Industrial-marketing vs Organic-marketing

I have thinking about the nature of ‘marketing’ and what Lessig calls the ‘remix’ generation.


Let me frame this with a few interesting statistics from Bazaarvoice:

  • Trust in “a person like me” has tripled, from 20% to 68% from 2004 to 2006. (Edelman Trust Barometer)
  • “Person like themselves” still most trusted source for information about a company and, therefore, products. (Edelman Trust Barometer, November 2007)
  • Consumers say that word of mouth is still the number one influencer in their apparel (34.3%) and electronics (44.4%) purchases (Retail Advertising and Marketing Association/BIGresearch Study, November 2008)

A lot of signs are pointing to a real break from conventional (Modern) Marketing as we know it.


Michael Pollan, one of my favorite authors, writes prolifically about food and eating. To my knowledge, he has said nothing directly about social media or marketing, but he did write The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a prescient, humbling meditation on the history of modern food industry.


I couldn’t help thinking about the similarities between the patterns developing in the marketing industry and that of the food industry as masterfully elucidated by Pollan.


Let me borrow Pollan’s use of the terms of “industrial” and “organic” in service of this narrative.


Before there was Marketing, there was the “organic” selling of stuff–unstructured, usually undisciplined, word-of-mouth, and personal.


The modern science of marketing as we know it emerged as a product of modern industry and massmedia. In an effort to organize and systematize the transmission of ideas and messages to the public, industrial magic, economies of scale and technology came together to create the art and science of the modern “sell”–characterized by being one-way, the creation of shared-beliefs and images and the management of perceptions. Think television adverts.


One might say that in the modern era Industrial marketing displaced organic (little ‘o’) marketing. But is this modern marketing bubble in danger? If so, what does the ‘post-modern’ marketing picture look like?


What seems clear is that a real shift in consumer behavior is taking place. Consumers are increasing suspect of being part of one-way-conversations. The internets have sharpened consumers’ collective buying intelligence.


Not only is information easy to get, the democratic nature of information (and perhaps knowledge) means that sooner rather than later, emperors without clothes are called out. Where consumers looked to ‘trusted’ brands before, the trend seems to be that trust is now discovered in relationships.


I, for one, don’t think ‘marketing’ is a dirty word. I admit I have a hard time with a lot of marketing conventional wisdom and practices but the idea that marketing should be a serious, professional endeavor sits perfectly fine with me.


I do, however, think that marketers need to undergo their own transformation–perhaps from conventional-industrial marketing to a more Organic (big ‘O’) effort.


What does Organic marketing look like? I think, like the food industry, Organic-marketing is as much about what you leave out of your practice as it is about how you go about doing it.


Charlene Li, the co-author Groundswell – Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies alludes to this in interesting presentation at Google a few weeks back. You can find that video here, courtesy of Twist Image. Li points out that traditional marketers are trained to have a ‘message’ not to build relationships that are ‘passionate’ and ‘loyal’.

Fascinating isn’ it? We’ve come back full circle to the business of personal relationships.


In my day job at Proof, we’ve been thinking about this challenge for a little while now. My feeling is that there are real opportunities for schools and businesses to transform the way we create relationships with our constituents.


And, perhaps, it begins by rethinking the use of glossy postcards and email brochures. Perhaps the path to a more wholesome, Organic marketing DNA lies in suspending the narcissicm found in disconnected self-promotion and in embracing actual transparency.

Ernest Koe

I love what I do. The best part of this job is that I get to talk to people and organizations about information technology--not just narrowly about database systems, or websites or the technical kung-fu surrounding integration and software but also broadly on the use of information itself and its impact on our businesses and schools. My technical expertise is in information systems--databases and web technologies--but my professional interests cover technology in the context of education, community-development and business-development. When time permits, I blog about these things at