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Marketing as Network Neuroeconomics

June 11, 2015

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How can you sustain your marketing efforts in the future? Peter Hinssen is a popular thought leader on digital and disruptive innovation and a Partner at nexxworks. He is also author of the book The Network Always Wins, a business guide on keeping a company up to speed within its market in the age of digital disruption. This post is adapted from that book.

How should we tackle the concept of marketing in the future, and how should we consummate this marriage between technology and marketing? What will be long-lived strategies in an increasingly fluid world of customer behavior? I believe the future of marketing is network neuroeconomics. In this era, companies must understand how to influence networks in order to influence individual consumers. They must tailor their efforts to individuals who are unique, yet are also part of a continuous stream of information, and whose behavior is only partly governed by conscious decisions. They must understand that marketing has been transformed from a simple linear system to a complex one with the consumer at its heart.

Here are some tips:

1. Averages Are Out

Averages are so last century. Who is your average consumer, anyway? If you were to tell one of your average consumers that you considered her average, she would probably punch you in the face—or at least be horribly offended, irritated, or frustrated.

The direction that marketers once started talking about with the future of marketing was promising. But the way it was approached—as a mass customization rather than true personalization—was wrong. Consumers want to be treated as unique. We have to understand their behavior better than ever. We have to take into account both the conscious and the unconscious influencing of that unique individual, and we have to be able to anticipate what consumers really, really want. Not the average demographic that represents them.

2. Listen and Understand

Paul Arden, former creative director for Saatchi and Saatchi, said, “If you want to be interesting, be interested.” That’s exactly what we need to do in the network neuroeconomics era. The world has become complex, and the network only accelerates that. We can’t rely on simple action-response types of behavior. Instead, we have to understand complex, dynamic behavior, and, therefore, we have to find patterns, seek insights, and embrace complexity.

The irony, in other words, is that, although we want to be treated as unique, we are not, because the patterns that emerge in the behaviors of others help organizations predict what we might like. Amazon is able to recommend products tailored to the unique human beings we think we are… but only on the basis of the patterns in the behavior of so many others who act very similarly.

3. Trust Is a Must

The core fuel of the network neuroeconomy is trust. But building trust has to be genuine, rooted in an understanding of the rules of play in the networked society. You can’t control your customer anymore; you can’t force a demographic in a certain direction. You have to influence people in a way that won’t compromise the trust of the network. As the Internet-era marketing guru and bestselling author Seth Godin pointed out, “Human beings can’t help it: we need to belong. One of the most powerful of our survival mechanisms is to be part of a tribe, to contribute to a group of like-minded people.” Those tribes are based on trust. I like the brave example of Clorox. Its stain app always recommends the best option to use for a stain, even if it is the competition’s product. And Hilton advises travelers—even those staying in competing hotels—about the best places in town to eat or drink. That is how you build trust—by being bold.

Today’s simplistic advertising models on the Internet are plain horrible. Who hasn’t experienced a banner ad on a website that you visit, but you’re not interested, so you avoid it—only to be confronted with the exact same ad on the next website you visit, perhaps with different wording or a different picture. You click away again, and, to your horror, the ad just keeps following you like a drunk barfly. No wonder Internet users are becoming completely immune to this simplistic type of advertising—just as bacteria become resistant to antibiotics if you overuse them. Engagement is an earned currency.

4. Change and Become Multifaceted

“And yet I told Your Holiness that I was no painter,” Michelangelo told Pope Julius II, who was complaining about the progress of the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1508. I love this quote from Michelangelo, even if he probably didn’t say exactly this to the pope. It took him four long years to paint the ceiling, and he only finished it in 1512. It then took him six years, between 1535 and 1541, to paint The Last Judgment, a magnificent fresco on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.

Next-generation marketers aren’t just about building messages to consumers or understanding consumer behavior. Next-generation marketers have to understand technology—not to the extent that they should be able to code the next wave of social marketing gizmos, but to the extent that they understand the dynamics and mechanisms that rule the world of technology.

Next-generation marketers have to understand neuroscience—not that they should be able to carve out the amygdalae, but that they should understand the influencing of individuals based on the emerging neuroeconomics mechanisms. Above all, next-generation marketers should become network thinkers, understanding the influence of network nodes in a world where consumers have become part of an ecosystem of information.

And perhaps that is the most important lesson. The future isn’t binary anymore. The world has become warped, intertwined, and mingled. And to make sense of this multidisciplinary world, a multifaceted approach will be vital if an organization is to survive.

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About The Author

An entrepreneur, advisor, lecturer and author, Peter Hinssen (1969) is one of Europe’s most sought-after thought leaders on radical innovation, leadership and the impact of all things digital on society and business. www.peterhinssen.com

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