If you look back throughout human history, humans ability to discover new things was slow. The world didn’t have the internet, nor the ability to easily travel country to country, place to place. It wasn’t possible to market to the entire world at once, or receive worldwide news instantly. Explorers would spend lifetimes discovering new land, meeting new people. News spread slow as messengers spent months carrying information across the land. Everyone within a tribe knew more or the less the same stuff.
Compare that to today, where news virtually anywhere in the world can be discovered within minutes, Google Maps gives us real time traffic data in virtually any city in the world, Skype allows me to video call my mom in real time from the other side of the planet, and Facebook allows me to befriend 400 people on a daily basis. It’s incredibly unique.
So how do we find things that interest us in todays world? How do we find things to buy, places to go, places to live, or what to read? The answer…..marketing.
Marketing influences what we buy, where we go, and who we go with. Things that interest us are based on our experiences, as well as things we’ve discovered. Marketing has become very good – so good in fact that marketers often know what we’ll be interested in before we even know it exists. Consumerism has us buying products that 5 minutes before we didn’t know existed.
When we want to travel somewhere, for example, we talk with others, or do research online. Others we’ve talked to were very likely marketed to, and virtually all of our research online is angled in a way to market or appeal to the consumer. The internet has near unlimited information, but also near unlimited marketing. Why? Because information is available for free, and the incentive to provide the information is often driven by the revenue that can be generated from advertising.
Take Google for example. It’s search engine allows anyone with internet the ability to search the web for almost anything and get the answer within seconds. It allows to us to discover things, learn things, lookup things. It’s an incredibly powerful piece of technology. But how is it possible for such a technology to exist? Advertising. The search engine is free, but the advertising pays for the technology to continually be improved. Without advertising, Google as we know it wouldn’t exist.
I recently read that Facebook and Google make up 50% of internet traffic – meaning that 50% of all of the people browsing the internet are on Facebook or Google.
Facebook, another incredibly powerful piece of technology, is also free. No one pays money to use Facebook. But how are they able to grow, improve their service, make Facebook more useful and better at connecting the world? Advertising, which last quarter they generated $8.8 billion, which is roughly $100 million a day they are making in revenue. This will enable Facebook to continue to do amazing things – without advertising, Facebook wouldn’t exist.
The point here is that discovery in the modern world is wrapped up entirely in marketing. The perfect advertisement is an advertisement that you don’t know is an advertisement because it is shown at the right place, at the right time, to the right person. Facebook and Google are both getting incredibly good at this. Again, it influences what we buy, when we buy, where we go, and who we go with. This is drastically a different way of discovery than has ever existed in human history.
A large store like Target, for example, can recognize with great accuracy where someone is at in life simply on their buying behavior and spending habits. In “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg tells a story about how Target was sending coupons to a shopper for baby food, pregnant mother clothes, etc. The dad of the shopper went to the manager of local Target telling them to stop, only to find out a few weeks later that his daughter was pregnant. Target recognized that the woman was pregnant before her father knew, simply by recognizing patterns in her buying habits. This sort of pattern recognition is being used by countless companies to market to you more effectively, and it is changing what you discover.
Capturing Attention and Pricing
The internet is a worldwide market. Businesses compete in a similar manner as they did 30 years ago, but with a big difference. Your competition, and also your market, is now the entire world. What this has done is remove the locality benefits that many businesses have – if you’re the only book store in town, everyday has to shop at your store if they want to buy a book. On the internet, this isn’t the case. People will buy when they’ve discovered what they want – whether that be through advertising, a friends recommendation, or just browsing the internet and searching for products (which was likely influenced by advertising without even knowing it). Because we now live in the age of attention, we’re being marketed to far more than we know, and it influences a great deal of our lives.
In Seth Godin’s book “The Purple Cow”, Godin argues that the only way for businesses and products to thrive in todays world of abundance is to create something remarkable, something unique, something that stands out amongst the rest. He calls this the Purple Cow. Businesses that succeed can’t blend into the rest or compete with the rest as the same business, they have to be remarkable, because remarkable businesses spread. Things used to be scare, now things are abundant, including businesses.
Imagine a street and at the beginning of the street is a gourmet burger shop selling high quality cheeseburgers – we’ll call this burger shop A. Down the street a few hundred meters is also a gourmet burger shop selling high quality chesseburgers, call this shop B. Shop B sells the same burgers for half the price.
However, shop A sells 10 times more burgers than shop B everyday, even though they are double the price. Why? Because shop A is at the beginning of the street and shop B is not. Shop A captures more attention, and therefore sells more, even though they are twice as a expensive for the same item!
The example demonstrates effectively all business on the internet. Countless businesses in every industry compete for attention. It’s not about being the cheapest, having the best service, or having the best website – it’s about getting people to find you and capture their attention. Yes, having the best service, website, and prices help in that those get attention, but without capturing attention in the first place and getting people to visit your online business, none of it matters.
In modern day, countless horrible products/services can thrive because they market well and great products/services can fail because they can’t market. The pendulum swings based off the marketing – how well can you capture attention. In an economy driven by money, capturing attention is now the incentive for virtually any business online – how can we capture more peoples attention and get them to spend more time on our site, our product, and our service.
It’s not about the cheapest, highest quality product, necessarily. It’s about capturing attention!
The reason this is all important to think about is that this plays out in everyday life. The average Americans sees between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day (Source). The average Facebook user you ask says they never click on ads, yet Facebook generated $8.8 billion in revenue last quarter so there is actually a good chance you have. In fact, the best ads are ones you don’t even know are advertisements.
Think about an ideal world: advertisements would be perfectly relevant at exactly the right time, meaning what you see would be exactly what you want. This is the way online advertising is trending. In the past you’d see advertisements completed unrelated to you, but now, with Facebook leading the way, advertisers have sophisticated ways displaying products and services directly to the audience that is most interested, without wasting money showing them to people who aren’t. The result? Consumers are happier because they find more things that they want, advertisers are happy because their budgets return a positive ROI, and businesses are happy because they get targeted consumers. It’s really a win-win situation. To some it’s scary – “how does Facebook know I want that?”, or “I was just visiting ebay.com looking for a necklace, and now I’m on pets.com see ads about necklaces, what?!”. Welcome to the new age of advertising, big data, and the internet. It’s truly changing how we discover, and what we discover. It’s a new age of discovery.