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Marketing's Big Bang Theory

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The world is changing. The consumer is changing. Marketing is not ... and that's not a good thing, as it so desperately needs to adapt, evolve and conform to the only constant these days, which is change itself.

One of the key principles of the "New Marketing" arena is the idea behind communal activation. In the mainstream world we might refer to this as "engagement," i.e., getting people to care enough to take some kind of action -- inquiring about more information, telling a friend, blogging or, the Shangri-La of marketing: the purchase.

Marketing today is like a spectacular fireworks display. Short-lived and breathtaking. Unforgettably forgettable. The Macy's July 4th fireworks display might as well be the Super Bowl. (Take the test: Can you name 10 brands that advertised in this year's big game?) All our efforts seem to be front-loaded into launching with a bang. In order to break through the prototypical clutter, we have to take over our prospects' lives, leaving no stone unturned, nowhere to to hide.

The fireworks are mesmerizing. The sky is filled with brilliant colors, flashes of light and accompanying music to boot. A hypnotized mob "oohs" and "aahs" with appreciation. A captive audience. But as quickly as it began, it ends. The sky returns to darkness. The silence is deafening.

Sound familiar? It's your media plan, dummies. Your fleeting blobs of color suffocated in darkness.

As quickly as we burst onto the scene, break down the doors to our consumers' homes and trample our muddy paws all over their freshly cleaned carpets, we stampede out of their domiciles en route to our next "blitz" play.

Today, we all chase the elusive and marketing-weary consumer with the blind ambition of buzz or viral success. We spam bloggers with form e-mails, use shock tactics to get millions of pimple-faced teenagers to Digg, rate, refer or spoof us. And when all else fails, we resort to sex, babies, bunnies or puppies in order to entice the suspecting public to remember us for all the wrong reasons.

The one thing we don't do, however, is stop for a moment to listen; to respond; to join the conversation already in progress.

The seeds of conversation are just that. They are not magic beans. There are no overnight successes anymore.

Our job is to be a groundskeeper of change, to till the soil, water the seeds, protect and nurture the conversation in order to realize its full potential.

But we don't do that, do we? We are the golfers who attempt to whack the living daylights out of the ball in order to show off to our playing partners. The only problem is that we have no follow-through anymore. The golfers out there know that a lack of follow-through makes for a pretty poor golf game, one filled with misdirection and not much distance.

Bring this back to reality and we have the floundering agency that is, at best, the golfer without the follow-through and, at worst, the drunken hacker who should never have been trusted with a golf club in the first place.

Our marketing model is fraught with flawed infrastructure and methodology -- from the way we train our people to the way we compensate them. If we really want to be internalized and embraced by our customers, we need to give them a reason to believe that reaches beyond a cutesy jingle or catch phrase.

Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" was one of the early pioneers in a new way of going to market, insofar that it helped seed a brand idea as a movement, a purpose-based call to action that alluded to change -- changing soap brands and, in a small way, playing a part in changing the world.

Dove can never go back to the old way of marketing; one characterized by retouched, artificial and contrived models of exaggeration. The "Campaign for Real Beauty" epitomized a perfect tee shot, but the jury is still out as to whether the perfect setup will be matched by the perfect follow-through. Can you say Axe/Lynx?

Ultimately we pursue the metric of "lifetime value" of our customers, but if this is the case, are we in it for the long haul? Are we prepared to commit to our customers with a marketing approach that is enduring and timeless? Are we ready to invest in authentic relationships, devoid of control, opacity, manipulation and hyperbole? If we want our customers to trust us, are we prepared to trust them in return by giving them a voice?

In a world where increasing importance is being placed on the "new influencers" -- the digerati, technorati, and the like -- we need to unlearn a ton of staid thinking in order to adjust the way we approach "the conversation." There needs to be a seismic shift from the one-off fireworks display to something that is pervasive, enduring and consistently assuring, including, but not limited to, influencer outreach, blogger activation, conversation monitoring, optimization and response, contingency planning, crisis management and course correction.

And if agencies are to play any part in this shift, they have to change the fundamental way they plan, create, deploy, optimize and evolve their communications. In order to do this, marketers themselves are going to have to follow suit and restructure their internal organizations in order to realign and adjust accordingly.

Or you could just go back to shooting flares into the heavens and hope that help comes along. It won't.

Joseph Jaffe is president and chief interruptor at Crayon and the author of 'Join the Conversation.' He blogs at www.jaffejuice.com and can be reached at jaffe@crayonville.com.