Potato Battery Marketing

We all know what a potato battery is. You put a copper (penny) and a nickel (nickel) electrode in a potato and produce a small current of electricity. It's a classic experiment that's been bouncing around school science fairs for decades. So if everyone has heard about it, why does it keep showing up? Aren't experiments supposed to test something of questionable output? The answer is simple: To a second grader, doing his first science fair, the potato battery is completely new. Not only is it new. It's amazing. The invisible force of electricity coming from a common household food. The amazement that accompanies naiveté often leads the inexperienced to experiment in areas of known quantities - like marketing.

Every generation thinks they've latched on to something new and wonderful when they toss a little technology into their marketing mix. Social marketers are simply doing online what network marketers have been doing face to face. E-mail has been replaced the phone which for the most part replaced the traveling salesman as a way to interrupt people with a solicitation to buy. It's really no different than the kids at the science fairs who now use LEDs to demonstrate their potato batteries, as if that somehow improved on the fact that potatoes, pennies, and nickels pump electricity. And marketing technology has improved on the fact that people buy what they want, no matter how they hear about it.

Each stage of technology has entered the mix the same way. It promises to do a better job reaching more people at a lower cost. This improves margins and puts smiles on investors' faces. But as we move from one technology to another to another, are we becoming more and more distanced from those we are trying to serve. "Social marketing allows greater feedback than ever before." Does it really? Is that what we are after? Does the CEO Twitter? Does she read customer service e-mail? And how close is she to the real use of the product or service? The traveling salesman knew what was up. He had to demonstrate the contraption in front of real live people, and only ate if they bought. How often do we demonstrate or observe the use of our products first hand?

I guess what I'm getting at is that marketing is still about people. If you take the human interaction out of the equation and try to run the whole business off response rates and demographic efficiencies, your going to miss the real magic that happens when your product lights up someone's life for the first time. Sure, go ahead and e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, but give equal time to real life interaction with the customer. Your great next breakthrough will come from them.