Emergence and marketing.

Marketing seems simple. But in all reality, it’s an extremely complex system of pushing, pulling, experiences, word of mouth, face-to-face, sights, sounds, feelings. Put on top of this the fact that all of these transactions are highly personal, and are multiplied across a large population. To think that you can control this is futile, but these complex systems generally form fairly straightforward and trackable patterns.

In comes the theory of emergence. A simple explanation of emergence is that an emergent behavior or emergent property can appear when a number of simple agents operate in an environment, forming more complex behaviors as a collective. You begin to discern patterns based on the big picture of the complexity. In marketing, human behavior differs greatly individually, but the sum total of activity and movement can become predictable and repeatable.

What can be learned from emergence theory when applied to marketing? You need a few key things to help ensure success:

  1. You need to learn as much as possible from as large a sampling as possible before you begin. The purpose of truly good surveys is to discern trends and patterns through disparate answers. Therefore, individual answers are meaningless, but the sum total is the true guide.
  2. Crafting a communications plan must cover enough venues to create multiple paths to the same conclusion. Since people act individually, you cannot assume that even a successful campaign worked to engage enough people for a sustained effect. Instead, there have to be enough points of contact to create a tapestry of communications in order to connect this complex world of individuals.
  3. There needs to be some heavy-duty analytics available to take in all the information. With so much happening so quickly, emergent systems are hard to predict. But through today’s technology, they can be relatively simple to track. There will be no two success stories that will happen in exactly the same way. However, there will arise patterns that appear as trends, and therefore can be replicated and expanded.

Many organizations fall prey to the “one resounding success” syndrome, where they try to replicate lightning in a bottle by looking at a success sampling of one. This may prove to be disastrous because the overall pattern may differ greatly from the one experience. The next potential success may be out there, ready to capture. But it may look entirely different from the previous. And there may be several in between, somewhere in the complexity of how people live, decide, and purchase.

Advertising, Opinion

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