Dec 022009
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Many of us are familiar with the concept (used in manufacturing, software and numerous other business processes) of mass customization.

In my field – B2B marketing – an interesting manifestation of this concept is marketing automation software. This technology allows marketers to customize the manner (content, offers, communication channels) in which they engage a diverse audience of prospects, where each prospect is at a different stage of purchase-readiness. One of the more compelling features of marketing automation technology is how it enables marketers to gain insight into the types of “hooks” (content, offers, and channels) that engage the largest numbers of buyers over time.

Now, seasoned marketers know it is very rare that a *single* offer or piece of content is empirically proven to drive lead conversion or sales. And this makes sense when we consider the perspective of the B2B buyer. How many of us have ever – in a B2B buying context (Engadget salivations don’t count here) – read a single white paper or promotional offer and immediately committed to a purchase or even a conversation with a vendor? It happens, but not very often. Not often enough for marketers to bank on anyway.

So buyers consume a lot of information before they make decisions. And therefore, marketers who want to influence those decisions need to analyze lots of data about buyer behavior.

Among B2B marketers, most of the above is non-controversial. Much has already been written and said about how B2B buyer behavior has forever changed the role of marketing and sales. But there are several emerging and interrelated trends that have a bearing on where we go from here. I’ll loosely classify these trends as follows: high unemployment, tight capital/credit markets, personal branding, social networking, and low-cost/free, self-service publishing platforms (WordPress, etc).

The confluence of these trends is creating an effect that I’m calling “mass expertization.”

I don’t have a rock solid definition for mass expertization yet. For the moment, I’ll define it as a rapidly growing population of people, typically with commercial or status-driven agendas, publishing original content based on their experience.

Note that I’m not passing judgment on mass expertization. If I was I’d be judging myself since I’m one of the self-styled experts. I’m just observing it as an effect that has implications for producers, deliverers, and consumers of content.

For example, one noticeable result of mass expertization is that, increasingly, buyers are not looking to established media brands, analysts, or research firms to inform their decisions. Why should they pay (in dollars or time) for content from these traditional channels when they can “get the CliffsNotes” for free and instantly? Thousands of self-branded experts are hard at work publishing white papers, blog posts, videos, status updates and tweets to showcase their expertise to a worldwide audience. With the help of tools like RSS and TweetDeck, and sites like LinkedIn and Focus, buyers can efficiently consume this content as they move through the purchase cycle.

I’ll be writing some more on mass expertization in the coming months, as I believe it will be an important theme in the 2010 B2B marketing arena. There are many questions to consider for buyers, marketers, media firms, analysts, and experts. Here’s just a few to get us started:

How do buyers identify the good experts/content from the less good?
How do marketers turn the mass expertization effect to their advantage?
How do “old guard” media brands and analyst firms slow or stop the process of disintermediation?
And how do experts separate themselves from the masses?

Your thoughts and expertise are (of course!) welcome on these questions and this topic.

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  3 Responses to “2010: The Year of “Mass Expertization””

  1. I used to try to fight mass expertization, which has brought us such prizes as George Bush, at-home HIV testing and the utterly groundless vaccines-cause-autism scare.

    But it’s here to stay, so we’re stuck with it. As marketers, we’ve got to work with that and gently steer consumers towards our messaging at the same time. It’s not easy, and there’s no simple single solution that I can think of.

    Ain’t marketing great…?

  2. Jessica –

    Hey thanks for your comments, first of all.

    Secondly, here’s my $0.02 (net present value of my expert opinion) on your questions:
    (a) I don’t think your message is too long – your site communicates what you do and how you do it well succinctly enough.
    (b) your potential client – in an online setting, where they haven’t already heard about you from a referral partner – will know you’re an expert when you contribute something to the conversation that helps them be smarter about their business. There’s a lot of “giving it away” in this process. When I wrote about 3 metrics more important than Cost Per Lead – I was attempting to help marketers expand their perspective on how to measure the effectiveness of campaigns. And btw, I’m packaging my advice for convenience / short attention spans. Which is why there’s only 3 metrics to talk about (for now).
    (c) You’re right, everyone else says they are an expert too. But if you write/contribute something that helps one person be smarter about their business, and your competition is just making a claim that they are an expert. Guess who wins in the eyes of that reader – you!