The Future of Marketing

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By Mark Schaefer

Each year, it seems my content adopts a certain theme based on emerging disruptions in the marketplace. I think a theme is coming into view for the next year and beyond: Love, Chaos, and The Hyper-Empowered Customer.

I’ve worked in marketing for more than 30 years and we are on the cusp of the most exciting changes I’ve witnessed. In fact, I foresee a transformation of the very foundations of marketing and many of our most persistent beliefs and beloved best practices will be strangled out of existence.

Let’s start unpacking this today.

Brand-building is out of control

We read every day how many of most valuable brands from marketing titans like Proctor & Gamble and Unilever are in a freefall. Part of the reason for this decline is that traditional methods we’ve used to build brands — primarily repetitive advertising — are not working like they used to.

In fact, I’ve argued that we are inexorably moving toward an ad-free world, a marketplace that is strikingly less dependent on commercials because people are streaming their audio and video content through ad-free subscription services.

There are three major forces moving consumer behavior today, all driven by content on social media: reviews, user-generated content, and influencers. I would also throw Facebook/Google ads in there for good measure, too.

The interesting thing to me is, of these three social media forces … what is really left in the marketer’s control? What IS marketing today when our brand messaging is created by the hive mind instead of our ad agency? What is your job when a brand is no longer driven by ad impressions, but an accumulation of human impressions on social media?

What does marketing mean any more when nobody trusts your company and the world is blocking your ads?

We need to transcend our silos and even our instincts to embrace the chaos. We need to build organizations that stop fighting the hyper-powered consumer and find ways to encourage her.

Marketing in context

Understanding the hyper-empowered consumer … nurturing her, rewarding her, meeting her impatient demands … will become possible due to advances in technology. Marketing might seem scary right now, but I believe we are entering a golden era.

The buyer’s journey is a complicated, tangled mess, and it may appear that fickle, tweet-happy customers are impossible to please. But if you peer through the fog, you’ll realize it’s actually never been easier to make customers happy.

The key I think, is to stop thinking like marketers and start thinking like friends.

We have lost our way as an industry. We are addicted to blog-world-best-practices instead of treating people like … people. We need to re-think our pop-up, paywall, lead-nurturing mentality and get back to basics like treating a person in the online world like we would treat them in the real world.

We need to use technology to remove barriers between us and our customers, not build them. When technology enables you to understand how individuals interact with your brand, where they are on their buying journey, and what they’re experiencing from your digital channels in the moment, you can offer share-worthy, uplifting and even personalized experiences that can dazzle, inspire and amaze.

Infinite segmentation

I once had an opportunity to work with ex-Coke CMO Sergio Zyman. My colleague asked him: “How many marketing strategies does a company need?” His answer was: “How many customers do you have?”

While that answer might seem flippant, it’s true. And although his comment was made to me 15 years ago, the possibility of activating his idea is now becoming reality.

We’re moving from mass marketing to mass customization, from focusing on dashboard averages to individuals.1 We will build brands in market segments of one. The idea of “personas” has a limited lifespan now. We won’t have to guess at an average personality, we’ll know every personality.

For marketers who have traditionally created and marketed brands to the dominant major, this means re-thinking marketing. In fact, it means blowing up almost everything we’ve done so far.

All you need is love.

I think marketing can become wildly effective once again when you have the ability to take into account the context of individual customer emotions, patterns, and experiences instead of following some lock-step content marketing program you read about in a blog post.

We need to strip away the fossilized layers of crap we have accumulated over the truth that is pulsating underneath. It is this: People want to be acknowledged … and loved … more than anything. The vast technological opportunities at our doorstep are the way we can scale love.

We can use these emerging opportunities for personalization and context to create boundless delight, or we can use it to creep people out. With history as our guide, most companies will creep us out. But the companies who choose love … well, that’s one helluva point of differentiation, isn’t it? Marketing beyond loyalty!

It’s exciting, isn’t it? We are on the cusp of the greatest (and most fun) time in marketing history. Instead of fighting the hyper-empowered consumer we will celebrate them! Every one of them.

And if we do a good job, they might even celebrate us.

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