The Shifting Sands of Marketing

Marketing is the innovator’s lifeline and without a reliable platform that line is at risk of being severed.

Marketing is simply the way we reach out to people and engage them in what we’re doing. Advertising, promotion, graphic design, and social media might have some role, but marketing can simply be reaching out with the right message about the right product or service to the right people at the right time — no matter how it’s done.

While we have more tools at our disposal than ever to create content — cameras, microphones, blogs, networks — the challenge with marketing might be greater than ever partly because of these tools.

That makes me wonder what the future for many innovations might be as the days of algorithmic, concentrated media (and now, thanks to the pandemic, media habits) have come to us.

Bubbles in an Ocean of Turbulence

There are some amazing creators out there doing great stuff and yet most people likely have little idea they exist.

A few years ago I interviewed creators from fields as diverse as fashion, music, art, blogging and media as part of a project designed to inform the Canadian federal government’s mandated 5-year review of digital copyright legislation. The interviews happened to take place at the time when Instagram was just getting its foothold as a popular medium for creators and where people started selling online through it. I was amazed that entire businesses could run solely through that platform.

Within a week of submitting my final report, Instagram made a change to its algorithm and means of presenting material to users (less from chronology to one more random — like what we see now, circa January 2021). Some of these creators’ livelihoods were decimated. Users had to struggle to find them and the means of communication were entirely upended overnight.

While only some of the creators I spoke to used Instagram – or relied on it heavily — but nearly all of them were relying on methods that were highly prone to disruption at any moment by a choice from the platforms they work with. This had nothing to do with skill, legislation, environmental issues, or quality of products. It was everything to do with choices made by the platforms themselves.

Size Matters Not

Size is everything and nothing in this context. Size matters for Facebook, Google, and Amazon, but for smaller businesses — retailers, musicians, artists, and chefs — that doesn’t matter when you’re trying to engage, maintain, and promote your work constantly. Just a few years ago it was true that anyone could compete squarely online because, as the thinking went, your eyeballs can only focus on one thing at a time. But that’s changed. The volume of content and the algorthms aimed at keeping certain – paid — content more visible in nearly all platforms has changed the game.

Why does this matter?

It matters because innovation is not going to come exclusively from big companies. In fact, it’s much more likely that the best ideas and more of them will come from diverse sources. Yet, we are — month by month — getting to the point where that diversity is choked off. This is diversity in the size, shape, background, product, philosophy, and style of products and creators. It’s not that they don’t exist, it’s that we don’t see them.

I have no recommendation here, rather it’s to make a point that when building innovations we need to deeply consider the marketing strategies that will support getting ideas to those who can benefit from them — whether its a program, service, policy or product. The days of rational models tied to this (mistaken) idea that the best idea will win out are long gone.

Photo by Michael Olsen on Unsplash and Clark Gu on Unsplash

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