead Essays

Most people -- including most salespeople -- have an inherent distrust of being sold. And the more purpose driven our work is, the more we tend to wish we could just avoid all that "sales and marketing stuff." For example, most non-profits see fundraising as a necessary evil, and most service professionals wish their clients would "just show up."

Not because sales is inherently bad. But because they've been trained that selling means taking.

This isn't irrational. It's the natural result of growing up in a culture driven by mass marketing. Think about it. When you open your mailbox, what do you get? Unwanted advertising. When you turn on your TV? Unwanted advertising. Receive a call from a telemarketer during dinner? Unwanted advertising.

We naturally learn to feel that selling means taking, because mass marketing is based on interrupting people. It's based on taking your attention away from what you care about, and redirecting it to something the marketer cares about. It's based on a subtle but persistent form of violence.

This leaves conscious businesspeople (i.e. people who are committed to doing business in a way that provides both money and meaning) feeling like they're caught between a rock and a hard place. Either they embrace mass marketing as a necessary evil, or else they suffer along without a lot of money or clients. Either they build a business based on taking or else they sacrifice themselves for their calling.

Because of this, it often seems easier to create a business that's only focused on profits than one that also focuses on its people, the environment, and its impact on society.

But here's the thing.

Mass marketing is dying.

Interruption based marketing is being replaced by permission based marketing. Indiscriminate advertising is being replaced by web of trust marketing. And selling by taking is being replaced by Selling By Giving.

In the words of Seth Godin, mass marketing is being replaced by people who are willing to lead a tribe.

This isn't just pie in the sky. The most successful company in the Internet is based on permission based marketing. Google grossed over $21 billion last year, serving us with advertisements we want to see, when we want to see them. Think about it. The Google home page is the most valuable advertising space on the web, yet it's bare of all ads, because Google only offers us ads once we've given our permission. Once we type in "flat panel TV" or "business training" then we get a page filled with ads that we've asked for -- and we thank Google for it!

In contrast, newspapers who built their businesses on interruption based marketing are dying out, even though they provide a crucially valuable service.

If you feel that selling means taking, it doesn't matter how pretty your web site is, how many marketing consultants you hire, or how good your services are. You're still going to feel like you have to choose between selling out or not selling at all. You're still going to feel like you have to pick between creating a business that creates money or meaning.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

To learn more:
Permission Marketing by Seth Godin - A classic book on the shift from mass marketing
The Essence of Selling By Giving - Some of the essential principles of conscious business
Conscious Business Now - Join the movement

In his essay Death to the Mass Jeff Jarvis develops an argument he has been making for years. Treating the public as “a mass” and giving them a “one-way, one-size-fits-all product” is no longer appropriate.

I’m totally with him on that. It is just one reason why newsprint national newspapers in Britain, the epitome of mass-marketing, are increasingly viewed as irrelevant by readers (and the people who want to reach them: advertisers).

Here’s Jarvis: “What has died is the mass-media business model — injuring, perhaps mortally, a host of institutions it symbiotically supported: publishing, broadcasting, mass marketing, mass production, political parties, possibly even our notion of a nation. We are coming at last to the end of the Gutenberg Age.”

By contrast, Facebook connects people with people while Google gives people the option to go directly to what they want, and not what newspaper editors (aka information gatekeepers) tell them they should want.

Value, argues Jarvis, is far better than volume. And I nod again. He is on the money, is he not? I don’t need to repeat all of his core argument (go there if you wish) because it is good and I was on board long ago.

But where I depart from Jeff’s joyous acclamation of the brave new world of a post-mass disaggregated digital media is what it portends for our world.

He is convinced that quality journalism will prosper from “a relationship strategy” built around communities and shared interests. Allowing that to be the case, the key problem is still about revenue, about how we fund journalism when there is no mass paying for it.

Jeff asks that question of course. His answer is, to be frank, anything but convincing: “The industry is exploring various new revenue streams.” In other words, despite the exploration, nothing has yet worked.

This crucial question cannot be passed over. The funding of journalism, real journalism, the kind that costs money to produce - such as resource-heavy, lengthy, investigative journalism and the eye-witness, independent reporting from international conflict zones - is key to the future of democratic society.

Without money, whatever the strength of the argument in favour of a new form of journalistic distribution, whatever the good intentions of individual journalists, the act of journalism is imperilled.

There are plenty of pie-in-the-sky ideas about how we can re-attract advertisers, but none sounds remotely practical. We’re on a wing and a prayer here, Jeff. All your enthusiasm and optimism will not solve the problem.

Clearly, given that Google and Facebook are now the largest distributors of journalistic content, we journalists - providers of the raw material from which they benefit - need to reach an accommodation with them. They are our replacement newspapers, our hosts, our new media magnates.

We are in the content creation business. They are in the distribution business. They need our “product” and we need a portion of their profits to fund us.

Unlike our current “big media” publishers, they know more about their users than we ever did about our readers. That’s a great help to us. They also foster relationships, another help for us in reaching the right people with the right material.

Collaboration makes sense, but does anyone recognise the urgency of reaching an agreement?

I see journalists vanishing before my eyes. And I see journalism turning into “churnalism” on a daily basis. And that’s what frightens me most about the future: how will democracy be served if journalism means no more than the publishing of PR-packaged content “mediated” by people who never leave their computer screens?

Then there is the possibility that if journalism becomes something of a niche activity, how will we have a “national conversation” and, even more pertinently, if there is to be such a conversation, who will set its agenda?

I know the future is net-based. I knew it years ago when it was neither profitable nor popular to say so. I share much of Jeff Jarvis’s vision and his distaste for old-style, top-down, mass market journalism.

But how can we save public interest journalism, and the journalists who provide it, unless we find a business model to fund it?


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