This is Alvin Toffler, writer and futurist.
He's credited with presaging much of today's technology, marketing and economics back in the early 1970s, and with coining terms like prosumer, mass customization and information overload. Even better, he's also credited with inspiring music by Herbie Hancock, Curtis Mayfield, and the birth of the techno genre. Among other accolades, he was named by Accenture as the one of the three most influential voices in business history. In short, I think he's my personal hero.
One of the subjects Toffler has spent much of his career talking about is the shift from material-based economies to knowledge-based economies.
"Knowledge knocks the props out from under conventional economics. Economics has been defined on occasion as the science of the allocation of scare resources. If I use up the oil, you can't use it. If I use the assembly line, you can't run something else at the same time. If I grow rice on my rice paddy, you can't grow rice on that same rice paddy at the same time.
But if I use knowledge, you can use the same knowledge, and we don't use it up... Not only that, but if we use it together, we can create more. So what you have is a fundamental economic resource which doesn't fit in the model... It is not a scarce resource. It is an inexhaustible resource." - Alvin Toffler, Sept 30, 2006
I wonder if we're undergoing a parallel change right now in marketing, in the shift from messaging- or positioning-based marketing to engagement-based marketing. Traditional marketing is also essentially the allocation of scarce resources - except in this case the resources are positioning territories. If I take a position in the market, you can't also use that positioning. That's why it's called a Unique Selling Proposition. And all of our models and assumptions are based around getting to and defending that unique space.
But engagement-based marketing changes all that. Yes engagement is ill-defined, but whatever you call it (I prefer Jeffre's idea of being interesting), it's based not on what the brand says or does but on what the audience takes away, how they feel, whether they care. And shifting from a brand-centric perspective to an audience-centric perspective fundamentally changes the allocation of resources.
If my brand makes Susie laugh, your brand can still make Susie laugh too. If my brand is useful to Susie, your brand can be useful too. If my brand is worth thinking about, yours can be too. So in this case, the resources are inexhaustible. And just as Toffler says about knowledge, being interesting has a second benefit: if we do it together, we can create more.
Now interest is actually not quite an inexhaustible resource, of course, because there's only so much time in the day and so much mental energy we can expend on things like brands. As Russell likes to say, when every brand in the supermarket is trying to engage you, how engaging will any of them be? But the point is that by starting with your audience first, rather than finding a unique proposition for the brand, you change the objectives and the rules. And done right, the brand can still be highly remembered, differentiated, and properly attributed to the communication, despite not having a distinct proposition or an ownable message. Think of the Bravia ads, with a bland proposition of "this TV has good colour." But of course, those ads are not about USPs.
So this "knocks the props out" from under our models too. How many of our briefs still read "What's the single-minded thing to say?" How many of our research methodologies still focus on message communication above all else? How many of our strategy meetings still get hung up on finding a unique set of words for the brand pyramid?
Are we all just focusing on the wrong resources?