vSente is a marketing consultancy. We help challenger enterprises wage and win battles for market shares.

Disciplines - Advertising | Marketing | Sales
Competency - Challenge | Defend
Deliverable - Profitable Market Share
Audience - CEO's | Marketing | Sales
Scale - Small | Medium-sized Enterprise
Services - Campaigns | Workshops
Location - San Francisco | London


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Potential Effectiveness of New Marketing Strategy and Tactics

Our primary business at vSente is campaigning. We develop and execute campaigns designed to wage and win battles for market share. So to this end we will embrace and adopt any new tool or tactic that enables our clients to compete better. An issue we have with current marketing intelligentsia is the lack of real innovation in marketing over the past several years. I'm talking about innovation that can be used to generate genuine, sustainable competitive advantage.

The current new "NEW" advanced by the marketing intelligentsia is the notion of Open Source Marketing which is a collection of  rather socialist theories, strategies and tactics designed to put the customer in control of markets. Steve Rubel one of the "A" list bloggers and "B" list PR flacks goes so far as to exclaim:

"The war is over. The people have defeated the corporation"

Steve's point being that in the NEW age of customer participation:

"They (customers) are the ones who are in charge now.

We've blogged Open Source Marketing in the past and have had some good exchanges with James Cherkoff one of the forces behind Open Source Marketing. The reason we're spending more time with Open Source is that Bob Garfield the influential Ad Age columnist recently dedicated a significant feature column to Open Source Marketing which he renamed "Listenomics". I wanted to react to some of Bob's observations...

He starts with:

Yeah, yeah. Sure. Linux. Zzzzz. Wikipedia. Zzzzz. Blogging. Podcasting. RSS feeds. Zzzzzzzzzzzz. This cultish open-source stuff is undeniably a snooze -- a handful of evangelistic cybergeeks yammering on till little beads of white goo form at the corners of their mouths, as you struggle to remain conscious. If you can t get jazzed by Open Source Revolution, fine. Maybe you prefer Reverse Flow Economy, or Listenomics. Whatever. Any which way, the herd will be heard. And, any which way, it is underway.

If Open Source is "undeniably a snooze" and it is being forced upon the masses by a "handful of evangelistic cybergeeks yammering on till little beads of white goo form at the corners of their mouths" why is Bob Garfield dedicating 2000 words in a special column to the topic? The answer to this question is that these same yammering geeks unfortunately monopolize a large and disproportionate share of marketing intelligentsia bandwidth which can't be ignored.

Bob calls on James Cherkoff (who is actually quite civil and reasoned in his approach) to provide definitions for Open Source:

The centralized model is essentially inside out, says James Cherkoff, a London marketing consultant who penned an online manifesto on open-source marketing. You create all the messages and you send them out. The new model is outside in: What you want to do is receive all the information you can from the outside and incorporate them in the processes of the company. They have to actually open up their own systems and the way they interface with the world.

So the new "NEW" model is "outside in"? If we take James definition at face value, that being "receive all the information you can from the outside and incorporate them in the processes of the company" we were doing that back in the 1970's. It was called listening to the customers back then. But back then the customer was just one of three inputs we processed - part of the profit trinity consisting of customer, competitor and competency. Advocates of Open Source Marketing go so far as to literally advise enterprises to put the customer in total control. Jeff Jarvis the former TV Guide critic (and Bernard Goldberg attack chihuahua) counseling this Dr. Phil-esque approach had this to say to Garfield regarding the notion of control:

...for those who have made a living by creating, refining and absolutely controlling the marketing message, suddenly surrendering control to the teeming masses will not only be difficult but surely terrifying -- The No. 1 lesson of the Internet, he says, whether you're Howard Dean or a media company or a marketer, is that you have to give up control to gain control.Scary? Of course it is.

Give up control? What does that mean? Seems as if the Open Source folks are telling enterprises that the customer will tell you what to make, how to make it, how to sell it, how to distribute it, and most importantly how to price it. Their notion of a coming age of participation. Terrifying though? Sure. If you're dumb enough to turn your business over to your customers, the asylum over to the inmates or the chicken coop over to the fox. But at the end of the day, I don't think you'll see many legitimate enterprises following this. Why? Because enterprises already get listening to the customer. Some do it better than others. The smart ones optimize the input to maximize their profit (not the profit of the customer).

Further, look at what James Cherkoff offers as evidence of Open Source Marketing - a list of frankly uninspired efforts with no evidence of any enterprise really putting the customer in control:

Cherkoff cites a variety of ad efforts based on the inspiration of civilians. One was a General Electric online campaign called Pen (AtmosphereBBDO, New York), encouraging users to do simple line drawings and pass them along to friends -- on a template with GE s slogan Imagination at Work. Another, from Mercedes-Benz (Merkley & Partners, New York), asked Mercedes owners to send snapshots of themselves posing with their beloved cars, photos that became centerpieces for LoveMercedes ad portraits. And Converse (Butler Shine Stern & Partners, Sausalito, Calif.) solicited short films about Chuck Taylor canvas sneakers, viewable at

So where are the teeming pissed-off customers storming corporate citadels demanding their peas and carrots in glass jars rather than tin cans? Nowhere. Open Source Marketing will never get off the starting line because the vast majority of consumers simply DO NOT WANT TO PARTICIPATE. The vast majority will not draw pictures, create blogs, read blogs, engage in conversations, establish a relationship, join a network, offer advice or file complaints for the several thousand different products and services the average American consumer will purchase during the course of a year. What most consumers want as a base line are products and services that are fairly priced, honestly presented and easy to get. Beyond that consumers want to be wowed, dazzled, impressed and entertained by anybody who has the creativity and the where-with-all to be what they can't be - like the next Steve Jobs or Martha Stewart. But they DO NOT want to help design, build or market the products and services they buy.

As I've indicated James is a good sort, and I'll forward this entry to his attention and see if he can offer a few more substantial examples of Open Source Marketing at work today. But asking your customers to draw pictures or send snapshots is not groundbreaking or even newsworthy. By example, back in 2002 we had customers of our client Gramicci - the outdoor clothing folks - video a week in their lives in Gramicci's. We sent sent them the video cam. They did everything else. They picked the images, the sound, the activities, that turned them on and shot the video. Click here to see one of the customer made movies. 

Ok, so, is this just another tempest in a teapot? No. Because Open Source Marketing is one more distraction from the primary function of marketing which is to drive profitable revenue. More and more marketers these days are doing less and less of the heavy lifting necessary to generate real competitive advantage - measured in unambiguous terms like share, revenue and profit. Marketing is becoming the laughing stock of corporate America and Open Source simply reinforces the notion that most marketers are totally out of touch with the realities of competing in the 21st century - not unlike how far out-of-touch Howard Dean is with mainstream America. As I have written before, back in the neanderthal days of the late 70's, the operative saying was "those who CAN - sell, those who CAN'T - market. It would seem as if Open Source Marketing is just one more step in this direction. But I will hold open some hope that perhaps there is a grain of substance in all the hype. After all if there is - it helps us out. If James Cherkoff or any other Open Source Marketer cares to offer more tangible evidence I'll be happy to present it.

UPDATE 10:25:05 - Jame Cherkoff responds.

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