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Brian Whetten Headshot

The Death of Mass Marketing

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Most people -- including most salespeople -- have an inherent distrust of being sold. And the more purpose driven our work is, the more we tend to wish we could just avoid all that "sales and marketing stuff." For example, most non-profits see fundraising as a necessary evil, and most service professionals wish their clients would "just show up."

Not because sales is inherently bad. But because they've been trained that selling means taking.

This isn't irrational. It's the natural result of growing up in a culture driven by mass marketing. Think about it. When you open your mailbox, what do you get? Unwanted advertising. When you turn on your TV? Unwanted advertising. Receive a call from a telemarketer during dinner? Unwanted advertising.

We naturally learn to feel that selling means taking, because mass marketing is based on interrupting people. It's based on taking your attention away from what you care about, and redirecting it to something the marketer cares about. It's based on a subtle but persistent form of violence.

This leaves conscious businesspeople (i.e. people who are committed to doing business in a way that provides both money and meaning) feeling like they're caught between a rock and a hard place. Either they embrace mass marketing as a necessary evil, or else they suffer along without a lot of money or clients. Either they build a business based on taking or else they sacrifice themselves for their calling.

Because of this, it often seems easier to create a business that's only focused on profits than one that also focuses on its people, the environment, and its impact on society.

But here's the thing.

Mass marketing is dying.

Interruption based marketing is being replaced by permission based marketing. Indiscriminate advertising is being replaced by web of trust marketing. And selling by taking is being replaced by Selling By Giving.

In the words of Seth Godin, mass marketing is being replaced by people who are willing to lead a tribe.

This isn't just pie in the sky. The most successful company in the Internet is based on permission based marketing. Google grossed over $21 billion last year, serving us with advertisements we want to see, when we want to see them. Think about it. The Google home page is the most valuable advertising space on the web, yet it's bare of all ads, because Google only offers us ads once we've given our permission. Once we type in "flat panel TV" or "business training" then we get a page filled with ads that we've asked for -- and we thank Google for it!

In contrast, newspapers who built their businesses on interruption based marketing are dying out, even though they provide a crucially valuable service.

If you feel that selling means taking, it doesn't matter how pretty your web site is, how many marketing consultants you hire, or how good your services are. You're still going to feel like you have to choose between selling out or not selling at all. You're still going to feel like you have to pick between creating a business that creates money or meaning.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

To learn more:
Permission Marketing by Seth Godin - A classic book on the shift from mass marketing
The Essence of Selling By Giving - Some of the essential principles of conscious business
Conscious Business Now - Join the movement