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My college poetry professor, Paul Nelson, always asked, “What’s the objective correlative.” He was a sort of a concrete imagist. So he was always trying to get us to write about things in terms of other things. Abstract things in terms of concrete things. Ideas in terms of things. He wrote a lot about cars and bar fights and fishing gear. But (so he said) he was really writing about relationships and passions and struggles…you know, man’s inhumanity to man. Stuff like that. And example he might have given (and maybe he actually did give this one) was that the road in the Robert Frost poem was an objective correlative for an important decision in ones life, one that would determine the direction and nature of the rest of one’s life. Anyhow…the idea was to give your reader a thing, something with substance, color, texture, smell…that they could hold onto, while you went in through their ear holes and worked on their brain.

In the early 1990s, I was amused as an army of Gen X geeks began to preach the gospel of the Internet. “If you don’t have a website, you don’t have business…soon all business will be conducted virtually…blah, blah, blah.”

As the revolution cooled a bit, some more thoughtful, big-picture thinkers came along and pointed out that the Internet was a lot like the invention of the telephone. To be sure, if your company didn’t have a telephone by, say, 1960, you were going to have a hard time staying in business. But the phone was not the business. The business was not the phone. And that was the point. You had to have a business, before a web strategy could do your business any good.

In the late 1990s, the term “clicks and mortar” was coined. Folks discovered that the Internet was an awesome tool for bringing traffic to your brick and mortar enterprise, and that you could extend your network of vendors and customers through virtual transactions. But the key was the mortar…the exponent was the click.

Couple years ago, along came MySpace and then Facebook, and then Ning, and all of them. It was the social network marketing tsunami. Everybody panicked. What are we gonna do? How are we gonna stay in business without a Facebook page, and a Twitter strategy? The idea of building a business around a community of people is not new, and it was not invented by MySpace. Ever hear of a rural electric cooperative…a barn raising…a farmers’ market…a food coop…THE AMISH? But what social network platforms did was enable communities to form around almost anything…and to grow quickly.

One of my favorite companies is Coffee to a Tea. They have built their entire marketing strategy around the arts district in which they are located, events they schedule in order to make them a destination, and a Facebook page in order to accumulate fan data and communicate information. They are social networked out the wazoo. They may even have a twitter strategy by now. But the main thing they have is a cute little coffee house in an old soda shop, some great organic coffee, and some killer cakes and goodies (also tomato bread and jalapeño bread). We are now into the second generation of clicks and mortar. It’s tweets and mortar. But before the tweets will do you any good, you gotta have the mortar (and the jalapeña bread).

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