All I Want for Christmas ... Is for Christmas to Come!

How Much of Your Marketing Strategy Is Based on Externalities?

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Seasonality in a time of global warming. It sounds like the title of a Gabriel García Márquez novel, but it captures how I've scared myself pondering how much we depend on market externalities.

We human beings implicitly rely on the consistency of rules that operate outside of the variability of our choices. I can pick up my foot for any length of step, but I know that gravity will ultimately pull it down again. There's no question that tomorrow will follow today. My daughter will hear only every other word I say, no matter what I'm talking about. These are givens upon which we plan our lives.

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin runs Baskin Associates, a global brand consultancy, and blogs at Dim Bulb.
Marketing is no different. There's a pattern, or set of givens, upon which we base our creative content and derive our expectations. The Four Ps rely on immutable laws of if/then causality. You've likely heard the saying, "There'll always be a Christmas."

Well, what if there isn't? What if technology, energy, geopolitics and global warming (or something else) combine to create a new synergy for the season? Could 2008 bring us a holiday challenge no branding can overcome?

Think of how dependent Starbucks' brand was on the largess of a flush economy to make its $4 cups of coffee seem affordable, or how much Coke's brand relies on its fountain distribution. YouTube's success is as much a result of broadband infrastructure as it is of content. Externalities are like phantom brand attributes. If one changes, however, it's not so external anymore. Demand planning can quickly become nothing more than wishful thinking.

How much of your holiday plan, or all of 2009, is based on people doing things they always do or things/events being what they once were?

Of course, I'm not suggesting you hold your breath or drive yourself nuts trying to anticipate every possible surprise. Brands and people alike rely on gravity staying constant, magnets being kept away from bank computers and the general perpetuation of Our Way of Life. One large meteor could ruin a century or so worth of sales, yet I sleep soundly at night.

But I'm hearing from fellow marketers who are making behavioral plans for the holidays that start earlier, run later and attempt to prompt desired actions instead of hoping to be at the right time and place those moments are supposed to emerge. They're banking less on Black Friday, Internet Monday or any other hoped-for consumer reaction and taking more actions to prompt compelling moments to buy, irrespective of what's supposed to happen.

I've just got this nagging feeling that not even the seasons are such a dependable externality anymore.

Questions about externalities:

RELEVANCE: What do you depend upon to make your marketing work?

RELIABILITY: What things are you sure will happen?

RECOGNITION: Do you rely on things unconsciously?

RETURN: How much of the season do you think is a benchmark?
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