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One of the lectures I attended at last weekend’s alumni college was looking at the impact of the internet on consumer behavior – and hence on marketing techniques.

The lecturer (Dr. Paul Dholakia), a marketing professor at the business school, spoke mainly about his research interest in “Emergence Marketing”, a subtle marketing technique in which customer loyalty and satisfaction are increased by inviting more direct participation in the company.  Examples include chatrooms or listserves where users can advise one another, and product development seminars.

He presented some very entertaining and convincing examples.  For example:

EBay, for example, found dramatic increases in activity amongst users who were invited to join an online community.  Even lurkers, who didn’t really participate much in the community, had higher utilization than those who weren’t invited to join. 
The Lego corporation harnessed the strength of adult enthusiasts more directly, by inviting members of a lego enthusiast club to join product development teams. These individuals contributed their time and expertise and even paid their own airfare to fly out to Denmark, with an end result of a product that achieved much better market performance.  This prompted the quote:  “In Billund, Denmark, not only is the customer always right, he’s also a candidate for the R&D team. And he’ll work for small plastic blocks.”
Other companies have learned to benefit from independent activities using their products.  Some might remember the silly video on YouTube, involving Diet Coke and Mentos (or its sequel); the effect of that video on product sales has been examined.  I’m not finding a good reference to support this, but apparently the Mentos spokespeople embraced this independent video, claiming it totally captured the image they want to have for the candy.  Coke, on the other hand, brushed off requests for comment. Later analysis showed Mentos had a big increase in sales after those videos hit the web, in a generally flat market for candy products.  Coke didn’t have any corresponding increase in sales of Diet Coke, although some of that may be because the effect of the video was small compared to the overall size of the Coke market…

Finally, this guy maintained that more traditional marketing techniques, including junk mail and free samples, are on their way out because they’ve been shown not to work. I found that interesting since I haven’t seen any decrease in electronic or traditional junk mail, and because lots of people seem to be convinced that free samples do work…

Emergence marketing is very different from traditional marketing in that it gives the consumer a voice, and the consumer’s input can’t be predicted or controlled ahead of time.  All of which means all the experts in traditional marketing are highly uncomfortable with this new approach.  Me, I found myself immediately thinking about ways we could use it to improve patient loyalty to the clinic while also promoting better health behaviors and educating the patients…


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