Marketing. The World’s Oldest Profession.

I’m firing up the Clarity Marketing Support Hot Tub Time Machine to get a bird’s eye view of an issue that is at the core of business success – how you communicate with potential customers. While some of the tools have changed, the same core issue remains. Your success depends on your ability to reach customers.

In this week’s Moment of Clarity I take you back to a simpler time before Twitter, the Beatles, Henry Ford and penicillin.

cavemen smallJump in the tub and let’s go back in time to the days when uni-brows were all the rage, Mastodon was on the menu and men were unkempt.

  • Og invents the wheel.
  • Toogah needs to move his stuff.
  • Toogah has no idea what a wheel is or that it exists.
  • Thus, the first marketing problem is created.

Think about that for a moment. In it’s simplest form, the activities we know as “marketing” is all about connecting sellers with buyers with the right message at the right time and place.

Back in Og’s day, the only method available was word of mouth (or grunt of mouth, I imagine).

This worked well as long as Og’s customers were within shouting distance. Beyond that, not so much. In other words, Og’s market was pretty limited.

To qualify as a market, it must have both the following characteristics:

  • a group with common needs and desires
  • the ability to communicate with each other

That second point about communicating with each other is crucial. In fact, before the industrial age, if you wanted to sell something you would travel to where the customers were – which was not very efficient to say the least.

Then came Mr. Gutenberg.
With his invention of movable type came the ability to communicate to vast audiences. However, it would take another 400 years or so for the first advertisement to appear in a newspaper.

Next came the telegraph.
Believe or not, the earliest mass unsolicited spam was in 1864. The telegraph helped connect cities but was not used by the average consumer.

In 1922, radio changed everything.
Suddenly it was possible to broadcast a message directly into the living rooms of millions of people.

CBS started broadcasting television followed in the early ‘40s and commerce directly and proportionately grew with the adoption of these technologies.

Back in the day, it was pretty simple to get your message in front of millions of potential customers. You’d come up with a snappy ad, run it on radio, TV and in newspapers and ca-ching sales came in. There were only three networks and a handful of newspapers. Life for the marketer was simple.

75 million people watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.

If you wanted people to smoke your cigarettes, you just ran an ad on Ed’s show. At a measly 3% conversion rate, you introduced 2.25 million people to cancer. Easy Peasy.

What has changed? Everything.

technology adoption curve

Click to Enlarge

Fast forward to today. People are bombarded with information and marketing messages. The average person receives about 5,000 messages a day. There are thousands of television and radio channels, magazines, newspapers, billboards, telemarketing, direct mail…..the INTERNET!

Everywhere we turn, someone is selling us something. The simple life of the 1950’s marketer has become maddeningly fragmented and complex. If you need to reach potential buyers, they have a thousand different ways of potentially receiving your message. (The other side of the coin is that you have a thousand different ways to reach them).

People have choices. And increasingly they choose to ignore marketing messages. Here’s why.

The defense mechanism
Back in Roman times, people came up with highly effective ways to kill each other. One favorite method was to launch about a zillion arrows at the same time towards the enemy. I would imagine the first time this tactic was tried, the enemy was somewhat surprised – for about ten seconds until they lost consciousness from blood loss. Their natural reaction was to show up to the next battle with shields.

The fighting forces would huddle together with their shields overhead to create a seamless dome of armor to repel the deadly arrows. Today’s customer is no different.

The natural reaction of customers is to tune out all messages except those that are immediately relevant to his or her needs at the moment. Our brains can’t process 5,000 messages a day. Customers create a force field around them that deflects 99% of messages. You do it too.

Think back to the last time you were at Best Buy, salivating over the big screen TV’s and the pimply faced kid asks you “Can I help you?” Your instant, knee-jerk response was “No, just looking.”. Maybe you are the kind of person that likes to hang out at Best Buy and catch up on the latest Kardashian antics, but I’d doubt it.

You were there because you had some interest in big screen TVs. But, you reacted to someone you perceived as selling with your defense mechanism. You didn’t think it over. Just like Captain Kirk, you went to red alert and just put up your shields as you do thousands of times each day.

You create a small “Circle of Attention” where only your immediate needs and concerns are focused. It’s a cozy place with limited space but it allows us to function in a world that offers endless stimulation.

If you aren’t concise, clear and most of all relevant to your market’s needs, pain and emotions you will be ignored.

Comments, critiques and witter banter are welcome below.


  1. Pingback: How can you crack your customer’s shield? You Can’t. | Clarity Marketing Support | Pete Monfre | Austin

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