Marketing to Fragments While Everything Else Converges

There’s a blog entry posted by HP’s Vice President of Global Marketing Strategy & Excellence, Eric Kintz, (Link) that might be of interest to some of you. He discusses the issue of how marketers and advertisers should deal with the multiple identities people create for their various online activities (I wish he’d stuck to the customer/consumer issue, but that’s not really what he’s addressing here). His response to it is what he calls “dissociative identity marketing”.

…”dissociative identity” refers to the existence in an individual of two or more distinct identities, each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment. “Dissociative identity marketing” would refer to the relationship a brand establishes with the various personas of a consumer, from the blogging persona, to the social network persona or the gaming persona.

If I understand Kintz correctly, this effectively amounts to identifying and targeting not the consumer but each and every one of their online personas such that gamer Johnny would have a relationship with HP, blogger Johnny would have a relationship with HP, aso. And because the assumption is that these persona are different, it stands to reason that the relationships are different. In effect, HP would have to approach each persona differently; create different ad campaigns for each channel in which these persona dwell.

At the end of his entry Kintz puts forth the following question:

So what do you think? Is “dissociative identity marketing” the latest fad or the ultimate customer centric marketing?

Here’s my answer: Not only is it inefficient, it’s too late.

The reason I believe Kintz’s approach doesn’t make sense anymore is because events like Second Life’s security breach (reLink) remind people of the common connection joining those supposedly-separate identities. Netizens are beginning to see both “persona convergence” and media convergence happening all around them. How is it that a corporate vice president is pushing the idea that companies need to market to different identities of the same person when everything is now converging? While he’s chasing fragments of Johnny, the real Johnny is assembling them into an increasingly cohesive online identity.

It’s too late because as convergence gathers steam (e.g. XFire being purchased by Viacom, MySpace being purchased by Fox), it’s becoming increasingly common for people to use the same identity in multiple channels. People are no longer dissociating the way they used to. For example, if you look up “csven”, you’ll find I use it on this blog and a couple of others, on a number of forums, and also inside Second Life. And I am by no means unique. I have one identity. And as many people are figuring out, the time invested in their various online personas is best applied to the Reputation of a single identity, because while academians are talking about “reputation capital”, people on the street are utilizing it.

On top of this, the World of Warcraft guild about which Joi Ito talks is very much like most “clans” which don’t dissolve but instead move from online game to net-based forum to community blogs and back to another online game. It’s not just about individuals, but tightly-knit, channel-surfing groups. The channel doesn’t define the individuals and it doesn’t define the group either.

How about this instead: Companies identify individuals whose singular online persona span different channels and who have good reputations in those channels and thus act as influencers across a broader spectrum. This is not only more efficient, it’s less intrusive and more respectful of the consumer.

Marketing to and engaging in discourse with multi-channel influencers seems a much more sensible way to get a brand message to the consumer because they do much of the work for the company. From my perspective, what’s being proposed by Kintz is sledgehammer finesse.

Imagine for a moment that HP started marketing using the “dissociative identity marketing” approach. This means that not only do consumers get hit multiple times in real life, they get hit multiple times in each channel. And they will get hit in each channel even if the message doesn’t apply, because we all know that if getting that brand message out is either low-cost or free, it’ll go out as often as possible to the widest audience possible regardless of whether it makes any sense (I can’t tell you how often I get spammed by companies offering a service I simply cannot use). In my opinion, anyone who claims that marketing and advertising will judiciously target their ads when they have an opportunity to blanket the web is either being dishonest or deluding themselves.

Does that really make sense? Does a company really want to smother their market this way not just with one ad campaign but with several dissociatively-targeted campaigns selling the same thing? I hope not. Because it dismisses the fact that the market doesn’t like it and is already going out of its way to avoid that kind of spam. Corporations need to realize that the consumer is now largely in control. Tell them something they want to hear in a manner that is engaging and, most of all, respectful, and you’ll get their business. Shove it in their face, try to be cool, and they’ll most likely just turn their back on your product.

But I don’t think HP gets it when I read stuff like this:

MySpace has introduced a blended form of advertising, allowing brands to create their own online personas to interact with social networking personas. Brands can have their own pages and their own friends’ lists.

Is it any surprise that word is getting out that MySpace is yesterday’s news; that the juiciest demographic is looking for other options because brands are thoughtlessly jumping into MySpace? that marketing really believes this is smart just because a few early adopters got away with it and generated a little buzz? I’m not surprised.

Mr. Kintz, why not get the market to come to you for a change by developing products that speak for themselves? And in the meantime, get your facts straight. Depending on BW or any other MSM outlet for accurate news about online activities is a mistake. Get personal, get involved and get in touch.

One thought on “Marketing to Fragments While Everything Else Converges

  1. Pingback: Out to Pasture » Blog Archive » links for 9-19-2006

Comments are closed.