The Vaporization of Marketing

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Was your company blogging ten years ago? If not then why? Google made it easy for you and now you’ve lost ten years of priceless link juice. Given the fragmentation of media in the last ten years, it’s clear now just how relatively little work you actually had to do back then. But that’s in the past. Still, I have bad news for you: what you have to do now is far harder than it was ten years ago. Let me explain.


As the Web expands and proliferates novel media, messaging becomes increasingly diffuse and fragmented. The Web creates new opportunities and destroys old standards. It disrupts communication patterns, rattles social structures and ruptures attention spans. Ten years ago, you could leverage your audience-building skills for acquiring and retaining customers. You could even have learned and mastered a skill which traditional marketing didn’t really demand: conversational aptitude.

But now the honor of your presence demands you to be at many different places at once. You not only need to know how to create captivating content but you also need to know how to converse and lead with such conviction and remarkability that it could almost require you to be loved.

The choices open to you grow. Where to begin? Where to be? Twitter? Facebook? Blogs? Youtube? Foursquare? Gowalla? Flickr? The dozens of other places yet to come along? And if you show up and listen and play, will you be good at it? If you’re not good at it, you’re not going to achieve anything.

Here’s the biggest challenge for companies struggling to “figure out” social media: the convergence of Strategy and Practice becomes increasingly elusive as the Web mercilessly evolves.

What do I mean? Strategy and vision are essential parts of ultimately getting business done. But strategy without planning and mechanics and process worked out, nothing gets done: the going concern becomes aimless and bankrupt. Much of the daily work that has to be accomplished online has to be done manually and personally. Furthermore, the work has to stand out so it can be kindly remarked from one person to another.

Much of this work may not fit into any strategic category; as a consequence, the strategic directives can easily diffuse and lose their trajectories. Once that happens, it’s easy to lose balance and focus and clarity.


The one question every executive asks every time a marketing or PR agency or internal manager tries to push social media is this: What on earth is the point?

Many of us who live in the echo chamber have answers. Or statements we think are answers. The truth is, however, that this is a vital question. The whole enterprise depends on it.

There’s no doubt: the Web is the place to be; and companies need the skills and confidence to incorporate all media into their day-to-day routine. But the vaporization of the Web creates a situation where:

  • so many choices have to be made;
  • conversations need to be quality and sincere;
  • attention spans are short;
  • messages are now real-time;
  • traditional Search is being disrupted;
  • new technologies are emerging which don’t necessarily communicate well with other
  • the prospect of walled gardens is rearing its head

Contrary to Social Media evangelist claims, the Web is becoming a mess. Messaging is being liquified, subject to evaporation – and worse: your message can be easily replaced with someone else’s within seconds.

Marketers used to have a landscape they could map out. They could harvest farms of attention. They could plant their feet on the ground and develop real estate which they could mostly control.

But the new landscape isn’t on land. It’s vaporizing. The vaporization of marketing will get worse. Not every business will figure out the point of being online, let alone be able to cultivate a captivated audience and converse real-time. Most will just be talking to themselves and an imaginary audience.

That’s what happened to Pharma giant GSK because they had too many meetings and consults and fears on how to do something as simple as running a blog. Mind you: this is a company with over $40 Billion in assets and which employs some of the smartest people in the world. From an investor’s perspective that’s managerial irresponsibility, indicative of severe creative anemia.

What’s the point? isn’t something you ask and answer once and then move on. No: it’s a daily question. It’s no different than asking What’s the point of our business?

The problem is this: there isn’t a point. Or one single point I should say. There are many points. All kinds of purposes and opportunities and needs. A thousand points of light flashing and fading and distracting.

This is only good news for marketers who have creativity, muscle, chutzpah, intelligence, pliancy and permission. For the rest, it’s a disaster waiting to happen – no matter if you play or not. The Vaporizing Web is Scylla and Charybdis for businesses.


What to do? You can read a million how-to posts, hire big agencies who know how to price and bill, attend overpriced conferences or have tons of meetings littered with streams of buzzword-stuffed PowerPoint presentations. But I’ll give you one simple answer:

Don’t take it so seriously! If you do, you’ll vanish into a mushroom cloud. πŸ™‚

A sense of humor and a style of lightness are enduring qualities of successful long-run presence, especially online. Once operations become chores and jobs they cease to be useful. The Web is the end of the assembly-line.

If your business doesn’t know how to have fun and to be spontaneous and swift, it probably won’t survive this century. Capitalism is destructively creative. It’s also creatively destructive. The Age of the Farmer is coming to its close. It’s Hunting time now. Prepare yourself for war.

You’ve been warned and advised. Questions? Call me: 484-372-0451 or Skype: Phil.J.Baumann or Twitter: @PhilBaumann.

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  1. As a paradigm for what’s happening, I think this analogy is spot on as is the final analysis.
    The are many points of divergence in terms of where we’ve been and where we’re going but the one of the biggest is the need to learn as we go and doing that with a lightheartedness that engages is tough but doable.
    As in the past, it’s leadership that makes the difference. Thanks for your insights and leadership (and reminder to have fun!)

  2. Agree. We are all marketers as I say. We’re also our own PR departments.

    GSK’s challenges are common among large enterprises. There’s definitely an assembly-line culture that grew out of the last century’s business models. I also believe that many enterprises and marketing departments have an organizational form of Perfectionism which has no room in a real-time world.

  3. Your GSK example highlights one of the biggest challenges, imho, facing the marketing function in most organizations.

    Their planning/execution models are based on a paradigm that no longer exists, as you know.

    The fact that:
    # so many choices have to be made;
    # conversations need to be quality and sincere;
    # attention spans are short;
    # messages are now real-time;

    means that marketing functions (and I would argue that “everyone is in marketing”) must be able to QUICKLY identify and attempt to exploit opportunities which then MAY turn into a WOM/Viral inferno. I call this “dandelion marketing.”

    And, since you have rapid feedback loops to tell you if a test work (and you can test new things very cheaply and the moments for exploitation are ephemeral), you need to be able to adjust rapidly and take risks.

    GSK’s marketing function (and I don’t know them) is probably not designed to do that and is probably not a risk-tolerant culture.

  4. Important points. We know the broadcast model is breaking down. But the “pull” side isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s not like you can hook up a vacuum cleaner and customers will just get pulled in. Marketers may be tempted to believe that their spend may go down, but the reality is that the daily mechanics and processes – depending on the business class – can be labor-intensive.

    There’s a lot of hype and faulty reasoning in the blogosphere about the power of social media for marketing. The fact is, it’s very easy for businesses to get lost in the Web if they aren’t fully aware and prepared to do what it takes to be remarkable.

  5. Phil, OK…I’ll amplify.

    You point out that the web is a mess and is vaporizing. You say marketers can’t be in all “places” at all times, so just relax.

    So far so good.

    If I can recast what you’re saying, you’re pointing out that the value of traditional “push” media diminishes as there is more and more content on the web. The marketers broadcast message is becoming diluted because the number of messages is growing while people’s capacity for attention is fixed.

    That’s half the equation.

    The other half of the equation is that “pull” technologies are becoming more prevalent and better.

    I found your blog post because I subscribe to your RSS feed.

    Other examples — search engines are getting better at indexing the entire web and providing personalized results through improved algorithms. Twitter lists allow you to subscribe to content….

    So my observation to marketers is that “push” (broadcast) will become increasingly less productive, but “pull” technologies will allow people people to find you if your content matches what they’re interested in.

    Bottom line for marketers: make yourself relevant and findable.

  6. Of course, I don’t think any nuclear bombs will go off either. But the fragmentation and atomozation of the Web will be a challenging thing to keep up with.

    And I’m not really taking it to the logical extreme because I’m working with metaphors. And you haven’t really proven anything. πŸ™‚

  7. You have a point but you take it beyond the logical extreme.

    Yes, marketing is vaporizing, but that doesn’t mean that EVERYTHING will vaporize.

    My proof? I never would have found your brilliant article if marketing had vaporized TOTALLY.

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