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The 20th Century is dead.

The 20th Century died last week. Decades, epochs, and eras never end just because the calendar claims they do. What ends eras is society waking up to a changed world and collectively saying, “Hey, there’s something different going on here.” The Sixties didn’t start until the Beatles played on Ed Sullivan; up until then, the 50’s were still chugging along nicely. The Seventies didn’t push the 60’s aside until Watergate forced the nation to wake up, that a spirit of peace and love were replaced by war and paranoia. From a business standpoint, the 90’s didn’t start until the dot-com boom got underway around ’94.

Usually, it takes a pretty hefty shove to move the old era aside in favor of the new. It often lingers for a time, eking out a strange half-life existence, neither as relevant as it was, nor as irrelevant as it will become. When a Houston jury found Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling guilty of defrauding the public this past week, the last remnants of the last decade and century finally passed away.

What does this have to do with my usual topics of the impacts of Internet technology, marketing, and how those two come together in Society 2.0? Simple. The environment in which Enron thrived no longer exists. The Web started us down this path. But the Web was a monologue, easily co-opted. Now, blogging and podcasting create a dialogue, an open forum, where ideas flourish (ideally), or wither, as each audience participates in the discussion. It’s not that companies cannot attempt acts such as Sony’s CD fiasco, it’s that a community of users and consumers can expose them and force changed behavior. Ironically, Sony’s actions to prevent its music from illegal copying have resulted in it making its music available as MP3 downloads, with no copy-protection at all. Even companies that get it, such as O’Reilly, make mistakes and (more or less) admit them.

Marketers and the businesses they work for need to recognize that the game has changed. If you expect customers to love your brand and to act as “big mouths,” they’re going to expect some things from you, too. Scratch that. They’re going to demand things from you.

The lesson is clear. Genuflect, pay your final respects to the last century, and then get on with the rest of your life in our Web 2.0, consumer-driven world. Everyone’s been talking about Web 2.0. I think what we’ve discovered is that it’s powered by Consumer 2.0.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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