How to Think About Old Marketing vs. New Marketing
Like triangles vs. constellations.
This article requires a little participation on your part. Seeing as how you are the smartest and best-looking reader in the world, I think you’ll find it pretty easy. You'll just need to use your imagination.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I’d like you to imagine a triangle. Just the simple three-pointed shape we all learned about as children. Got it? Okay, good.
Now place a company on the top of your triangle. An old school business. Maybe one of the original TV networks like ABC or CBS from the days of black and white television. Or a car company like Chevy or Ford in the 80s. Any good old fashioned business will do. Just plop it right on the tip top of your triangle.
That’s a beautiful triangle. And look at the way that old-fashioned company is perfectly balanced at the top. Nice work.
Somewhere in the middle of the triangle, about halfway down, stick TV, radio, and newspapers. Those are the mediums the company traditionally used to advertise.
Now put yourself and everyone you know at the bottom. That’s us, the public.
This is what marketing looked like before the internet. And certainly, before we all had smartphones. Marketing messages came from the companies at the top of the triangle, and flowed through TV, radio, and newspapers, down to the rest of us.
That was it.
It worked pretty well for a long time. We heard and read advertisements and we bought stuff. We trusted what companies at the top told us because there was no one else to tell us otherwise. We heard the same messages from companies like everyone else down there at the bottom of the triangle.
But, as with most old structures, eventually, something came along that damaged the triangle’s foundation. Something huge that could not be controlled. Like a skyscraper built on sand, the old marketing triangle is beginning to collapse. And it’s about to come tumbling down.
“Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.” — Steve Jobs, introducing the iPhone, 2007
Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world ten years ago. Think of Apple what you will, he was right. The iPhone changed everything.
The iPhone triggered a revolution. While most smartphones in use around the world run some flavor of Google’s Android software, the iPhone’s influence is undeniable.
Right now, as you read this, about two billion people have smartphones. In five or ten years, depending on who you listen to, three billion more of us will have smartphones. And they’ll all use them as their primary computer.
Not laptops. Not desktops. Not tablets. But the computer in their pocket. For everything.
Smartphones connect almost everyone in the developed world to each other. You can just as easily have a conversation with a stranger on the other side of the earth through social media as your friends and family.
Soon smartphones will connect most of the humans on earth.
I’d say that’s changing everything.
So, what does that have to do with the collapsing marketing triangle, you ask?
Time for a little more participation on your part. Seeing as how you are so smart and good looking and did so well with the triangle, it’ll be easy.
Imagine, if you will, that it’s night time.
[subtle cricket sounds]
The dark inky sky above you is clear from one horizon to the other and full of stars. Wherever you look, you see millions of twinkling points of light against the blackness. It’s breathtaking.
Now, in your mind, pick out a few stars. Just two or three, and draw a few lines to connect them.
We call those imaginary lines connecting stars into shapes constellations. You’re probably familiar with at least one from childhood.
Maybe you know the Big Dipper or Canis Major, the great dog or Leo, the lion.
(I have to be honest here, I can only ever see the big dipper. Identifying constellations is not a skill I’ve mastered.)
Now I’m going to ask you to imagine something a little crazy. In your mind, draw a line from every single star you see to every other star.
That’s right. From one nighttime horizon to the other, in your mind draw a line from every one of the millions of twinkling points of light to all the others.
It’s hard, right? It’s chaos. The beautiful night sky in your mind is covered in lines. So many lines it’s probably hard to see the stars at all. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to see how one line connects a star to any other.
That night sky is like the world today. Billions of people connected by billions of phones.
And not a triangle anywhere in site.
Okay, time to come back to down to earth. I told you the stories of the triangle and the constellations to illustrate something.
It has been roughly twenty-five years since the internet became publicly available. Very quickly, at least historically speaking, the internet has become a part of our everyday lives.
We use it at home, at work, and on the move on all kinds of devices, especially our phones.
The internet has transformed the global economy. And it has fundamentally changed the way we communicate with each other. And the way companies try to sell us stuff.
Every day I see companies that are stuck in the old marketing triangle way of thinking. I’ll bet you do, too.
Out of touch companies that think they can convince us through clever marketing from their perch at the top of the old triangle that their product is better than it is, that we’ll take their word for it.
Meanwhile, you and I can talk to anyone at any time about these companies and the funny way they’re perched upon that old triangle. Because we are living among the stars.