Gonzo Marketingby Christopher Locke
A Harvard Business Review Top-10 Business Book of 2001Gonzo Marketing is a knuckle-whitening ride to the place where social criticism, biting satire, and serious commerce meet--and where the outdated ideals of mass marketing and broadcast media are being left in the dust. Invoking the spirit of gonzo journalism, Locke rails against business practices that treat
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A Harvard Business Review Top-10 Business Book of 2001Gonzo Marketing is a knuckle-whitening ride to the place where social criticism, biting satire, and serious commerce meet--and where the outdated ideals of mass marketing and broadcast media are being left in the dust. Invoking the spirit of gonzo journalism, Locke rails against business practices that treat customers like cattle, and urges marketers of all stripes to tap into Web-based communities, or "micromarkets," based on candor, trust, passion, and a general disdain for anything that smacks of corporate smugness. Gonzo Marketing shows how companies that support and promote these communities can have everything they've always wanted: greater market share, customer loyalty, and brand equity. Laced with Locke's inimitable wit and penetrating point of view, Gonzo Marketing is the raucous wake-up call that no one in business--from the trading-room floor to the boardroom--can afford to ignore.
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The Value Proposition...not understood. Neither was it communicated or delivered. If it was created, it was created somewhere else. And that's my point. I'm not picking on Kotler, particularly. In fact, I like the guy. But this failure to communicate is not at all atypical. Business in general and marketing in particular seem to assume we know what they mean when they sling around terms like value, brand and positioning and equate the resulting blur of vague ideas to something we might actually care about. This notion of value was created somewhere else-in some wish-fulfillment fantasy world where what is valuable to business maps seamlessly and unquestionably onto what is valuable to me. Value is value. It's obvious, isn't it? What if I said no?
It feels like spring, yet it's almost solstice, mid-winter coming in. Catching the light, a flock of pigeons turns through the sky over the highway and I remember. I couldn't have been more than 10 or 11, the age my daughter Selene is now. I raised pigeons, and every morning I would watch them fly out over the tilled adobe bean field, the huge fig tree at its center, the dairy where other, wild pigeons slept at night in the cow barn. We would go there with flashlights to try to catch them without waking the farmer; who was rumored to have a shotgun. This was California, the heart of Silicon Valley, though there wasn't any silicon there back then in the late 1950's. My heart would sing to see my flock tilt and wheel in the sun. I would feel something I couldn't describe, and still can't, to see them coming home at nightfall. I am driving and remembering and feeling how much is lost, how precious this life.
"I will survive" sang Jerry Garcia a year after nearly dying and eight years before he actually did.' Trying to explain The Grateful Dead is like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll. No, it's like trying to tell the ungrateful, walking dead about life-that value has something to do with gratitude. Gratitude for the mystery of the world and the heart to feel into it. Diamonds in the dust. Value as treasure unrecognized. The story has it that Garcia found "grateful dead" in an old Funk & Wagnall's dictionary entry referring to a ballad in which a traveler takes pity and lays a wandering ghost to rest. Grateful, the dead man richly rewards the deed. Shades of Finnegan's Wake, the traditional song on which James Joyce's sprawling novel of the same name was loosely (very loosely) based, in which Tim Finnegan's funeral gets entirely out of hand and his corpse comes back to life when some drunken reveler splashes whiskey on it. Or of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which is purported to say: "in the land of the dark, the ship of the sun is drawn by the grateful dead." Or of Dylan Thomas, who sang in another key, "After the first death there is no other." Or of El Dia de los Muertos, the day of the dead, when roses bloom in skeletal eye sockets and the people dance in the streets to a grim fandango celebrating life.
Among other things you may imagine at this juncture (and thanks for keeping them to yourself), this exercise smacks of what anthropologist Clifford Geertz calls "thick description."' Using a complicated tale about sheep and thieves and justice and the lack of it in colonial North Africa in 1912, he demonstrates that any tune we attempt to describe "a particular event, ritual, custom, idea, or whatever," we end up spinning stories about other people's stories about yet other people's stories, and sorting it all out becomes next to impossible. It's a rich tapestry, and thick description, while it may seem confusing, often comes closer to what's actually going on than would "thin description"-the kind of succinct clear-cut abstraction that appears perfectly plausible, but totally distorts reality. Not that I'm claiming any methodological rigor in these musings, but the thickness I'm attempting to suggest is what music and painting and literature-what we roughly call The Arts-typically point to. And what the specialized languages of logic and science and business typically do not. It's a Zen sort of thing you could say. l could say; who's to stop me? Finger indicating moon-illuminated finger. The thickness of life as life is lived between the inexorable poles of birth and death. "Man is an animal suspended," says Geertz, "in webs of significance he himself has spun."
Webs, yes. And although the Big Daddy Web did not exist when that was written, that's why the choice of quote. That's where we're headed. It's where we already are. But wait. Though we have these words for our current situation-words like Internet and World Wide Web-it seems to me they obscure at least as much as they explain. Because networks are inherently social realities, any attempt to definitively say what they are becomes immediately suspect. It depends on where you're standing when you look at them, and what sort of baggage you've brought along to the observation deck. "Meaning is use," said Ludwig Wittgenstein, meaning things mean what you make of them. But he also said, "Die Welt ist Alles was der Fall ist" - the world is everything that is the case. And really, how far does that get us? Except that "Case" is the main character in William Gibson's Neuromancer, which, when it was published in 1984, was the first entry in a then-hot new literary genre called cyberpunk. And in German, "neu Roman" means "new novel." The novelist then the new romancer. Sure, it's a stretch, but who knows what these creative types are capable of? Everything has at least two meanings.
Because it's expected, I guess, business tends to be way too serious. Tends to take language far too literally. "A thing is what it is called, and it could not be called anything else," writes Peter Berger in The Social Construction of Reality, explaining how children perceive the world. But the following shoe may fit much larger feet: "All institutions appear in the same way, as given, unalterable and self-evident."' His point being that they're anything but. As you may have already picked up from the book title, his point is that reality is socially constructed. And institutions are hardly exempt from such construction: the Church, the State, Fortune 500 corporations, the Internet, the World Wide Web. When you get online, as Gibson wrote, reality is a consensual hallucination. If you're lucky.
Evidently, Friedrich Nietzsche liked to say "there are no facts, only interpretations."" Unlike myself, Geertz and Berger and Wittgenstein probably actually read the guy. He supposedly says this in The Will to Power. Attempt at a Revaluation of all Values, which sounds way too heavy for my head, and which, anyway, was patched together by his sister, who was married to a Nazi and took, shall we say, certain liberties with dearly departed Friedrich's notebooks, thus giving him a much worse rap than he night have had otherwise. Talk about your thick description. Admittedly, the rap was already pretty bad, because he's also the guy who lobbed the "God is dead" grenade into the middle of the Enlightenment garden party. To say the least, this did not ingratiate him with the God-fearing-though if they were really all that afraid, you'd think at least some of them might have taken this as good news of another sort. After all, a few hundred million Buddhists do. At any rate, what I think he meant, among other things I can imagine (which I am keeping to myself), is that divine authority was no longer what you might call a highly credible source in the working out of what certain things signified or what signified certain things. Like value, for instance, to loop back around to our theme, about which, at this point, nothing is certain. Well, good then. That means it's working.
As Nietzsche bought the farm in 1900, you can see that this sort of general shakiness about the meaning of things has been floating around for quite some time. Hell, you could go back to the classical philosophers. Say you're walking in Memphis, home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks. Is what you think a thing to be what everyone else understands it as? Is the world as it appears to you, or does it look completely different to someone who didn't grow up in Darien, Connecticut and get an MBA from Wharton? Of course, Plato and Aristotle and that lot wouldn't have been able to tell an MBA from a banana fish. And anyway, who cares? Who cares, especially, because such questions verge on dangerous ground, on terra incognita. Business prides itself on hard-nosed practicality and pragmatism, even if it gets all dewy-eyed wondering where its pragmatism came from. Philosophy, anthropology, sociology, linguistics? Leave that stuff to the longhairs. We got a business plan to write!
OK, so you write the plan. For a killer 13213 e-commerce portal. And you write the plan too, structured around the Holy of Holies, the infamous 4 Ps of marketing: product, promotion, place and price." Of the four, only the last generates revenue; the others represent costs. Price is what you can charge based on some proposed value. If you're a consulting group, maybe you write a meta-plan, something for clients to chew on, if not perhaps entirely digest. If you're working at the Ernst & Young "Thought Center"-From Thought to Finish-you write this:
- Moving From First Mover to First Prover.
In the race for dominance in the 13213 digital marketplace,-success is more than a matter of speed. Winning companies must have a unique value proposition, superior delivery chain management and functionality, and profit mechanisms.
Look, I have no particular animus toward Ernst & Young. I've spoken with spine very smart people there over the years. But the fact is, you will find this sort of nonsensical no-nonsense cut-to-the-chase business rhetoric on thousands of corporate web pages today. Locating an example took me about two minutes on Alta Vista. Here's the search string; try it yourself:
- +13213 +"e-commerce" +"value proposition"
However, having thus blinded itself like Oedipus (what did it see that it couldn't bear to see?), business is reduced to common-sense dictionary definitions of value-though this "common sense," as we'll soon see, has nothing in common with the commons as construed to mean the people, the great seething mass of humanity that has been in these latter days transformed, as if by magic, into the miracle of global markets. That is to say, these definitions were largely created by business itself (more about the fox guarding the lexicon below). The American Heritage Dictionary includes the following definitions of "value":
- 1. An amount, as of goods, services, or money, considered to be
a fair and suitable equivalent for something else...
2. Monetary or material worth...
3. Worth in usefulness or importance to the possessor; utility or merit ....
4. A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable...
- 1. The amount as of money or goods, asked for or given in
exchange for something else.
2. The cost at which something is obtained ....
3. The cost of bribing someone...
4. A reward offered for the capture or killing of a person...
5. Archaic. Value or worth.
Maybe it's some lexicographer's little joke, an Easter Egg like the ones Microsoft coders sneak into Office apps. Maybe the intent is to suggest that price used to reflect value, but that was then. Ha ha. Or maybe it means something far more ominous: that an older sense of value has been supplanted. For while Nietzsche never achieved his...
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Meet the Author
Chris Locke is author of The Bombast Transcripts, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, and editor/publisher of the Webzine Entropy Gradient Reversals. He has worked for Fujitsu, Ricoh, the Japanese government's "Fifth Generation" artificial-intelligence project, Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, CMP Publications, Mecklermedia, MCI, and IBM. Named in a 2001 Financial Times Group survey as one of the "top 50 business thinkers in the world," he has written for a wide variety of publications, including Forbes, The Industry Standard, Information Week, Harvard Business Review, and Release 1.0. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.
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