Sunday, October 29, 2006

You Always Hurt the One You Love

Email: a great way to stay in touch with customers, a medium that's engaging and immediate. Well, it used to be; smart marketers starting using it very quickly, everybody followed, and now... people tune out most email marketing. And the story keeps repeating itself.

It's marketing's tragedy of the commons: when we find a medium whose unique new characteristics make it a great for marketing, we all start using... thereby changing it.

I thought of that when I read this piece on MySpace from the Huffington Post, of all places. Apparently now that marketers have found MySpace, MySpace users are getting a bit sick of their social networking environment turning into a giant advertisement, and this may be slowing the site's growth:

It was bound to happen: Backlash against the most popular sites on the web, once so new and exciting, now tarnished by populist appeal and the fact that people like WSJ reporters know about them. Today the WSJ reports that MySpace users are growing weary of being marketed to incessantly through fake friend requests, messages, and endless ads for Asian porn (ETP has one friend — Tom — but still, the requests some in). The WSJ notes that some MySpace members are deleting their pages, though a spokeswoman has said there has been "absolutely no increase in the rate of deletions." MySpace growth, however, has plateaued, and site visits actually declined in September (Facebook did, too, but the company's data shows a rebounding later in the month).

Down the virtual street at virtual reality site Second Life, something similar is going on:

Second Life natives are feeling as if off-world businesses have begun an invasion of their virtual world by setting up shop there and have already begun "rewriting history" - even before they are proclaimed victors.

And so it goes. For any individual marketer, the advantages of using these media are real. When a lot of individual marketers use them, we start destroying what brought users to them in the first place: a bit like gentrifiers in an up and coming neighborhood who are attracted by the area's uniqueness and diversity, and then wonder why ten years later it's become a glossy but dull expanse of Starbucks, CVS pharmacies, and upscale chain stores.

What's the answer? I'm not sure, because we can't expect any individual marketers to ignore his or her own economic interests, even if the sum of all those individuals is bad for everybody's interests.

The users, meanwhile, will move on to the next new thing... until we find them.

No comments: