Marketing Success: Strategic or Accidental?

by Eric Tsai

web20sfI just got a reminder email from O’Reilly Conferences to attend Web 2.0 event in San Francisco which I went last year while I was consulting for a web 2.0 product. I remember walking around the show, meeting people, and sitting in on the breakout sessions. The only thing I kept wondering is how are any of these people going to create a buzz for their product?

Here are some notes I took while at the expo:

The morning keynote sessions involves topics such as accessibilities, the web, browser and opening up a platform for developers to further the advancement of web2.0. Then I heard the conversation with Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape Corp, co-author of Mosaic and Ning. He spoke about the internet experience specifically over the usability of browsers.

After that it was an interesting video of Jonathan Zittrain, who raised the question of security issues over the internet to developers on the web and mobile devices. Then Mozilla Firefox’s chairman spoke about one web and accessing the web via mobile should be the same as on PCs etc plus discussed their new browser for the mobile platform that will come with some of the newer smart devices.

Thus far, everyone emphasized on the importance of opening up their platform for further web 2.0 development since the evolution of the “web browser standardization” was the reason why we have this incredible growth post 2005 when the idea of web2.0 was introduced. Personally I believe everyone suddenly realized that’s how Google got so far so fast so good, even MySpace credited their users in building and driving their product (Google’s model – just launch it and let the market tell you what they want).

One things I found interesting is how much traction a company or a product gets when it’s tied to famous or powerful individuals. And that led to another article I’ve read last year about the effectiveness of influentials in marketing. In FastCompany’s Is the Tipping Point Toast?, author Clive Thompson presented an controversial debate on how trends work between theories from Malcolm Gladwell and Duncan Watts.

Long story short, Gladwell believes in Influentials theory – in the “two step” model of marketing, well-connected Influentials amplify a trend by relaying media messages out to the social periphery. Marketers can therefore focus on the few as a way of reaching the many. And Watts believes Accidental Influentials – Watts’s theory says the emergence of a trend depends not on Influentials, but on the susceptibility of the public to the “virus.” Social-network effects are so complex, he says, that trends are basically random.

While I like what Watts outlined in his research, ultimately it’s a combination of both random influence and key opinion leaders setting off some sort of buzz in an attempt to tip a trend into existence. However; will it last is another story since any big firm can hire celebrities as their spokesperson, purchase prime time advertising spot, or plaster posters all over town.  Marketing has some unmeasurable randomness that often can not be precisely determined by sales figures or CRM systems. The key metrics to consider are time-to-benefit and the return on investment, when you pay someone like a Marc Andreessen it’s either an expensive shortcut or a cheap fast track with no gurantee in “trend setting” just a higher probability.