Marketing: It's Evolution Not Revolution

It’s easy for us, as marketers, to hyperventilate about how Social Media represents a “revolution.”  It’s not revolutionary, though; we need to apply some Big Picture perspective.

IStock_000004659760XSmallLast night I watched the “Walking with Cavemen” special on Discovery.  (You reach a certain age, the Discovery Channel looks better and better.)  It was a well-produced and fascinating look at the evolution of Man.

One point struck me, in particular: for about a million years, Man’s use of technology didn’t move an inch.  The height of our inventiveness began and ended at the “sharp stone.”  Our forebears literally couldn’t even make the imaginative leap to consider attaching their sharpened stones to a stick, to make an axe or spear. 

Compare that million-year stagnation to the last 150–odd years of human history.  Yes, these have been bloody times but the pace of technical change has been breathtaking.  Cars, trains, airplanes, warships, computers, nuclear fission, the Internet…

According to the theory suggested by the show’s producers, the pace of technological innovation quickened soon after cavemen harnassed the power of fire. 

No longer did the night bring horror; now the cave people were warm and safe… with the luxury of leisure time, the cave people could engage in flights of imagination and speculation; they could finally engage their sense of wonder…”

We’re still evolving.  Look at Marketing.  In the last few years alone, the Live Web has emerged – empowering all online denizens to publish/share/influence with the same speed and efficacy as any multinational marketeer – and lo’, the top-down “broadcast” model which dominated Marketing for the past 75 years has been turned on its head

But, it’s a wave that’s been coming.  First came the semiconductor, then the mainframe, then the minicomputer, then the Personal Computer, then desktop publishing, then the Web (online publishing), then search, then blogs … This so-called revolution has been brewing for 50 years!  I think that’s called Evolution.

It’s sure as hell exciting, though; it feels like a spurt of evolutionary progress.  Blogs, Word-Of-Mouth Marketing, Social Networking: these are terms that barely existed 5 years ago yet they have become part of the bedrock of virtually every marketing program now under consideration.  There are a lot of really smart people thinking very hard about where this is all headed.

What a great time to be on this planet.  We’re benefiting from all the great stuff invented during one of Mankind’s most productive periods (including Stage One of the Internet, the first technology with the capacity to link the ideas and voices of an entire planet).  And now we stand perched on a precipice: “What’s Next??” – it’s okay to wonder, again.

My skull hurts from wondering where all this innovation will take us.  Is that a headache I feel? – or the nascent stirrings of evolution?

Posted on: December 10, 2007 at 10:52 am By Todd Defren
6 Responses to “Marketing: It's Evolution Not Revolution”


  • Tammy says:

    It seems like once again we are presented with the theory of Web 2.0 and its life span. I find the more I come across theories about whether it is or isn’t in its fetal stages I can’t help but question what mode of time are we using to debate this. Nine months for a human child to be born, seems like a long gestation period in the World Wide Web. And even if we did agree or disagree whether Web 2.0 is still in its fetal stages, and we agree “watch out marketing world, wait till it really takes off.” People can’t even agree on what makes up Web 2.0, and some that there even is a Web 2.0. I think this argument misses the whole point of the article and the evolution of marketing.

    Too many people, periods in history may seem revolutionary, that moment in time when concepts, technology, and movements burst into actualization. Yet can’t it be debated that there really is no such thing as a revolution. Everything stems from an evolution of thoughts, theories, and actions, and can be seen as Todd stated “a wave that’s been coming.” They appear revolutionary because of how they are presented to the public. But in every “revolution” there is always the “wave that’s been coming,” usually stemming from need or desire.

    To imply at which place in time the “tipping point” occurs, transforming an evolution into a revolution is often debatable. And then to comment on a moment as being a tipping point when you don’t even believe that the “revolution” has been realized, seems almost pointless. James talks about the wealth of knowledge that the web brings, yet with this “wealth of knowledge” there is just as many, if not more pages of lies and inaccuracies. In fact the Web is only a reflection of what the programmer, and at times SEO people feed to the engines, affecting what can be found in searches, and the illusion of relevant information on the internet.

    It’s the popularity of the web, the over accessibility of information, and the confusion surrounding the quality and validity of information, that is contributing to an evolutionary demand for a new form of marketing. Gone are the days of one sided communication, it is now about two-way communication. People expect in order to trust and get behind products and services; they contain the elements of customization, interactivity, and a means for which their voice can be heard.

    James states: “At its best, Web 2.0 is masses of people aggregating their knowledge, their thoughts and the content they produce. Who knows what will come of it, but it has only just begun.”

    I would have to disagree. James this is where “it feels like a spurt of evolutionary progress” it has more than just begun, and what will come of it will most likely involve such buzz words such as tagging, semantic web, and resource description framework (rdf).

  • Douglas Karr says:

    Is it evolution? Or survival? Marketers (and companies) are being forced to evolve because of the speed and efficiency of the Internet as a medium. The brand is no longer owned by the company. It’s no longer molded, shaped, and presented to the consumer.

    The brand is now a living, breathing, bubbling, thing out there that Marketers are having to learn how to dodge, sway, feed, starve and ignite. If they don’t, they will starve.

    To eat, they must also depend on the company itself. Marketing is no longer a department within, it’s a profile of the company itself. An office manager in accounting can now do more harm or good to a company brand simply by mistreating or taking care of an employee or vendor because, if they don’t, the news will hit the Net.

    I agree it’s not Revolution. But I think it’s more than Evolution!

  • Todd Defren says:

    Tom & Ted – My own kids are of the Always Online generation… and I empathize with them when connectivity lapses. I am planning a trip on Amtrak’s Acela train this week and it’s a scandal that there’s no WiFi! Even the airlines are now openly planning for Net access. Our kids will be pleased.

    James, you’ll get no argument from me that this is an EXCITING and TRANSFORMATIVE time. We’re probably debating semantics here, but my take, essentially, is that the birth of the ARPANET in 1969 marked the beginning of this r/evolution.

  • Ted Shelton says:

    Actually Tom, I already have to explain to my children why they can’t get on the Internet when we are flying somewhere — it baffles them that there is (still) somewhere that you can’t get Internet access. And the just don’t believe me that when I was a kid we didn’t have computers…

  • James Gerber says:

    I think that you are selling social media/Web 2.0 a bit short. It is still in the fetal stage, but is growing in importance daily. If being able to communicate in real-time with millions of other people and broadcast their personal thoughts for the world to consume isn’t a technological revolution, then I’m not sure what is. Now, of course you could fold it into the broader computer revolution and say that it’s just a natural outgrowth. But I think that doesn’t do it justice, because it’s moved beyond email, beyond IM, beyond all of the original uses of the web (although they still and will continue to have their purpose).

    At its best, Web 2.0 is masses of people aggregating their knowledge, their thoughts and the content they produce. Who knows what will come of it, but it has only just begun.

    So yes, there were steps that got it there, but the technology reached the tipping point where it could start to be realized (and it hasn’t begun to be fully realized even yet). For example, was the American Revolution not a revolution because there were steps that led to its outbreak? There was a lot of events that triggered the revolution, but then it finally happened when the fighting commenced, and a combination of new tactics and support around a common theme led to the most prosperous nation ever.

    Humans have never in our entire history had such a wealth of knowledge (Wikipedia), ease of communication about anything and everything (Myspace, Facebook, blogs), the ability to instantaneously collaborate (wikis) and the immediacy of all of those things at our fingertips. We have never had a place with as much easily accessible information as Wikipedia (the Library of Congress for example has about 20 terabytes of data collected which at any given moment an incredibly small fraction is being utilized whereas Wikipedia serves several terabytes a day), and also we have never had any group of people that could interact with every other person as large as we do now (think Myspace with over 200 million accounts, where everyone can at the very least send a message to another user). And just think of what the potential may hold, scientifically and socially, for this burgeoning human braincloud.

  • Tom Reidt says:

    I couldn’t agree more, this is a very exciting time indeed. Just another point to add to the Discovery-channel-enjoying and feeling older sentiment, just recently I read an article that mentioned how the kids and early teens of today have lived in a world where the internet and instant communication have always existed. It kind of blew my mind, and I immediately had a flash of me telling my future grandkids “when I was your age, we didn’t have the internet!”

    So much has changed in the last 10 years, it seems like any prediction for the next 10 is a total shot in the dark.

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