Claire Mason

Memes and The Wisdom of Crowds

Posted on 13th August 2015 by Claire Mason

"For many in our profession, ‘going viral’ is the holy grail of content marketing. But some trends just can’t be predicted."

Lolcats, the Dancing Baby, David After Dentist, Charlie Bit My Finger, Doge, Nyan Cat, the Harlem Shake, #thedress…Memes are an inescapable part of internet culture and consequently popular culture these days. But what are they and why should B2B marketers care about them?

The word “meme” was coined by author and Darwin fan-boy Richard Dawkins in the seventies to describe snippets of information that propagate through imitation, but in a digital world, we usually use it to describe images, pieces of text and videos that explode in popularity in real-time and ‘go viral’.

For many in our profession, this is the holy grail of content marketing. But in order to be truly viral, marketers must relinquish control of their content and allow it to mutate and evolve as customers interact with it. For marketers who sit in the ‘marketing as an art’ camp, and perhaps it’s fair to say that this type of marketer more naturally leans towards B2C, this may seem like an exciting prospect, including all the risks that it inherently brings. But for those who view marketing as a science (many of whom work in B2B) – the mere suggestion is likely to lead to raised blood pressure!

How can we possibly predict what will be the next big thing? Advances in data science have created new avenues of exploring why customers behave the way they do, and predictive models exist to preempt which microtrends are next on the horizon. Whilst big data gets us closer to the coalface and provides quantitative intelligence on what business leaders care about, sometimes trends just can’t be predicted – who could have foreseen a weasel riding a woodpecker making the headlines?

But when it comes to B2B, will the use of big data and scientific modelling mean we are better placed to crowdsource more diverse inspiration and identify microtrends that we can expand on – or will it lead to further homogenisation of ideas? How trustworthy is the ‘wisdom of crowds’, really? As Henry Ford is infamously misquoted, “If I had asked the people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

As marketers should we create trends – or discover them? We need to balance the unparalleled insights data now gives marketers with genuine insight and leadership.

As published in B2B Marketing, April 2015

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