We have the tools, we have the data, we are at the dawn of a new era of marketing.

However it’s important that marketers do not give up hope when faced with resistance from the traditional ways of thinking.

This is according to the Conductor’s CEO Seth Besmertnik, who delivered the opening keynote speech at C3 in New York last week.

Here are his thoughts on the Italian astronomer Galileo and how his work relates to the modern marketer.

Galileo syndrome

‘Galileo syndrome’ concerns the use of technology and data to find something that’s radically different to the common belief of the time. 

Galileo played a major role in the scientific revolution and fathered modern observational astronomy by making vast improvements to the telescope, which meant that he could capture data accurately and prove that the planets revolved around the sun rather than the Earth.

Unfortunately Galileo was punished for his ‘heresy’ with house arrest for the remainder of his life.

Seth Besmertnik suggests that marketers today have a similar syndrome. A desire to challenge accepted conventions and beliefs thanks to the accurate reading of data. Although any ‘house arrest’ is more likely to be self-inflicted rather than handed down by government order.

For progressive marketers, the status quo that you can just buy your customers or buy your way into the online conversation is the old way of thinking, as is the belief that if you just keep putting your message in front of them they will listen to you.

Marketers are the new Galileos. They have the best tools, they have the best data and they are able to see the truth. Unfortunately they are also pushing against the status quo.

There’s a great deal of resistance from the old way of thinking and it’s important that marketers keep striving for change otherwise businesses will struggle in the most important marketing space of all.

Underwear marketers

By way of an example for the above and to give those who perhaps weren’t aware of what the search marketing landscape was like just eight years ago, Seth Besmertnik talked about his old flatmate Jeremy, one of the very first ‘underwear marketers’.

Jeremy ran a business card company out of their tiny flat in the east side of New York. It was a very small start-up with no employees and little resources. Very quickly though the business started seeing results, not because of any traditional advertising means but because suddenly Jeremy’s business card service occupied the top three results on the first Google search engine results page (SERP). 

Eight years ago it was very easy to appear at the top of SERP because there was very little completion online. Some guy sat in his underwear sat in a tiny one bedroom flat could easily become the ‘king of business cards’. 

Similarly at the time, if you did searches for ‘running shoes’ or ‘credit cards’ you wouldn’t find the brands you would expect to find at the top of these results pages. The biggest companies were missing, concentrating as they were on print and broadcast advertising.

Instead the digitally savvy online businesses operating with very little marketing budgets were occupying the space that bigger companies ignored, and this would be a detrimental decision for those companies in the following decade.

Getting found organically online was a huge opportunity for businesses, and underwear marketers like Jeremy were the ones leading the way for modern marketing.

The recent past and future of marketing

These new opportunities also paved the way for agencies and tech companies to build entire products and businesses built around helping those missing brands improve their digital presence and compete in the upper regions of search results.

Which unfortunately meant that as internet users our inboxes began filling up with marketing emails and our browser windows began filling up with pop-up ads and display ads.

For a while this was the status quo: marketers were very much in control of user’s experience of the internet. For many this became a very negative experience.

Now however the balance of power has shifted back to the user.

Not only do we have the technological capability to fast forward adverts on television (chances are if we’re faced with adverts we’re more likely to be looking at our smartphones anyway) we also have ad-blockers on our browsers, we have spam filters or ‘promotion’ tabs in our email, we can also tell brands openly and publically that we’re not happy with them via social media.

Ultimately when it comes to online marketing, the user has control. We no longer put up with what’s forced in front of our eyes, because there are a million other choices out there.

Marketers are learning that when given a choice, users will always choose content over ads. 

This means that marketers now have to make a choice too. Whether to engage with audiences through the creation of compelling, useful and genuinely entertaining content and essentially push the marketing revolution forward, or merely stand in the way.

For more on content, here’s a guide to the importance of quality content

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 13 October, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (5)


Morgan Jones, Digital Manager at Myself

'Marketers are the new Galileos.'? An interesting comparison, worthy of pseud's corner. However, general gist of this is correct. Good content will always connect better with it's audience.

almost 4 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

The #1 search result for "Galileo syndrome" is as follows:

"The Galileo gambit, or Galileo fallacy, is the notion that if your ideas provoke the establishment to vilify or threaten you, you must be right ... They made fun of Galileo, and he was right. They make fun of me, therefore I am right."


almost 4 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

@Pete - that's brilliant. Thanks for that. Pretty much sums up my arrogant childhood.

almost 4 years ago


David Aldred

But Galileo was wrong.

Galileo thought the sun was the centre of the Universe, and was adamant that planets had circular orbits, despite there being serious discrepancies between his observations and his theory. Other scientists at the time disagreed - and they turned out to be right.

If marketers are the new Galileos, who is the new Kepler, and when can we expect them to put the marketers right?

almost 4 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

There's a crisis coming for digital advertising. Look on Google Trends for interest in "adblock" over the last few years. It's been rocketing for 2 years and it's close to be the majority of desktop browsers if it isn't already. On top of that, it's the more savvy internet, more affluent internet users that tend to use it.

It seems there are still many people unaware or unwilling to accept that the current model is moribund.

almost 4 years ago

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