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Marketer's Mantra: Obsolete Thyself!

  |  March 11, 1999   |  Comments

Michelle Ellis has a mantra for Internet marketers and visionaries: Obsoletethyself. Obsolete thyself. Obsolete thyself.

Probably the most painful checkup, next to visiting the dentist, is the iMarketing checkup. What's that mean? Let me explain.

I belong to an Internet marketing discussion group, and recently someone asked if Theodore Levitt's railroad analogy still holds true in today's Internet world, or if the Internet and IT have changed the rules. Having earned my MBA several years ago, that concept was about the only thing I remember from my graduate marketing class.

The principle is simple. About four decades ago, Levitt wrote about how the railroad industry suffered from marketing myopia, or marketing short-sightedness. The railroad industry believed that it was the end-all/be-all form of transportation, and it failed to realize that automobiles, trucks, and airplanes could eventually become viable forms of transportation.

The railroad industry was severely devastated because it failed to obsolete itself; it failed to evolve as the needs of their customers evolved.

The moral of the story is a classic marketing principle that everyoneshould begin to use as a daily mantra -- I know I do. Obsolete thyself. Obsolete thyself. Obsolete thyself. You must obsolete your business before your competitor does.

To answer the question on the viability of Levitt's thesis: Yes, it still applies and always will. Especially in the Internet world, where we see obsolescence happening as we speak.

Will e-commerce obsolete the brick-and-mortar store? There is no telling. Will e-commerce severely devastate the traditional store? Ask Amazon.com.

The very process of rewriting the rules leading to e-commerce and e-business and beyond is precisely the principle of obsolescence in action. So all you marketing visionaries, flex those x-ray vision muscles, and let's get the proper perspective on what lies ahead of us.

But let's not stop here, because there will always be something coming up to obsolete what we are doing in e-commerce and e-business today. It hasn't been invented yet, but it will be.


Michelle Ellis

Michelle Ellis is Director of Account Planning at M2K, a top-100 interactive agency. She started her career over a decade ago focusing on the retail and business-to-business industries. M2K specializes in interactive marketing solutions for clients, including strategic positioning, media planning and buying, offline and online creative, web site design, intranets, and extranets.

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