Friday, June 12, 2009

The Future of Marketing

I recently read an online article, The Future of Marketing by Gareth Kay, at TalentZoo that I simply have to share ... because while the propositions made by the author are dramatic (within the marketing microcosm, that is), I sincerely hope he's right. You can read the piece yourself here.

Kay begins by referencing the vast amount of discussion we hear about new technologies for communication:
Pick up any of the trade papers or read any of the marketing blogs recently and you’re likely to notice Amara’s law at work: “We invariably overestimate the short-term impact of new technologies while underestimating their long-term effects.”
... and then observes, "but there is precious little conversation about the impact technology is having long-term on culture, and how this might challenge some of the assumptions we have built marketing programs on for the last few decades." He then notes four interesting signs of where be believes marketing may be headed:

1. Brands will be built on cultural and social missions, not commercial propositions
Marketing historically has been obsessed with the concept of positioning — how you are different to your competitors in your category. Increasingly, great brands are realizing that people don’t see categories and don’t obsess about them. What actually matters is having a point of view on the world, a cultural mission to ask people to rally around. You can begin to see this come to life in marketing ideas like Dove’s ‘Campaign For Real Beauty’ and, more importantly, embedded into the very DNA of businesses. Howies, a UK clothing brand is a great example. As its founder Dave Hieatt said, “We’re not trying to sell things. We are trying to make people think about stuff.” That belief (make people think about the world around them) is self-evident in everything from the materials they use to their design to their catalogues to store design.

2. Marketing will be about what you do, not what you say
Marketing has for far too long been built on the notion of saying things at people, rather than doing things for or with people. Great marketing will increasingly be about what you do, not what you say. And that means that rather than being a silo within a business, marketing needs to be an ethos pervasive throughout an organization. Great marketing ideas today and in the future are as likely to be ideas that ‘live’ in operations (think Zappos unannounced upgrade to overnight shipping or Amazon’s one-click shopping), retail design (handheld registers in Apple stores to cut down queues and increase staff/customer interaction) or HR (the Zappos culture book).

3. Lots of little ideas, not one big idea
The future of marketing lies in breaking the tyranny of the big idea for two reasons.

First, while marketing (and brands) exist for a commercial purpose, they live in a cultural space. And culture is far richer, deeper, complex and nuanced than 99.9 percent of marketing. Marketing will be more culturally interesting if it is made up of lots of coherent ideas than repeating consistently one idea.

Second, given our inability to predict the future (despite the fortunes spent on research) it makes much more sense to start lots of fires to see what takes hold and place lots of small bets, rather than putting everything on black 35. We need to think about investing lots of small bets, learning from them and then scaling up behind the ideas that seem to be working. (It’s worth noting that this has been made practical by the fact that the internet is reducing the cost of failure to almost zero).

4. People first
Marketing in the future will be about putting people first. This may sound ridiculously obvious, but too often marketing is about convincing people how great you are rather than working out what people are interested in and how you might be able to help or add value.

A great example of this was the Tate Tracks campaign created by Fallon London for the Tate Modern gallery. They needed to increase the number of under-25s visiting the gallery and quickly realized that the conventions of gallery marketing — show the art on display — was unlikely to change behavior. So instead they thought about what this audience were passionate about — music — and created a campaign around art inspiring new, exclusive music.

If I had to sum it up I think the future lies in realizing that creating cultural value will create commercial value. Whatever the future may bring, it’s certainly an exciting time to be in the industry.


Those of you who know me or have followed my posts will quickly recognize why I am so enamored of Kay's Four Predictions. These are precisely the kinds of ideas I have been promoting in this blog and, in fact, in my conversations and other writing. Marketing — and communications in general (whether internal or external) simply MUST become more about "the other" than about ourselves. We must acknowledge our place as small atoms in the tremendous cultural entity and contribute to the environment in which we live rather than merely attempting to suck energy from it.

And now, an apology balanced by some good news:
My dedicated readers may have noted a recent absence of new posts from the Communication Heretic. A family emergency took me away from my desk for several weeks, but I promise to be back more frequently in the coming months. And thanks to those of you who inquired about my absence. I appreciate your loyalty and concern! Until next time —

Thanks for participating.

Jan Thomas
The Communication Heretic