What The Internet Has Really Meant To Marketing Firms
No, this is not a rant about social media, banner ads, tower ads, engagement, conversations or any of that stuff. This is about what the Internet has actually meant for advertising agencies. During the years right after World War II, professionals in this country were perceived as almost godlike. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineer, nurses, and yes even marketing professionals were held in high regard. It was recognized that these professionals spent a lot of money and even more time to learn the art, science and craft of that was used in the performance of their practices. This is no longer true. Many professionals today are not held in high esteem, and here’s why:
From the 1950’s to today, America began its long transformation from a labor-intensive manufacturing economy to the knowledge economy we are today. And with that change came physical and cultural changes. Physical labor was slowly replaced by robots to do the ‘heavy lifting’ that wore our bodies down. Modern medicine also extended our lifespans. The net effect has been that we are healthier than ever, living longer than ever and yet still we were expected to retire at age 65, which, in the 1960’s, was considered pretty old.
And then along came the World Wide Web, which was quaintly called the Information Super-Highway. Almost instantly and continuing to this day, the rush and push has been to utilize it for commercial gain. But aside from the obvious commercial uses that has benefited so many, the real value of the Internet has been its ability to bring the entire catalog of the world’s present and past knowledge to anyone at the click of a button. Today, most professionals themselves are auto-didactically educated well beyond even his or her professional education. And this point is where my story leads.
Professional service industry pricing is based on the asymmetrical knowledge gap between customer and provider. As long as this asymmetrical balance is in the favor of the provider, high prices are maintained. But the Internet has narrowed that gap. In the world of marketing before the Internet, marketing books were usually school texts or academic journals. But with the Internet opening up avenues for anyone to share knowledge or opinions, the entire industry was flooded with marketing ‘self-help’ books, blogs and professional journals; massive amounts of marketing knowledge and experience that might not have ever seen the light of day. But all in all, the net effect has been that any business owner can Google to his hearts content and learn on his own time many of the core precepts of marketing and persuasion, which has drastically narrowed this asymmetrical balance of knowledge. The result has been that many high-fee service providers are being slowly turned into commodities and thus their premium pricing is endangered. But you know what? This is a good thing in my view because many marketing firms who try to fake the fundamentals are easily found out before too long. More knowledgeable clients will make better clients not only because they will weed out the pretenders in our midst, but also because they will also have a better understanding of why we do what we do, which can often look like nonsensical voodoo to the uninitiated. The maxim is true: Knowledge is power.