Monday, March 27, 2006

This all makes sense, but it doesn't make perfect sense

Part 1 in a series. The remaining parts will be cross-posted both here, and on BMA throughout the week.

‘markets are conversations’
‘listen to the consumer’
‘get out of the way of the consumer’
‘the consumer is in control’

But…but…..what exactly do these statements mean?

‘Markets are conversations’….ok I guess that means that every market has their own language that we have to comprehend in order to communicate with them. Sounds fair enough.

‘listen to the consumer’…..I’ll buy that.

‘get out of the way of the consumer’…..wait….I am supposed to listen to the consumer AND get out of their way? How do I do that?

‘the consumer is in control’….huh? Then what do they need me for?

See all these ideas made varying degrees of sense to me. And the more I thought about these marketing catchphrases that we hear all the time, I wondered what would happen if we took the parts that do make sense, and separated them? Or maybe if we shifted the meaning slightly, would all these ideas then make perfect sense? And if so, would they then tie into an even bigger idea?

‘Markets are conversations’. This one makes pretty good sense. Markets are having their own conversation that you can’t understand unless you are interacting with them. Finding the best way to do so seems to be the key.

‘Listen to the consumer’. Again, this made sense, until I realized that just because I listen to the consumer doesn’t mean I will understand what they are saying. How many messages do you listen to in a day’s time? Do you understand all of them? And what’s worse, how many messages did you listen to, and believe you understood, when you actually missed the meaning? I don’t think listening is the key, understanding is, which comes from communication.

‘Get out of the way of the consumer’. This one I don’t see at all. Consider Nettwerk’s taking on the RIAA over their suing consumers who participate in 'illegal' file-sharing. If Nettwerk ‘gets out of the way of the consumer’, then that frees up the RIAA to sue consumers freely. Nettwerk’s involvement in this case is CLEARLY benefiting the consumer.

‘The consumer is in control.’ Not buying this one either. How about saying that the consumer has more control than ever before, and they have enough control to usually get what they want with or without the marketer. I’m still not completely satisfied with that explanation, but it’s a bit closer.

But Nettwerk’s taking on the RIAA over file-sharing continued to be the puzzle piece that just didn't fit. Then came Nettwerk's creation of the Save the Music Fan Foundation. Here's a quote from Nettwerk CEO Terry McBride:”My reason for agreeing to pay the legal fees of the Gruebel family is quite straightforward, to stop all litigation of music fans”.

Music fans don't want the RIAA to sue them over 'illegal' file sharing, and Nettwerk doesn't want to see music fans sued by the RIAA over 'illegal' file sharing. The wants of the two groups are perfectly aligned. Also, Nettwerk wants to see music fans be able to more freely and cheaply share music. Again in this case, the wants of the two groups are perfectly aligned.

That made an impression on me, but I still didn’t understand the significance in marketing terms. Then I read on more than one blog about the need for marketers to ‘get out of the way’ of the consumer. Reading this, after talking to Erin and hearing how Nettwerk is working to 'clear the path' for consumers to more freely share music, was the lightbulb going off for me. I had seen Nettwerk as another record label whose wants and needs were the same as that of their industry and of the RIAA. This made their opposition to the RIAA’s stance on file sharing so confusing to me. Instead, Nettwerk’s wants and needs are shared with the ‘music fan’ who they are trying to ‘save’.

If Nettwerk 'got out of the way' of the consumer, then the path that the consumer is navigating (toward sharing music more freely) becomes a more difficult journey. Nettwerk's actions are making it easier for the consumers to reach a destination that they will arrive at anyway, by clearing a path for them. Nettwerk is able to clear that path for the consumer because their wants and needs are perfectly aligned with the wants and needs of the consumer.

If Nettwerk is able to align their wants and needs with that of the consumer, then how could other companies do so?

There has to be a way.

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