THE MATHEMATICS OF DESIRE

BY SIMON EVANS

“About 99% of what you have you don't need. That's the business I am in. You have to create the demand by what you produce.”

Allen Questrom, CEO and Chairman, JC Penny Company (US department store chain).1

“.tomorrow’s society..is as a customer base ..potentially high-maintenance, increasingly difficult to influence and even resistant to persuasion.”

The Store Of the Future, Cocoa Cola Retailing Research Group, Europe. 2

Introduction

Marketing, it hardly needs to be said, is the creation of desire in the customer to purchase and own a product or service. At the heart of this endeavour is an understanding of the customer, the demographic they belong to, his or her preferences, past purchasing patterns and so on - a whole range of details that define the individual and their needs, and on which marketing strategies are based. Much comment and analysis, not to mention hyperbole, has been generated by the potential of digital technologies to transform this marketing and supply of goods and services. The dotcom bust of 2000 appeared to belie these visions of the future however, as the advertising industry slowly emerges out of a recession, it is obvious the new technologies of communication are driving radical change.3

Computer technologies offer significant opportunities to bring marketing campaigns closer to the customer; new ways of reaching them but, more importantly, also new ways of enhancing an organisation's understanding of that customer. Not only can online purchases be associated with individuals, for instance, but any action arising from online marketing campaigns can be logged and analysed. Information can be collated from disparate sources and used to create a portrait of the individual customer - their age, gender, income, social class, habits and tastes. The marketer’s dream is, as ever, to know where, when and what a customer will buy. However, as the quote from The Store Of the Future illustrates, there is considerable scepticism about companies' (and the technologies they use) ability to reach and convince the customer of the future. If networked computer technologies offer new and powerful ways for companies to communicate with and supply consumers, they also offer consumers new and powerful ways to research, select and purchase products.

This dissertation takes a critical look at current marketing technologies, examining the assumptions that inform their deployment and assessing their effectiveness. Will these new technologies enable companies to reach and convince the customer of the future, or will the benefits they promise companies prove to be elusive? The question I ask is: if the internet and computer technologies offer new ways for producer to reach the consumer, do they not also offer new ways of being a consumer?

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