CONNECTING THE DOTS
THIS SERIES FOCUSES ON THE FUNDAMENTALS THAT WILL POWER MODERN MARKETING FOR YEARS TO COME.
About 16 years ago, I was at a media conference. It was still early in the growth of the internet, and only about half of U.S. households had a connection, most with dial-up modems. During one of the sessions a speaker presented a German website called eye4u. I had never seen anything like it. For the first time I saw moving images coordinated with sound, live on the internet. It was a revelation. From that moment on, I started to shift my TV-oriented ad agency towards this new world. By 2003, my agency was hip deep in what we used to call the web, although it was still more of a novelty than a marketing force.
Since then I’ve toiled in the digital trenches and watched as marketing has been reinvented, piece by piece. Along the way I’ve tried to understand what’s changing and what’s not, and how all the pieces fit together. I’ve also tried to explain to people who run companies what they need to do to adapt. Now, as the impact of digital on how people buy and marketers sell seems pretty clear to everyone, I think the time is right for a book that connects the dots and decodes the complex and confusing world that modern marketing has become.
While there are countless whitepapers, articles and books that dive, with excruciating detail, into the weeds of every tiny corner of this new marketing landscape, the problem for most executives is in seeing the big picture so they can chart the right course for the future. That’s why this series focuses on the fundamentals that I believe will power modern marketing for years to come.
With this ten-part series my goal is to provide an action plan that will show an executive how to construct a modern marketing system. It’s not a detailed blueprint, but rather a bird’s eye view of the whole forest, which allows company leaders to see how all the trees connect.
Before the great recession, a lot of companies were focused on building out the technology to make their production and supply chains more efficient. A great deal of money was spent to squeeze costs and improve systems efficiency. Then around 2003, the internet really started to kick in as broadband proliferated. Consumers were intrigued, and early adopter companies jumped in to experiment. I was fortunate enough to have IBM as a client, and since broadband hit B2B first, I got a chance to see what was possible early. By 2008, the internet was already in second gear. Fortune 100 companies were fully committed and shifting their powerful marketing organizations to take advantage of the new opportunities. Most midsize companies, however, still held back. Despite being on everybody’s lips, the internet had not yet changed the entire world.
Then the recession hit. Companies of all sizes, but especially smaller companies, pulled in their horns and pulled out any of their toes that happened to be in the internet water. By 2009, according to the National Association of Advertisers, 93% of members cited cost-cutting. It was a challenging time, and the first thing to cut was anything unproven and experimental. Most of corporate America slowed down. But a funny thing happened, the consumer didn’t. Their digital adoption didn’t stop for a second. Consumers couldn’t get enough of the all things digital and the rate of technological innovation just kept on accelerating. Fortune 100 companies, already laser focused on their consumers, stayed right there with them, and kept innovating and investing.
Seven years later as 2015 dawned, companies looked around the new landscape and finally felt firm footing. As they surveyed the scene, they saw a radically transformed environment. They saw a consumer empowered by new technology, confident and hungry for more. Gone were the AOL training wheels. Now with search, social media, and cheap broadband, consumers were technically savvy, independent and powerful. And so the late majority, the fat part of the snake, which waited out the recession, woke up to the new reality.
The profound shift that had happened was in the transfer of power from companies to consumers made possible by the internet. Where companies had been able to use information, distance and time to manage consumers in the past, in this new internet-fueled world these controls quickly faded away. Now consumers could not only find out where and when to get the best price, but which product was superior and why, all without leaving the comfort of their living room. The internet in all its forms had completely redefined how consumers discover, evaluate, buy and experience products and services. Along the way this seismic shift had also left much of the old marketing world in the rubble.
Marketing used to mean mostly paid advertising. All those ads in print and TV and other traditional channels, had the job of getting awareness, making the pitch and often even closing the deal. Consumers were pretty much captive audiences; you couldn’t fast forward through the TV commercials, or block out banner ads with your Adblocker plug-in. Today, however, consumers, trained to be expert digital buyers, expect to do their own research. They value input and advice from brands, but they are going to make up their own minds. Consumers are the new boss and they know it. That’s why companies have no choice but to super serve their consumers with excellent products, prices that stand up to scrutiny, world-class customer experiences at every turn, a generous supply of knowledge, service and innovation, and even social responsibility.
COMPANIES HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO SUPER SERVE THEIR CONSUMERS
The new marketing is not just advertising, but everything that touches your consumer. Every time a brand interacts with a prospect or a customer, from the first moment they hear your name to becoming your most loyal fan, it’s marketing. It’s a value chain, which brings the promise and meaning of your brand to life every day. It gathers the knowledge to predict how to delight consumers with magically just the right thing at the right moment. It’s what sets your brand and company apart from the competition and it’s the way to build long term loyalty. If it sounds tough to accomplish: it is. But the good news is that the science of modern marketing and the technology that enables it, is now so accessible that companies of all sizes can get in the game quickly, effectively and at a reasonable cost.
SLEEPY INDUSTRIES ARE THREATENED WITH CHANGE ON ALL SIDES.
Whether your target is a B2B buyer or a B2C buyer, companies are dealing with consumers whose expectations are being set by the quality of customer experiences they get from the world’s most sophisticated and innovative companies, like Amazon, Apple or Nike. Despite this, many verticals, such as financial services, seem to have avoided all but a superficial evolution. It’s like there’s been a tacit understanding not to rock the boat too hard. But if this lock-step hasn’t been broken yet in your industry, it probably soon will be. Sleepy industries are threatened with change on all sides.
Suddenly one company breaks ranks, creates a customer experience that differentiates it from the competition, and everyone is scrambling to catch up. Or it might be innovation driven start-ups, hunting for industries doing things the old way, which they can enter and disrupt. It could also be the thousand cuts of small entrepreneurs, empowered by the internet, determined to fragment the market further. Or it might even be the corporate giants, which are also far from idle. They are already way ahead in customer experience, data insights and technology, and can use their power to steamroll over industry weaknesses when they see opportunity. Amazon, for example, recently announced that it will introduce consumer loans; news which, I’m sure, made some people very nervous.
This series is designed to show business leaders how to defend against the risks of doing the wrong thing or not enough. It outlines a path to becoming a consumer driven organization for a consumer world. It’s the distillation of my years of experience dealing with the profound changes wrought by the internet, combined with what my agency has learned navigating these uncharted waters. It recognizes that the speed of change is such that companies should pay particular attention to what is not changing. People evolve much slower than technology. Since our job is about people, it is therefore important to remember that no matter how amazing the technology is, in the end, we are all motivated by our innate humanity.