Many years ago Peter Drucker pointed out, with the clarity that few management writers achieve, that corporations exist to create customers and serve them. Marketing is the art of creating customers. (It is true that assessing great management writers is like judging a strength contest among toddlers; nevertheless) We are living through a radical dematuring of the Telecommunications, Media, Technology (TMT) cluster (and in here I mean cluster the way Michael Porter outlined it in his book The Competitive Advantage of Nations) and it is as tumultuous today as when the telegraph was playing the global cat and mouse game with the telephone.
By dematuring I draw upon a definition I found in a wonderful, but rarely read book called, Industrial Renaissance, by Abernathy, Kantrow and Clark. These authors were fascinated by the question: How did the Japanese car manufacturers successfully enter the US market in the early 1970s when it was dominated by four powerful incumbents: GM, Ford, Chrysler and American Motor Corporation (AMC)? They theorized that the market had "dematured" due to three interlocking reasons: first, customers were buying new capability, safety and gas mileage instead of horsepower and size; second, core technologies of the product were changing, turbo charging versus carburetion, disk brakes versus drum brakes; and third, the number of "equivalent" competitors increased, as measured by revenue. If memory serves, Toyota was as big as AMC and growing; Honda was large too.
Today, we see the TMT cluster dematuring. Why? Well, the number of equivalent competitors is increasing as telephony companies, like Verizon and Sprint, fight it out with cable companies such as Comcast and Time Warner. The "product" people are buying has changed, when you get a phone do you add the picture capability? Text messaging? Data too? A phone is not just a phone; and a phone service is not just a phone service. Lastly, the fundamental technologies of production have changed, for a voice call can be created by a telephony infrastructure, or by a internet protocol based packet infrastructure. Similarly, the wireless carriers are deploying radically different production technologies from EVDO to Mediaflo, hoping to create a better and more effective service.
So what? Well, if you investing in the cluster, you need to be very, very careful about traditional metrics, and risks. Your financial models need to be able to take into account low probability, high impact events, like Google actually pulling off a nation wide WiFi network!, or other wild ideas. It needs to take into account the radical changes in production technology like IP-based telephony. You need to consider disruptive innovations like Hotxt, which is a service in the UK, which allows you unlimited short messaging service (SMS) for "1 per week" by routing them over the IP network, not the carrier's SMS network to other Hotxt users. Given how important SMS revenue is to European telcos, this little company could be a very big deal. Investing in a dematuring cluster can be exhilarating and rewarding, but also dangerous.
For the non-TMT-cluster folks -- like you and me -- the real issue is how do we get our message to market? In the past ten years, consumption of information has changed more and more rapidly than any other consumer good. The same is true of how organizations use information, just look at all the blackberries at any airport.
Getting you message out now means not just considering where you are physically, but what information spaces do you dominate and populate? You need to consider what social groups you are influencing. In talking recently with Brewster Kahle, founder of the internet archive, he said their analysis of blogs found out that readership is easy to create, it is dependent on the frequency of update. So, you have to ask yourself, where is your brand and reputation "active" and is it online too? You need to understand how to take every type of information you think is important from a marketing perspective and make sure it fits on a cell phone, for this is the frequent information environment for most people, and in the developing world, the only digital information environment for most, and the most rapidly growing.
You need to be able to deal with the new media companies like Google and Yahoo, and keep an eye out on even newer ones like Hotxt. In the immortal words of Drucker it is all about making customers and serving them. The dematuring of the TMT cluster means that those in the cluster have to rethink both making and serving, the rest of us have to worry through the new rules of making customers.