I was browsing Virginia Postrels blog today, and I clicked on a link to Trendwatching.com where I found this passage. See if you find it irritating, too.
TRENDWATCHING.COM has dubbed the latter “CUSTOMER-MADE”: the phenomenon of corporations creating goods, services and experiences in close cooperation with consumers, tapping into their intellectual capital, and in exchange giving them a direct say in what actually gets produced, manufactured, developed, designed, serviced, or processed. The CUSTOMER-MADE trend has been slowly building over the last five years, but with the current onslaught of consumer activism and the rapid rise of GENERATION C, it finally seems ready for its big moment in the limelight, where TRENDWATCHING.COM expects it to stay for many years to come. It doesn’t hurt that Management Guru C.K. Prahalad recently published ‘The Future of Competition’ an insightful and highly recommended book on co-creation, which prompted us to move CUSTOMER-MADE to the top of our emerging trends list!
Exactly. Trendwatching.com (TWC, hereafter) comes up with a new term despite the fact that one already exists. They acknowledge Prahalads “co-creation but insist on a term of their own. This goes into CAPS and it is repeated three times in successive sentences.
This is the kind of thing that makes marketing an intellectual ghetto. Everyone comes up for their own language for the same phenomenon. Marketing discourse fills with noise. The client is confused. A Tower of Babel is constructed. TWC wins a little brand traction. The rest of us pay a price.
I think we can guess whats going on here. Trendwatching.com wants to brand the idea. They wish to be seen as marketers who have special insight into the trend in question. They hope that if they can name and claim the idea, they will enjoy a certain positioning advantage downstream. They will have done for “customer-made what Faith Popcorn did with “cocooning.
But hang on a moment. These 3 things are indisputable. 1) TWC is late to the game. 2) There is already a good term here. 3) There is no value add here. TWC hasnt thought anything through. They havent build another paradigm. This contribution to marketing thought is as cynical as a lot of marketing practice. Lets just slap a new name on the product and push it baby back into circulation.
Clients may go for this. And this is where the strategy is especially objectionable. When a marketer invents his/her own language, it is often in the hope of creating a certain stickiness. Now the client cannot leave this marketer without having to learn a new set of terms and concepts. And this really is just about as bush league as you can get. The firm that can only keep a client by taking them captive with special language is a firm that really has no hope of survival, let along success.
But heres why this strategy is really stupid. The moment you ask me to choose between the language of Prahalad and TWC, you are inviting disaster. TWC might have intellectual credentials, but their website is entirely unforthcoming on where their people went to school, what kinds of degrees they have, what kinds of contributions they have been to the intellectual capital of the world of marketing. And heres my guess: chances are TWC does not survive comparison with Prahalad. This kind of brand building actually does much more harm than good.
Heres a new rule of marketing discourse: No new language, unless you have created real intellectual capital as a foundation. If you think Prahalads term and concept somehow conceals or distorts the real and pressing issues, then fair enough, write the book, or at least the article, and then suggest a new term. In other words, no new language without due diligence.
I think this is more than a rant on my part. One of the reasons the marketing languishes as an intellectual activity is that there is a certain terminological confusion. Every advertising agency seems to have its own special lingo. Every trend watcher comes up with its own patented language. Its enough away. The client is not well served. The professional is very badly served. But it is the offender who pays the biggest price. And when TWC asks me to compare them to Prahalad, I can hear myself muttering, “Baby, dont go there.
The trendwatching website and the passage in question here
With a hat tip to Virginia Postrel and her link on dynamist.com to be found