plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

While sitting through several of the FutureM meetings last week I was taken back to some of my early Marketing courses and began reflecting how the more things change the more they stay the same.

The FutureM meetings were generally about how Marketers should be dealing with the new digital/social world, how power has shifted to the customer, how activities can be measured and how companies can and need to respond.  All the presentations/panels were valid and all true, but did not talk about Marketing as I was taught.

In my early Marketing courses several fundamentals were constantly driven home:

  • Product Differentiation
  • Market Segmentation
  • The Wheel of Retailing
  • Clear and consistent communication

Product Differentiation was defined as the value your offering (product, service or combination of product and service) has that sets you apart from the competition.

Market Segmentation was defined as the target market, i.e., buyers whose identified needs you serve…better than the competition.  Implicit in this definition is that you know all about this segment, as well as how your competitors are trying to serve it.

The Wheel of Retailing was illustrated by the emergence of the suburban shopping centers over the downtown stores.  This can be extended today to the “big-box” stores, and then to the Internet.  In this evolutionary wheel the successful merchants know their customers and how to reach them.

Clear and consistent communication means well articulated messages that are cleanly delivered.  As with many things relating to the buying process, repetition is key.

Viewed through this lens, today’s digital landscape looks similar to the landscape that existed many years ago.  You need to have a value-added product, you need to know who you are selling to, and you need to use the best means possible to reach or entice your target customer into a buying situation.  This holds true for both B2B and B2 C businesses.

Put another way, the new digital tools that are available to businesses boil down to communication media that link the seller to the buyer and the buyer to the seller.  The seller still needs to provide a basic value-added product in order to ensure longevity.  While the new digital tools allow for significant measurement and definition of the target market, i.e., the customer of one, very few companies have succeeded by making only one sale.  Allowing the customer to easily find you, easily learn about your differentiated product and facilitate the buying process seems very similar to the 1900-1960 Macy’s store in NYC which occupied a city block and had everything you could need, or IBM in the 1960’s providing the hardware, the software and training on their mainframes…both very successful companies at the time.

A related thought is that a company’s ability to “spin” a story is significantly diminished in the digital age.  Transparency is now part of the clear and consistent communication rule.

To me the principles have remained the same, the execution, via new and different tools is new.

Your thoughts?  Can you remember when the Justice Department was suing IBM, alleging that it was a monopoly?  Is Google today’s IBM?  Is the new digital/social world different or is it the same?

RHM  10/14/2010

2 comments to plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

  • Nice summary, Bob! For me, the main difference is that you have the capability to get much more information on all of these fronts quickly. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the tools are still primitive/unintegrated so it can be a lot of work to distill meaning from the noise.

  • Jim Matorin


    I totally agree that the principles are the same, but to me, thanks to all the different platforms, messaging has become more critical than ever since every community out there has a different way of filtering your message.


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