Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Death, Taxes, and the Company Web Site - Is advertising a meme?

It has been more than 15 years since most Americans have had access to what we call the Internet.  Business has changed since this global epidemic of information accessibility, but still some organizations are hesitant to invest resources in such an intangible media.  Intangible, in this context, merely implies actions that have incalculable development costs or unpredictable market impacts.  These intangibles are left uncalculated due to incompetence, not impossibility.  The factors that represent project costs and impact, can be determined using the same techniques and methods utilized for traditional projects in any industry.  However, if your project requires absolute public acceptance, deification of your cause, exponential profit increases, or becoming an Internet sensation (meme) your project will never be completed, never be profitable, and never satisfy an audience.

To companies, representing themselves in media has long been a tradition, but at the dawn of 2010, I challenge that assumption and ask, "is advertising itself a meme?"  Ubiquitous information accessibility no longer allows corporations to manipulate markets, a feat generally accomplished with coordinated awareness campaigns.  Advertising relies on sources of information, whether person, publication, or presentation, to disseminate and control a composed message, articulated to reassure trust, professionalism, and success, but the Internet represents a collaboration of all such mechanisms.  How then can traditional campaigns be organized in a way that exploit new Internet opportunities, while still maintaining the control of conventional media?

I don't think they should.  I think advertising is a cultural meme afflicted upon societies that hold economics higher than ethics.  You should too, and here's why.

What do you think of the products / services you use, and what do you think of the company that created them?  Are you aware that every purchased product has a manufacturer, trade association, and powerful lobby that works to manipulate the regulations by which they're restricted or enabled.  Do you think every organization and individual that promotes the use of their product is doing so altruistically?

The answer, is an obvious "No".  Our current paradigm of economic stability, relies on the ignorance of consumers to choose products that represent a higher social standard or perceived market acceptance.  Meaning, a company that pays you to be happy with a product will benefit more, than a company that merely pays a 3rd party to convince you that you're happy with their product.  This can be reinterpreted as, customers will purchase products they like, or be convinced to buy products they don't.  Whether a customer is happy with their purchase, will change, depending on time and what happens between the next occasion they question their investment.  Companies need to realize their product has a finite market window in which to satisfy their customers needs, too early and customers won't understand the benefits of the product, and too late, the customer won't benefit because the market has changed in the interim.

Does your company convince people to buy their product, or do you recommend a solution to a problem, and convince your customers of the effectiveness?  Although societies are more connected since the advent of the Internet, the psychological methods and techniques of subliminal control are so embedded within the process of creating public awareness campaigns, that we can never feasibly separate the topic from the audience.  The basis of communication is empathy, interpreting the pauses between language as an opportunity for reflective application, and translating the composition of diametrically opposed concepts into a conscious understanding that balances information based on the quality, reliability, or subconscious preference to that information.

If marketing was meant to control, and a company now realizes that control is unattainable, damaging, or unethical, by what mechanism can companies communicate their offering without adhering to the paradigm of manipulation?  It would require a media that allowed: reliable global access to information, anonymous references to controversial perspectives, and immediate distribution, a motivated audience will emerge if the message is important enough for them to redistribute it.  All characteristics of what we currently refer to as the Internet.

Considering the current marketplace and standards of operation for most industries, a company web site is mandatory, and should accurately represent the brand, organization, and offering.  However, the process required to transform the informal business goals of a web site into a reliable procedure, that when applied, delivers a consistent satisfactory result, is an illusion.  The expectations of a project will proportionately increase with the amount of hype surrounding its development.  The web is controversial, futuristic, unpredictable, and the infinite  application of emerging technology is fleeting, conjuring images of the "Wild West".  However, most web projects will fail, not because they fail to function, but because they fail to deliver over-estimated market change.  These failures are rarely referred to as formal failures within the organization, but merely categorized as a lack of diligence on the part of the performers, which produced an inferior result.

I challenge this assumption, I think a web site can only be successful if it has no expectations.  If sites were the result of motivated internal teams that believed in their organization and offering, marketing buzz-words could be replaced by honesty, the ego of one could be replaced by the ego of every.

I know what you're thinking.  A site created by nontechnical and unmanaged employees would look amateur, have no direction, and never function.  Several years ago you would have been correct, however the technology that enables quick infrastructures, CMSs, Blogs, SaaS, PaaS is increasingly accessible and evolving daily, embodying the definition of cheap and easy.  Individuals have gained new comfort in digital environments, and frameworks enable collaborative redefinition of a message and a transparent work-flow allows each contributor to intimately know the characteristics of each component.  But where in an organization would a product of such collaborative insight be appreciated, should it be used for knowledge management and transfer, quality assurance, or to better utilize human capital?

Web sites aren't an http address, they're a symbol of global accessibility, equality of information, and hope.  The hope that companies as a collaborative group will care as much as the people that operate them do individually, and present that message above one meant to control or manipulate.

-Ryan Gensel


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