Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Span from Insight to Mainstream

In 1995, 48 months after the Internet emerged for commercial use, the start-up community-destination marketing organization (DMO) for Durham, North Carolina launched its first website.

Less than four-tenths of a percent of the world’s population including only 14% of Americans had access at the time but within months, the Durham DMO made two pivotal and strategic decisions:

  • One, the website would be more than a brochure.  It would be the platform and repository for nearly all of the organization’s data including information and research about Durham.


  • Two, it would also be a platform for the launch of what is now called “content marketing,” a form of publishing information to enable internal stakeholders and news media.

The same content would also be used inform and interest prospective visitors including the 80+% of newcomers and relocating executives who first raconteur a community as a visitor.

The two-pronged strategy surfaced as executives first gathered around the only office computer at the time that could access the Internet.  It came not from a lot of strategic planning or brainstorming but from a burst of strategic insight.

In fact, it occurred in a flash of insight fused with data that proceeds strategic thinking, what Dr. William Duggan first referred seven years later as coup d’oeil in his book Napoleon’s Glance: The Secret of Strategy.

“In French, coup means ‘stroke’ and oeil means “eye,”  a reference by Carl Von Clausewitz when he wrote:

When all is said and done, it really is the commander's coup d'œil, his ability to see things simply, to identify the whole business of war completely with himself, that is the essence of good generalship. Only if the mind works in this comprehensive fashion can it achieve the freedom it needs to dominate events and not be dominated by them.

Applying it to business and organizational management, Duggan describes this as the “sudden insight that shows you a course of action to take.”

Regarding Clausewitz, one of my favorite pieces of movie dialogue is an exchange from that year’s hit movie Crimson Tide between actors Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington (sitting across from a very young James Gandolfino, four years before he became Tony Soprano.)

It is built on ideas by Clausewitz - and Washington’s character, Lt. Commander Ron Hunter, intones - “In the nuclear world, a true enemy can’t be destroyed…In a nuclear world the true enemy is war itself, ” a lesson we are struggling to learn in real life.

As it always does, according to Duggan that coup d’oeil around that computer in the Durham DMO start-up that day came “from knowledge of the past.”  Something else that had “worked in other situations, in a new combination that fits the problem at hand.”

The Durham DMO had earlier determined to be data or information-driven.  The insight that day was how to leverage that information much further than its original purpose and it paid off immediately, a strategic advantage that was novel eighteen years ago.

Today “content marketing” is a buzz-word but in reality few truly practice it.  As Pushfire CEO, Rae Hoffman notes on her blog Sugarrae :

“…content marketing isn’t a new strategy, it’s merely a new word.”

Had the Durham DMO also coined this term in 1995, it may have helped overcome naysayers who saw the Internet as a passing novelty and complained “why don’t we just run some AAAAYYYYAAAAUUUDDDSSS” (that’s “ads” for non-southerners.)

Today, nearly 3 billion people around the world, including four out of five Americans actively incorporate the Internet into their lives.

A Europe-wide survey of students graduating this spring with degrees in marketing including communications and advertising found that 81% agreed or strongly agreed that in 10 years “content marketing” would be part of their jobs.

Maybe that gives an indication then for how long it takes for a bit of strategic thinking to go from insight to mainstream even in the digital age – thirty years.

Seven out of 10 in the survey, released this month, “believe the marketing landscape with be dominated by content marketing and PR thinking.”

Of particular interest to me in the survey was the finding that nearly nine out of 10 want to work in marketing that is “as much about the creation of social good as about creating profit for brands.”

Seven out of 10 thought that marketers “were not doing enough to create a sustainable world.”

This is more than just the idealism of youth, coming of age during the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by the Global economic meltdown caused by the financial industry.  This generation can’t be blamed for being a bit “show me,” if not jaded.

Now, what’s being called “philanthropic capitalism” or “purpose-marketing” was called “cause-related marketing” when it emerged in the late 1990s.  Nothing new but this new generation of marketers sees it more strategically.

Intriguingly, this fresh crop of new marketers does not see themselves as fully digital.  They reserve that for the generation to follow.  From what I observe with my grandsons, ages 7 and 9, they are correct.

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