Why Marketing Has Changed… Forever
The marketing world, in large part, can be split into two camps. Traditionalists, most notably Bob Hoffman at The Ad Contrarian believe that nothing has really changed except the tools. After all, while there has been a revolution in technology, basic human nature remains the same.
Digital advocates, on the other hand, are sure that the realm of communication has changed so completely that the old rules have lost relevance. They believe that the traditionalists are just fooling themselves, grasping at any straw in order to avoid changing their old, tired ways.
Having spent time in both camps, I have sympathy for both points of view. I’m equally frustrated with those who try to fit new media into old models and those who think that every shiny object represents a new paradigm. Nevertheless, it’s clear that something fundamental has changed and it starts with one of marketing’s most basic assumptions.
The Sales Funnel
The Sales funnel should be familiar to anyone involved in sales and marketing. It has been a staple for decades and many different iterations have arisen, but here’s a pretty basic version:
The funnel is a graphical representation of the AIDA model that’s been in use for at least a century and appeals to our basic common sense. You get a prospect’s attention, inspire their interest, overcome their objections and get them to act. The implicit assumption is that the more you put into the front of the funnel, the more you’ll get out the end.
This led to marketers to focus on building brand awareness, mainly through TV campaigns. While some energy went into tactics further down the line, the thinking was that awareness was a tide that lifted all boats. I think that everybody knew that the notion wasn’t 100% accurate, but it was true enough that it worked and played a crucial role in building our most beloved brands.
That model is now broken because 60% of TV viewers are surfing the Internet while they watch, so the action that a TV ad is most likely to elicit is not a trip to the store, but an Internet search. That’s a very fundamentally change and it means we need to do things differently.
The Three Pillars of the Brand
Once a consumer begins to research a category purchase online, their data trail will alert your competitors, who will retarget those same consumers with new offers based on their surfing behavior. In effect, by building brand awareness you are also building category awareness and allowing your rivals to line their coffers.
To respond to the new challenges many marketers have developed path-to-purchase models. Like purchase funnels, there are multiple versions, but here’s the one that I favor:
At first glance, the contrast may seem mostly cosmetic. After all, you still have most of the same major elements, simply rearranged. However, what used to be a linear process has been replaced by a continuum and that makes all the difference in the world.
In short, marketers need to shift from grabbing attention to holding attention and that will require a change in skills, mindset and organizational integration.
From Big Ideas to Pervasive Brand Experiences
In the old model, marketers strove to come up with the “big idea” that they could back up with massive ad spending on TV. It made sense because TV was (and still is) an incredibly efficient medium. You could create a compelling 30’ spot, put it on air and reach untold millions of potential prospects in a matter of a few days..
Now that’s a fool’s errand, because all those TV dollars will only incite consumers to start searching for more information on the Internet, where they will be retargeted by competitors. So many top brands have deemphasized building awareness in favor of creating pervasive brand experiences that keep consumers engaged.
A great example is Nike’s + program, which has developed an entire ecosystem that helps their consumers track their own training programs through a fuelband that monitors their activity, devices implanted in basketball shoes that can record how high they jump and interfaces with both the Apple iPod and Microsoft Kinect platforms. They can even link their profiles with friends and compete with them.
And Nike is not alone. Many successful marketers are moving away from one way communication and towards a true value exchange, where consumers interact with the brand continuously because they are getting more than just a slogan.
The Organizational Imperative
We have to get away from “big ideas” and the star culture they promote. Big ideas, all too often, are merely a proxy for big people – individuals with enough charisma and organizational clout to attract resources.
However, as Ed Catmull of Pixar points out in this fantastic HBR piece, creativity is no longer a “solo act.” Today, collaboration is not just important, it’s absolutely essential and that’s why digital marketing is so hard.
Marketing services companies, which have spent decades metastasizing into evermore modular operational units, are ill equipped to provide the integration needed to create immersive experiences that scale. The challenge ahead is to build completely new marketing organizations (although not necessarily new brands) that are networked to succeed.
However, the shift requires tight integration of a much wider set of skills than in the old “big idea” era. Beyond making ads, todays marketing effort requires technologists, usability experts, community managers, retail specialists and sometimes even a mathematician or two.
The question is this: If marketing practice has changed so fundamentally, why do our marketing organizations look so much the same?