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April 29, 2004

will we refdiscover an age when marketing comes back to earth as a relevant form of human communications? 

Extract from Brian Alger's extraordinary moving blog, corresponding in part with a John Moore stimulus

Yesterday I was at yet another physiotherapy session (I had an ACL reconstruction done on my knee last October and, yes, I'm still going twice/week). But this isn't important. During my workout I started up a conversation with a fellow that I had seen from time to time, but never really took spoke to in any detail. So, keeping with the tradition of the culture of physiotherapy, I provided the most common opening line, "You here for ACL as well?" His answer was startling and resulted in a long conversation which, to my physiotherapist's chagrin, cut short my workout.

"I nearly lost my life," Ron responded, "and I can only thank God that I am still here."

In June of 2003 Ron was prescribed Lipitor by his doctor and had an extreme adverse reaction to it that destroyed the nerves and muscle tissues in his legs. For the next half hour we traveled through his story about how his body began an extremely painful deterioration, how his doctor failed to take his numerous requests for help seriously, how doctors fail to spend quality time with their patients and are pushing pills on people without having the proper expertise to do so, his morphine-enhanced twelve-day stay in the hospital after admitting himself through emergency, and his personal research into the potential life-threatening affects of Lipitor. He hopes to return to work in October of 2004 and requires an intense physio program to rebuild his leg muscles and repair as much as possible the nerves. Quite literally, he has to learn to walk again.

My own trials with ACL reconstruction seemed a humerous aside now. "The whole experience caused me to think about my life," he went on to say. The things he was thankful for, but perhaps had not paid enough attention to while healthy, came into clear view - his wife, his children, his family, his friends. He never once spoke about his career unless I lead him in that direction. I began reflecting on my own life, and although I have not had a near death experience, there have been unsettled times in my life when I felt as if I was floating aimlessly out to sea.

Ron's thinking had a sense of power about it. I could see that as he spoke, there were definite physiological affects on his emotions. This is a sign of pure sincerity in a conversation - the absence of manipulation. I've often wondered why it takes a near death experience or some kind of tragedy in life for people to get back to what is most important in their lives. The possiblity of death seems to have a way of purifying the life we have. But Ron was not just thinking and relfecting on his experience, he was also living and feeling life differently (action). His thinking was not something separate from his action; his actions were not separate from his thinking - there is an essential unity in his story. I look forward to seeing him again tomorrow.

What has this got to do with marketing? Everything.

Under the power of networks, the days of trite slogans, cute logos and superificial advertising are over. In a networked society, a brand is a kind of network, and a network is inspired by quality conversations between people. The notion of copywriters sitting and coming up with various kinds of tag lines, etc., will implode - they simply won't be needed as much. For one thing, a quality conversation will effectively nullify superficial marketing and advertising techniques. And the brand will not flow through a hierarchy(i.e. - corporate structure through to public awareness), but through networks (i.e. - many to many). People, consumers, will learn about products and services via networked learning environments and their thoughts and actions will irrevocably become part of the brand identity..

John's point that marketing people must generate conversations involves a fundamental shift (re-distribution) of power, and will serve to bring marketers and advertisers into much closer proximity with the living and breathing human beings that buy their products and services. If the power of knowledge is in sharing, then consumers will do as much, and perhaps more, of the sharing than marketers can ever hope to. Marketers will need to develop new skill sets that make them expert at facilitating quality conversations.

It remains to be seen whether or not Pfizer will step up to the plate and have a "quality conversation" around Lipitor. Obviously the product can cause great damage, and even death. It still baffles me that school systems have no serious content to teach students around the issues of prescription medications. We all need expertise with respect to our health and the industries that surround it. We need to begin preparing students and helping adults engage in this much needed conversation, not as some kind of attack on the pharmaceutical industry, but to develop a more equitable sense of thought and action. I hear too many people talking about "pill-pushing" doctors.

I'm not one for forecasting, but it seems reasonable to consider the possibility that brands and marketing will, out of necessity, evolve toward becoming network learning environments in which "conversations of great quality" form the essence of the brand image. Not only will marketing people need to reflect on how they are conversing with consumers, but the consumers themselves will become at least an equal partner in the conversation.
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