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Ghost in the Machine: Looking Glass Into the Knowledge Class, Part 2

  |  November 6, 2002   |  Comments

The knowledge class is visible and addressable for the first time -- but only online. Understanding this could impact the fortunes of our clients and agencies. Part two of a three part series.

The Internet is critical to the future of marketing because it provides a looking glass into the knowledge class of postindustrial societies. In my last column, we discussed who the knowledge class is and two of the Internet's three organizing principles -- egalitarianism and elitism. Today, we'll tackle efficiency.

The Efficiencies of Information Exchange

Not long ago, only professionals had to keep up with ever-developing disciplines. Today, autodidactism is vital at work. It appears in forms as diverse as continuing education, collaborative intranets, and the continual up-skilling of jobs that are always evolving. Knowing how to learn and apply the learning are keys to career success in jobs all across the information economy.

Even being a consumer requires information skills. Sorting and evaluating a daily barrage of bundled promoted and discounted offers; researching complex goods and services, from healthcare providers to vacation destinations; shouldering tasks companies once handled, from allocating pension fund investments to programming your TV viewing. All this means simply that today consumers must be smart to buy smart.

The egalitarianism of the official surface masks an aggressive elitism beneath. Both are devoted to a third value in which the knowledge society believes: efficiency. The slogan "Information wants to be free" is more accurately phrased, "Information wants to be exchanged." Information wants to be exchanged with other information to create new and better information. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is exchanging information helps parts run faster and more smoothly.

In equities markets, for example, information exchange yields a price that brings buyer and seller together. In insurance, it lines up the terms of the policy to the risks of the insured. In manufacturing, information exchanges such as just-in-time inventory and build-to-order manufacturing reduce transaction, inventory, and storage costs and accelerate speed to value.

The near future promises more of the same. Businesses are expected to focus future Web spending on improving the connections inside businesses; between one business and another along their upstream supply or downstream distribution chains; and between businesses and their customers, all in search of some flavor of efficiency.

Officially egalitarian but elitist in practice and focused on the efficiencies of information exchange. The Internet is, more simply put, where the already smart get even smarter and use their smarts to their own best advantage. This isn't pie-in-the-sky Digital Age hucksterism. It's realism. The knowledge society and its Internet handmaiden are coming into sharp focus. It's now becoming clear what kinds of communications will be effective here.

I'll discuss that in my next column.

Adapted from Len's keynote at the Jupiter/IAB 2002 Advertising Forum.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Len Ellis Until recently, Len Ellis was executive vice president at Wunderman, where he charted the course in data-based and technology-enabled marketing communications, including the firm's strategic alliances and worldwide interactive strategy. Earlier, he was managing director, interactive integration at Y&R 2.1, a Young & Rubicam start-up consulting unit. He joined Y&R Group as managing director, interactive services at Burson-Marsteller. Len led interactive services at Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer EuroRSCG, and started and led the information industry practice at Fleishman-Hillard. Len's book of essays on marketing, based in part on this column, is "Marketing in the In-Between: A Post-Modern Turn on Madison Avenue." He received his Ph.D. from Columbia and reads informational and mathematical theory for fun.

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