The marketing world has changed. Previously we tended to assume a
direct consequence of a marketing initiative on a consumer (hell, even
proved it qualitatively and quantitatively), and the trick was to
scale this as widely as we could. One consumer sees an ad we know
they like, buys a product, therefore let’s get as many consumers to
see the ad.
But this view fails to take into account the interaction effects that
take place. Other media influence the consumer. Other competitors.
Other consumers. And in complex ways. A consumer can reinterpret the
ad, having received a different piece of communication. With the
advent of social media this phenomenon (which was always present, has
become more prominent.
The interaction effect – for our purposes, the ‘forming of choice’ –
then is dynamic, evolving constantly, and non-linear in the sense that
the consumer can reinterpret an input in unpredictable ways. A bank
ad about scale can seem impressive, but when they then close local
branches, it is reinterpreted as arrogant (this happened to Barclays,
So significant is this interaction effect, especially now, that the
old way of thinking is just irrelevant. We can’t get focus groups
together, show them an ad and then run a campaign expecting the focus
group reaction to represent the market. We have to look at the market
and try and understand it as a dynamic system, and view our role as
marketers as contributors to, but not controllers of, the system. So
we have to understand the consequences, direct and indirect, of our
actions within the system, not just on the individual consumer.
The goal of Complexity Science in Marketing is to understand the way in which
consumer markets, as systems, work, and help plan our optimal role
within them. Consumers to us represent uncontrollable interactions
within a system, and we simply have to try and predict these
interactions and adjust accordingly. To do this successfully, we have
to embrace the complexity of the system, not try and dumb it down.