Herds and blancmanges

Mark’s published his Admap article: Forget influentials herd-like copying is how brands spread (pdf). This is a nice summary of Mark’s pedigree hobbyhorse. He challenges marketing gurus who think it’s all about penetrating the inner decision processes of the individual mind to discover the magic levers that trigger purchase.

In fact says Mark, so much of what we decide to do comes down to copying those around us, often quite unconsciously. How ideas/brands/viruses spread is complex and can’t be controlled by, for example, identifying a few “key influencers” and reprogramming their minds. All in all, a nice counterblast to a large army of blancmange leveragers.

Mark and his coauthor, Alex Bentley, offer three bits of advice to future marketers

Pull not push: stop thinking about marketing as something you do to people and start thinking about what you can do to help the natural pull mechanism work better. Tactics include visibility, participation, and so on.

Understand the tides and landscape through which pull is operating before you decide on what you’re going to do.

Light lots of fires: cascades built on copying introduce an element of unpredictability. So best to reduce risk by lighting lots of fires and seeing which one(s) take(s).

I think the third is the most important: you have to try different things and see what happens. The second sounds sensible but may risk luring us back into a blancmange leveraging fantasy: first, make a beautiful, complicated model of reality and then make a few masterful interventions based on your superior thinking.

I think you might better understand the tidal forces by doing stuff and being sensitive to what happens. (For complexity junkies, I’m thinking about the “probe, sense, respond” strategy of the complex domain in Dave Snowden’s Cynefin model)

Perhaps the most difficult “key influencer” fantasy to shift is the idea the Marketing Director has, reinforced by organisational hierarchy, that he himself is – or should be – a key influencer.

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