The internet is not a marketing tool. It’s a basic human need

The internet is not a marketing tool. It’s a basic human need

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Understand this, and you can understand consumer attitudes to businesses’ online activity, says Andy Law

On 16th May 2011 The United Nations communiqué A/HRC/17/27 recommended that access to the Internet and mobile communication be a basic human right and that disconnecting people from the Internet was a human rights violation and against international law.

Homo Sapiens, after many hundreds of thousands of years, has acquired a new dependency.

Uniquely in mankind’s evolutionary history, something has been invented that we didn’t need, but now we can’t do without. It is as big a development as the development and discovery of the opposable thumb, because we can now do much more than we could do before the Internet’s arrival.

The Internet has plummeted to the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It has become a characteristic of the normal functioning of our lives, just a tiny notch above the things without which would cause our demise: breathing, food, water and sleep, but on the same level as the need for stability and sex.

The Internet is a physiological need. TV, radio, cinema, print, billboard are not and have never been. If anything, those “analogue” media belong in the upper sections of Maslow’s hierarchy; i.e. the polar opposite of the Internet. The Internet has altered these media of course. You could say they have been subsumed, fragmented and re-constituted. The closest physiological cousin to the Internet at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy is Eating.

Being on the Internet is very much like eating. It’s something we now have to do everyday to sustain and nourish ourselves. It has become a new “bodily function”, if you like, every bit as integral to our lives as respiration, ingestion, insemination, transpiration and so on. Some consume in excess, storing excess bytes in ever fattening folders. Some consume in moderation, when they need to.

There are Internet gastronomists – tech gourmands who love the Internet and are tuned into every aspect of its behaviour. They relish new introductions. There are celebrity chefs like Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and Larry Page and there are quality chefs building famous and useful Internet tools, like the inventors of SnapChat. There are regular cooks serving up blogs and easy-to-understand web sites.

Businesses must remember that they are functioning in the same physiological state as their customers. We are all consuming the Internet together, at the same time. To see the Internet as a disentangled, separate object is to misunderstand how it is performing. Just look, courtesy of mashable.com, at the type of content created on Instagram: “feet on the beach”, ‘food we are about to eat” “finger and toenail art”. We share the content of things that are very close to our own selves.

The Internet has created communities ever since The Well way back in 1985. We now use the term “community” as a common reference point when talking about the existence of and the need to communicate to online groups. If we accept that online communities are a substantial behavioral facet of the Internet, exacerbated by titanic social websites (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Pinterest et al), then businesses need to stop communicating and start communing.

I believe that Communing on the Internet is a new form of activity, different from communicating, but still engaging with customers. In fact, Marketers need to see that there are now four forms of communication at work, all at the same time.

Monologue: (one to many) – there is still a great deal of this. Obviously, TV events like Party Political Broadcasts, or the Queen’s Speech constitute monologue communication, but so did Felix Baumgartner’s leap from space for Red Bull and, maybe less obviously, so does Twitter, since 40% of Twitters don’t Tweet, they just observe other people Tweeting.


Dialogue: (one to one) – direct marketing remains prevalent. The July 2012 DMA report, Putting A Price On Direct Marketing revealed total UK expenditure on direct marketing at £14.2 billion in 2011. Companies polled for this study attributed almost a quarter (23%) of their overall turnover (sales) in 2011 to direct marketing.

Some companies use only direct marketing to communicate to customers such as Homeserve (“the direct marketing success story of the decade”) and the home insurance company and the new banking service ffrees.


Telelogue: (many to many) – the original gift of the Internet, is a concept I developed for BT way back in 2001. In my 2003 book, “Experiment At Work”, I wrote about global social interconnectivity, which was a mouthful and which only really made sense once Facebook was introduced and the concept of Social Networks was developed.  Telelogue communication is far reaching on-line communication or activity that is picked up and developed by consumers who then co-promote on behalf of the product or service and then sometimes co-buy. (This collective consumer buying power has been termed “Crowd Clout”).

EBay, Amazon, Craigslist and Gumtree are the big beasts in this category but the Internet is copiously littered with thousand of examples from Groupon, through comparison sites and community advisory sites such as Mumsnet.


Travelogue: (everyone communing with everyone) – marketers who understand that the Internet is a physiological need will understand the importance of communing with customers and not just simply communicating.

Jimmy’s Iced Coffee is a good example of this. The company says it has grown significantly every quarter since its launch in January of 2011, with 2013 looking 300% up on 2012, but in some respects you might expect any successful new brand to show big growth when starting from a low base. But this is different. The brand started with no funding and yet has generated sales and distribution in a highly effective and professional way. Even now, with national listings in Tesco, Waitrose, BP M&S stores and many more the brand has no marketing budget. The most startling aspect of Jimmy’s growth is the way the trade is responding.

Just as everyone else, the trade can follow Jimmy’s story from its conception. Every step is recorded on its Facebook timeline in a style and tone of voice that is uniquely Jimmy’s. But this is strategy at work, not serendipity. And the founder, Jim Cregan creates talk-ability, through inspirational talks, stunts and shows – again, all faithfully recorded. Jim is living his brand in the company of his customers and it is a strategy that is paying off.

Eventually Jim will move to embrace the other three forms of communications, but not at the expense of losing his successful “travelogue”. The goal to reach is for your multi-faceted plan to create a brand personality that is valid enough to metaphorically spend a train journey with somebody, strike a conversation and not bore the pants off your travelling companion. As Jimmy’s has done.

That requires serious investigation of the company’s behaviour and personality way before the company opens its mouth and blurts its message with foot firmly stuck in the door. The human physiological change brought about by the Internet has changed consumer behaviour in a fundamental and important way. Marketers must commune as well as communicate.


Read more from Andy Law in our Clubhouse and find out more about Fearlessly Frank on their website.

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Author: The Marketing Society
Posted: 28 Oct 2013
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