We held our B2B Expert Face-to-Face event yesterday in Redwood Shores, CA. Yes, we asked people to drive to the west side of the bay the same day the Bay Bridge was closed. Needless to say, it impacted our attendance somewhat. But it was also a smaller, more intimate opportunity to really talk about the challenges common in B2B digital marketing. The common themes that emerged what a tendency to “peg” search as direct response marketing, the realization that B2B is slower to adopt digital than B2C, the difficulties presented by the fragmentation of the B2B marketplace and why we’ve tended to silo off our digital strategies from the rest of our marketing. Most of the discussion came from the findings of the BuyerSphere Project, the extensive research we conducting into B2B buying behaviors.
Every timeI talk to a group of assembled search marketers, I can’t help but feel the palpable frustration in the air. The gulf between those that understand digital (particularly search) and those that don’t can seem impossible to bridge. We feel tied down by those within our organization that seem mired in the old way of doing things. Why the hell can’t everyone see the world as clearly as we can. Also, I mentioned that as marketers, we tend to focus too much on technology and not enough on the people that interact with that technology. Few companies invest in qualitative research As we chatted at the Hotel Sofitel In Redwood Shores, a thought struck me. One on the problems may be that we’re all too much alike. We’re suffering from cultural homogeneity.
If you look at most elements of human nature, there it a typical normal distribution curve, otherwise known as the Bell Curve. The majority of the population clusters around the mean, at the center of the curve. As you move further out, you have more deviation from the mean. The diversity of us humans: whether it be intelligence, wealth, behaviors, physical abilities or size, tends to spread out on this curve.
The same is true, as Everett Rogers discovered, about how quickly we adopt technology or (one supposes) adapts to change. His technology diffusion curve followed the typical Bell Curve model. A few of us adopt technology almost as soon as it becomes available. A few of us avoid adopting technology until it becomes common place for everyone else. The vast majority of us fall somewhere in the middle.
But what happens when you’re constantly surrounded by people at one spot on the curve? What if everyone you knew had an IQ of 123, or you lived in a town where everyone was 6 feet 3 inches tall? Soon, you’d fall into the trap of thinking this represented the norm. If you never saw diversity, you’d start to forget that it exists.
This is almost never a healthy state of an affairs. A common ideology amongst the heads of Nazi Germany lead to a drive for cultural homogeneity. The unbelievable wealth that surrounded the French aristocracy (or the Russian, for that matter) led to revolts of the masses. History has not proved to be kind to groups that are too much alike in one aspect. At best, this homogeneity gives you a skewed view of the world that may cause you to make decisions that don’t map well to the general population.
And that, I realized on Wednesday morning, may be exactly what is happening to us digital marketers. We are in this business because we all love technology. We are all classic early adopters, lying at least one (and I suspect closer to two) standard deviations from the norm, here at the thin leading edge of the Bell curve. And because we are surrounded by others like us, we start to lose sight of what the large bulge in the middle is doing. We chase technology with an obsession worth of sex starved teenagers. Every digital marketer I know has a smart phone. More than half the digital marketers I know have iPhones. If you travel in the same circles as I, you would soon think that everyone has an iPhone. Yet the iPhone market share in the US is still only 11% (although it’s growing quickly). Like I said, we live on thin edge of the curve.
I think this skewed view of the world makes us exactly the wrong people to be planning digital marketing strategies aimed at the general public. We live in a cult of technology. We’ve forgotten how the common person lives with their hopelessly antiquated mobile phone and without a Linked In profile that includes at least 500 connections. There are many, many people out there who have never Tweeted, don’t have a blog and are unsure what RSS means. They include almost all my relatives. Yet we never seem to take them into account where we’re salivating over the latest strategy for generating buzz on social networks.
So, how does a digital marketer keep their perspective when they’re so far removed from normality? They have to become digital anthropologists. They have to live with their prospects, watching them in their daily routines. They have to discover the way we were meant to discover, by watching other people, helping us to understand and empathasize with them. Evolution has equipped us with some very subtle tools for understanding other people when we’re face-to-face with them. To my knowledge, however, it hasn’t given us an inherent ability to generate pivot tables in Excel. Maybe we should spend more time doing what we were meant to do: hang around with real humans instead of technology.