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Marketing: We're all Advertisers Now

Simon Pitt | Internet | Saturday 9th January 2010

In an ideal world, the best 'things' would be the most popular. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world. As a general rule, popularity is not related to quality. Instead, the most popular, most well-funded, and most talked about things (whether these things are films, TV programmes, pieces of equipment, shops or even people) are the best marketed.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Marketing has been with us forever. And sadly, ever since the first fart-breathed Caveman suggested walking upright, it's been the most mouthy, the most aggressive and the loudest that have prospered in human society.

However, something has changed: everyone has started marketing themselves on the internet. Between Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Blogspot, Tumblr, Flickr, YouTube, Digg and Delicious (to name but a few) we've all become responsible for our own global brand: ourselves.

The new mark of status is how many friends you have on Facebook, how many followers on Twitter, how popular your reviews are on Amazon or how many hits you get on your website. Popularity has become virtual, and you're able to prove how popular you are on a graph.

These days, on almost every site you can create a profile, where you can upload a picture, list your hobbies, favourite sports, embarrassing illnesses and preferred flavours of bubble gum. Whether you like it or not, the internet is forcing you to turn yourself into a brand. In the case of Twitter, or Facebook, comerical pages, groups and accounts butt up against personal pages. Your tweets are competing against those of Stephen Fry, Pepsi and some guy who's a professional mime artist. The brand of you is more important than ever if you want to sell your "social networking" stuff to people that have heard of you. You can't even rely on the attention of your own friends. With our modern, time-starved lives, we even have to 'sell' ourselves to our best pals.

Of course, sometimes, especially when egosurfing (The proper name for "Googling yourself"), you'll find there are competitors with exactly the same brand name as you. With my common or garden name, Simon Pitt, I'm forever battling progressive-house-trance Plymouth-based DJ Simon Pitt. He got to Twitter first, but Melbourne- university graduate Simon Pitt got to Facebook first. When neither of them are around, I have to contend with Coventry-based poet (and Birmingham Poet Laureate 2000) Simon Pitt and Eat Creative's business manager, Simon C Pitt.

The new buzz about social networking, really, is just people selling themselves. You can't get away from it even when you're shopping. Amazon encourages us to review products, create a profile and to make lists. What we put in our list reflects our judgement. Our profiles link to our lists creating a brand for us, which is then indexed by Google. Once you start doing this, you're creating a global brand for yourself. Wherever you go on the Internet you create a trail that your encouraged to build to make yourself appealing. If you edit Wikipedia all of your edits are logged under your name and editors and moderators will look at your track record to determine how trustworthy you are. Again, you've created yourself a global brand.

Back to Amazon: Amazon rank all their reviewers (they actually give them all a number and put them in order, so you can see that Daniel Jolley "darkgenius" is six better than Jason Parkes "We're all Frankies'"). Take Peter Durward Harris, currently rated the number 1 reviewer on Amazon. Here's his homepage where he links to all of his "internet activity". There's a lot of it. He writes 18 blogs.

Creating a Facebook account is only one step away from creating a blog, and once you have a blog it's a slippery slope towards Search Engine Optimisation, Affiliate links, link-bait, your site's call to action (CTA), its unique selling point (USP), its AIDA (Attention, interest, desire and action) or its REAN (Reach, Engage, Activate, Nurture). If you create a blog like Peter Durward Harris's you can link all of your Internet activity together, and create a huge global, multimedia conglomerate of yourself. He's created a persona and a brand of himself, which he has obviously put a lot of effort into cultivating.

Once you've set up your site, you can spend hours pouring over data you've gathered in Google Analytics or Google Webmaster. Why not have a look through the "bounce rate" data, or the "pageviews per visit" or the "time on page". Since most sites provide you with hit counters or statistics for free, gathering information is not the problem. In fact, it's usually difficult to resist having a quick glance at your crucial figures. And once you start examining what people do, you've entered the murky world of consumer research.

Consumer research is a dangerous thing. When you monitor what your visitors do, you start to adapt your site (or your product, or your programme) to them, rather than designing what you originally intended. Your end result has changed. You've become reactive, and slight changes in consumer whim can result in drastic alterations to your product. This isn't confined to the Internet; in fact, it's a problem in general. Take Pirates of the Caribbean. Johnny Depp's happy-go-lucky pirate was so popular in the first film that when they made the second sequel they crammed in as full of as many Captain Jacks as their computers could process.

Here's an entirely made up example, designed to prove my point: let's say you make a site about train spotting. One week, you write an article that includes a recipe for a muffin that you ate while watching the trains go by. When you look through your site statistics, you find that the muffin article is way more popular than the train spotting articles. Consequently, to increase traffic to your website, you write more muffin recipes. Soon you're not writing about trains any more at all, you're writing about muffins. When you start doing consumer research, your end goal doesn't become to produce a website, it becomes getting visitors. At any cost. And the two are completely different.

Here, we're heading close to the Management Consultant's Fallacy. Here's another example (this one only partly made up). Most pop bands make most of their money from selling merchandise (t-shirts, scarves, books of muffin recipes with their picture on the front etc). Consequently, if you sent a management consultant to look at, say, The Beatles, he'd come up with something like: well, 60% of your income comes from selling t-shirts, but 90% of your costs come from touring, recording, and performing live. You should stop performing music and sell t-shirts.

What does this mean for your blog or your website? Is this one of the most contrived cliffhangers you've ever come across? For some of the answers to these questions, you'll have to click through and read the second part of this series on marketing...



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