Monday, December 19, 2011

"Latency" Applies to Marketing, Not Just Communications

Marketing in the Internet age is affected at every level by dramatically lower “information latency.”

Engineers typically measure latency as a matter of time delay, such as the lag between the time a message is launched, and the time a message is received. But the concept also seems to describe the nature of marketing in an Internet age.

For information consumers, latency might be viewed as the total time elapsed for a plane trip, door to door, for example. No matter how many other passengers might be traveling on a particular route, on a particular day, there is some minimum elapsed time to get from point A to point B. That is consumer-experienced latency.

There is a different meaning for a consumer than for a producer, though. From the point of view of flight operations personnel, latency is an entirely different matter.

It is true that the amount of time spent in the air, getting from one airport to another, is affected by headwinds, flight control operations or congestion in the take off or landing patterns that are out of any producer’s control.

But many elements are within a producer’s control, to a certain extent, such as time to clean a plane once it has landed, time to refuel, passenger and cargo loading time, for example.

In a marketing context, consumer-experienced latency is the time it takes to learn enough about how to solve a particular problem to reach a firm buying decision. From a producer point of view, latency is the time it takes to provide information to such prospects at every stage of the consideration process.

Consider only the matter of getting “catalog” information to potential customers. In the past catalogs were printed and mailed at relatively high cost, with information aging every step of the way until the time a prospect actually used a catalog to check an item’s availability or price.

That had meant an information latency issue that was compounded by an accuracy issue, as prices and availability for large catalogs begin to drift out of conformity to reality for months before potential buyers were even able to view such catalogs.

In the age of the Internet, all that is outmoded. Catalogs ought to be, and often are, updated nearly in real time, with information latency a matter of hours to days when a producer decision has been made. Internet information sources now have collapsed latency, both in terms of time and cost.

From a consumer perspective, information latency likewise has compressed. Nobody has to ask for a catalog or wait for delivery. The information often is only “clicks away.”

A decade ago, we might have described the rise of “infomediaries,” agents that work on behalf of consumers to help them take control over information gathered about them for use by marketers and advertisers.

The concept of the infomediary was first suggested by McKinsey consultants and professors John Hagel III, and Marc Singer in their book  Networth.

The idea is not much heard of in 2011, but in some reasons that is because software increasingly acts as an infomediary. Real simple syndication feeds, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn feeds provide examples. what is an infomediary?

Price comparison apps and daily deals programs are other examples in the consumer space.

The marketing point is that software “agents” now widely assist prospects and buyers in gathering information directly related to products they buy. All of that means the fundamental change in marketing has been consistently in the direction of lower latency over time.

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