I went to lunch with Carman Pirie last week, he’s an advertising and marketing guy who’s trying to shake things up in the local industry. His baby is Closer to the Customer, is a three-stage marketing strategy that includes “Discovery” of the issues that need to be addressed for the client, followed by “Immersion” of the organization into the contexts in which their products are consumed… and then a “Harvest” of the information through “meaningful conversations”.
Carman is an interesting guy. He’s dedicated to his profession and has some pretty radical ideas to unleash on the marketing biz here in Halifax. But, from our conversations over the past few weeks, it seems as though he’s only able to take the idea so far.
But this blog is not just about marketing. This blog is about something larger.
The reason I bring up Carman, is because during our last interaction, the term “status quo” came up a lot. The marketing and advertising business has done a lot to shape and mold the “status quo.” I referred to the industry as a modern institution – an industry and culture that has bundled with it certain traditions and practices which have been effective in upholding the status quo. So before I go any further, I want to try to define what I mean by the status quo.
Corporate execs, politicians, academics and mainstream media uphold the status quo. These are all individuals who work within traditional frameworks of the economy, governance, education and culture. As such, these professionals have accountability to the institutions they serve… perhaps even more so than the people that they serve within their capacities… we’ll call them customers just to denote the fact that they consume the products and services within the institutions.
Certain customers still buy into the status quo. They spend their lives toiling away to reach the status quo, and they view their value as human beings in relation to how well they fit that status quo mold. I would argue, however, that more and more, people are waking up to the fact that achieving the status quo doesn’t necessarily mean what it used to… that is, they’ve deviated away from the path that the institutions have laid out before them and are more interested in individualizing their lifestyles.
For theoretical musings on the process of individualization in late-modern society, I recommend James Cote’s little known book called “Arrested Adulthood: The changing nature of maturation in society”
But what individualization of lifestyle can mean is more fragmentation of the status quo. Even for those who are only making individualizing choices within the pre-packaged lifestyles available… the abundance of choice in our current conditions, make the process of fragmentation of culture and values accelerate… so much so that it is really very hard to identify the status quo anymore.
All of this to eventually say that if the institutions in our society want to remain relevant, they must start fragmenting themselves… they must start recognizing that the individuals that they serve… the customers… are no longer interested in single path trajectories… because there are no longer single identifiable points of arrival.
The situation we find ourselves in right now is one where customers are turning their backs on the traditional… because the traditional no longer fulfills their needs and they are finding ways around the traditional… in some cases, cutting the institution out all together.
Some of those operating within the traditional institutions are starting to wake up. However, it’s scary deviating away from the paradigms you have come to depend on. There is a lot of risk involved in attempting to shift paradigms.
The band Radiohead is the perfect current example of this risk-taking. A phenomenally popular band whose contract with EMI has recently expired. They’ve decided to release their latest cultural offering “In Rainbow” independently… to their fans directly. If you haven’t heard of this yet, I suggest you pay attention, because I think this Radiohead thing marks the final nail in the Recording Industry’s coffin.
The beauty of what Radiohead is doing… the huge risk that they have taken… is that they are offering their new album on a pay-what-you-can basis. “No seriously”, they say as the user continues through the order process. And Radiohead’s fans have rewarded them accordingly for this option, as “In Rainbows” is set to become Radioheads most successful release, in terms of finances.
The interesting thing, and the thing that I think many of those want-to-be paradigm shifters need to pay attention to in this lesson of new… is that Radiohead had to leave the comforts and confines of the status quo to make this possible. There is no way that they could do this confined to the heavy regulations of the Recording Industry. The best way to break the mold was by smashing it to pieces.
Listen… the potential for change is ripe right now. Taking risks for change is what it’s all about. Some risks will end in humiliation and failure, it’s true… but those ones that hit… will be thoroughly impacting.