Relative Change

Change is a funny thing. When has the world not been in the midst of change? Search for this (I did): find me a time in the modern era when the business and social press were NOT consumed with issues of change. Then go back to the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Roman or Greek era, Biblical times, and even before. Change always seems to be in the air. So what’s the big deal? Read on….

Try this one on for size. We obsess over the idea of change. We pay homage to its presence, make the necessary cosmetic adjustments, “talk the talk”, and declare the victory of change – maybe because it’s easier than actually walking the walk…

Now before you howl, there are no doubt some obvious exceptions and many good examples of change. But here’s the rub. If we “change”, and yet keep on doing the same old thing – walking the old walk as it were – well, what have we really accomplished?

Let me bring it home… Search again, this time within our own industry, and see how far back the notion of “integration” goes. Synergy was the word used in the 70’s for example. In the 60’s multi-media took off. And do you think that linking channels is a new concept? That someone only recently thought it up? Think again… Take a look at the Soap Operas of radio fame and later TV. See if you can find when event marketing first took off. At the Roman coliseum perhaps? How about the idea of linking lifestyle to product? Remember what Dunhill did for smoking pipes in the UK a century ago? What about in-store marketing? Come on!

Bottom line, the industry has been pursuing the notion of “integration” one way or another forever, and in fact long ago we just went ahead and walked the walk. We just did it. To be fair, the world was less complex then – it was long before we specialized, siloed, ring fenced, and segmented not only our products, but ourselves.

And today? We still talk the talk, promoting integration, but our focus is on ourselves and not on the consumer/end-user/buyer. You see, the target knows nothing of integration. They couldn’t care less about “Above the Line”, “Below the Line”, or “Through the Line”. They just read, watch, listen, and search, buy or not buy without a single thought about our industry’s deep debates and emotional discussions.

Yet, even as we preach change, as we sing the song of integration and talk the talk of consumer focus, we still use the terms ATL and BTL and assume that the there is a hierarchy of engagement, or at least some seem to…

So everything has changed? How about this thought:


“Everything has changed except our way of thinking.”
Albert Einstein

And there you are. If we as an industry want to walk the walk, our thinking must change, our basic go to market strategies must change, and as Albert said, our way of thinking must change.

To that end, I never want to hear the term “Below the Line” again. It’s a negative term, inwardly focus on the industry, and I strongly believe that it has negative connotations that go way, way back. We should not use it in any presentations, in any client material, in any discussion about our capabilities or resources, and certainly never as a description of our engagement.

My sense is that we need to take the lead on the change of thinking. We must demand it, in fact. Don’t allow yourself to become an afterthought or a “BTL” (everything forbid) add on. Represent the consumer. Represent Life Time Value. Represent Branded Acquisition and Retention. Represent the client and ROI, value and strategic thinking. Do all that, and we will have helped not only to change thinking, but also helped the industry at least start crawling the crawl…

Talk gets stale pretty fast. Maybe that’s why we always talk about change – in the mistaken belief that it keeps us fresh.

For those who noticed a used the same quote twice in the month, well done! I just couldn’t resist an idea so powerful! Thanks to all for your comments. My trusty correspondent Larry Barnhart of Chicago nails the Bill Gates comment on consumer behavior, and points out that our business is “about concentrating on understanding behavior to capitalize on it”. We can’t make someone buy a car if they are not in the market for one, but if they are looking, we can be very compelling!

Tom Osborn from Australia offers the following comments. “A re-think on Evans and cars from two weeks back: It’s not that ‘cars’ equals ‘basic ideas’ which were either re-interpreted or not. ‘Cars’ equals the implementation of the basic need for “personal transportation”, and/or ‘face to face’. Face to face has had many re-interpretations, while personal transportation has suffered the way of incremental innovation. An old, recurrent argument from my university days was started this way: if you want incremental refinement, hire an engineer, but if you want fundamental progress, get a bunch of curious people to work out what they are really dealing with, don’t let them stop till they disagree passionately, and then start to agree again.” Look up Tom’s recommended author, Gary Lilien, a well respected marketing academic who wrote ‘Marketing Engineering’.

Tom goes on to write, “a question from a major bank a few years back that required going back to the basic ideas was: at what age should you acquire a customer? By the time the question made proper sense it was unrecognisable to the bank (so they didn’t really want to know). It was all about relationship dynamics and customer management. i.e., you could acquire at any age, but it’s what you did after that that counted!” Thanks again!

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