Get personal to market on Web
By Bruce Rosenstein
Christopher Locke may think big business is clueless, but he
doesn't think it is hopeless.
Locke broke into the big time last year as one of the co-authors of
the surprise hit The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As
Usual. Now he is out to show you again that, as the Firesign
Theatre comedy album says: Everything You Know Is Wrong.
Locke's vehicle now, the thought-provoking Gonzo Marketing: Winning
Through Worst Practices, examines Web marketing.
Guess what? Conventional advertising doesn't, can't and never will
work in cyberspace.
He has barely hidden contempt for big media companies and their
CEOs, particularly Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. and Disney's
Michael Eisner. He likens merging AOL and Time Warner to
rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Yet beneath the sometimes sneering tone, this is a dead-serious
book. Locke claims that mass markets and mass marketing are as good
as dead because people spend more time on the Web. Once online, the
eyeballs are not headed for sites with TV-size audiences, but into
micromarkets -- small sites built around shared interests.
His solution is Gonzo, borrowing a term associated with over-the-
top journalist Hunter S. Thompson. (If your pop-culture references
are hazy, think back to the early 1970s Rolling Stone and such
books as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Putting Thompson's spirit
behind Web marketing isn't that far-fetched, given that Thompson is
now writing a weekly column, ''Hey, Rube,'' for ESPN online.)
Gonzo involves passionate engagement, not detachment. It means
getting to know the people to whom you are marketing -- literally
talking to them (or at least exchanging e-mail).
The concept of worst practices has shock value, but there is also a
point behind it: Best practices, or what are conventionally thought
of as best practices in marketing, don't cut it in cyberspace.
Instead of conventional advertising, such as buying banner ads on
sites (pretty useless, he says), Locke urges companies to get into
It is more subtle and cost-effective, he predicts, and more
tasteful than bombarding audiences with your message. Underwriting
must be tasteful and not too intrusive. He cites the Medici banking
empire during the Renaissance, bankrolling the likes of
Michelangelo and other artists whom we revere to this day. Subtlety
is key. Picture, he says, underwriters insisting that the Sistine
Chapel blare Bank With Medici!
Get your employees to find primo sites to underwrite, similar to A&
R (artists and repertoire) scouts employed by record companies.
Employees play another crucial role in this scheme. They get
involved with internally run sites on all sorts of subjects -- even
some with a tenuous link to your company's business -- that link to
your company's site. The employees use conversations with potential
consumers to possibly steer them to your company site. All this
work, by the way, is done on company time. It is to become an
integral part of your marketing and personnel strategy to turn
marketing over to everyone in the company, not just the marketing
What people want from companies on the Web are not just product
messages, but ways they can hook up with like-minded people. As
Locke writes: ''Do I want to obey my thirst and glug down a Sprite?
Do I want to take the Pepsi Challenge? Do I care if you got milk?
No, no and no. But I might care if some company offered to hook me
up with a bunch of interesting people who think sorta like I do and
have similar or complementary tastes and interests.''
Locke praises Amazon.com for its online marketing -- though, of
course, that is its whole business. He discusses ''collaborative
filtering.'' That's a fancy way of saying Amazon tells you what
other people who bought the item your looking at bought. And he
looks at the power of customer reviews of books, which allow people
to talk to each other in a roundabout way. As an example, he notes
the thousands of reviews on Amazon for the four Harry Potter books.
Gonzo Marketing: Winning through Worst Practices
By Christopher Locke
Perseus Publishing, 240 pages, $25