future of marketing

Late last year, 60 marketing experts shared their visions of the future of marketing through a “micro-conference” run by Sam Rosen of thoughtlead.  It found it fascinating on several levels.

First the “micro-conference” is a really neat format.  It’s a podcast-type audio event in which each person has only 60-seconds to speak.  Sam initiated the format with The Influencer Project, billed as “the shortest marketing conference ever” and featured thought-leaders on the subject of increasing your online influence.

In just one hour a “micro-conference” gives listeners a broad range of perspectives – it’s a little random, and by design, there isn’t a lot of depth, but nuggets of wisdom emerge throughout.  It’s kind of a buffet for the brain.

Also the types of thought-leaders who participated in the Future of Marketing were interesting.  There weren’t any real surprises in the speaker list – it included the expected experts (e.g., Guy Kawasaki, Charlene Li, Steve Rubel, and more), popular business figures (e.g., Scott Monty, Tony Hsieh, Alex Bogusky, etc.), and the authors everyone has read (e.g., David Meerman Scott, Brian Solis, Chris Brogan, etc.)  No real academics, no one from outside the field of marketing, and no celebrities (although Alex Bogusky might have as many fans — and critics — to qualify for that designation!)

I’d guess the speakers’ average age was around 40 (with Barry Schwartz representing the top end of the scale at 65 and Frank Gruber at the low end at 29).   Only 15 of the 60 speakers were women; only 6 were people of color.  All the speakers were U.S.-based.

I’m reporting these stats not to pass a judgment on who was/wasn’t included, but rather to paint a profile of the type of person who is leading the marketing profession these days.   And that profile — white, American middle-aged male marketing leader with an established platform — was another of the things that fascinated me about the event.

tag cloud of transcript from Future of Marketing

Finally the content itself was fascinating but even more so was the types of topics discussed.  I did a quick classification of the topics mentioned and my tally showed:

25% focused on social (social media, social commerce, social search)

Amber MacArthur talked about “the idea that more and more people are going to different social networks to get recommendations for products and services they buy versus is going to traditional search engines like Google.”

Ekaterina Walter, Social Media Strategist at Intel, declared, “Revolutionary marketing strategies are nonexistent without social media nowadays.”

20% talked about a broader aspect of business beyond marketing

Sonia Simone, Chief Marketing Officer of Copyblogger Media, suggested, “Everything we do is marketing, from our supply chain to what our CEO says over drinks to how our support teams treat our customers.”

Innovation was Virgin America Marketing VP Porter Gale’s point:  “We tried to use the central part of innovation at the core of our DNA.  We looked at the product.  We looked at the guest experience. We looked at all of our marketing channels and made sure that we pushed beyond the traditional landscape and changed the game.  For us it’s plugs at the seats; it’s wi-fi in all of our planes; it’s food on demand; it’s mood lighting; it’s things that guests actually didn’t even realize they needed.”

10% focused on content

Victoria Harres from PR Newswire explained, “The role of the marketer will be to facilitate rich and useful content to that well researched audience. And that is what I mean by the future of marketing isn’t selfish.”

“Focus your marketing on helping other people,” was the advice from Michael Stelzner of socialmediaexaminer.com.  “Everybody wants access to great insight and have great people who can help them, so produce engaging content that meets people’s insatiable demand for how-to information.”

the remaining 31% ranged across a bunch of marketing tactics and approaches — from mobile to shopper marketing to email marketing and more

Here’s the most fascinating part: only 3 made the customer their main point

“The real best companies in the world and best marketers imagine the unrecognized needs of their customers,” declared author Chip Conley.

Chris Brogan encouraged marketers, “…to incorporate [listening] into both your lead development, your awareness, your sales, and your customer service.  Basically do more to understand your customers in a 360-degree way.”

Todd Defren at SHIFT Communications challenged listeners saying, “So many companies and marketers think about taking a content-specific approach where they put ‘creative’ at the forefront of everything.  Really what they should be thinking about in the social media era is putting relationships at the center of everything.”

and only 3 people focused on the brand as the future of marketing

Michael Margolis, President of GetStoried.com, said, “People don’t buy your product or your solution or even your idea.  What they’re buying is the story that’s attached to it, or more importantly, the story they tell themselves about what your brand means to them, which is why you need to give people something to believe in, a bigger story. When your brand stands for something larger than just a widget, a sale, or a transaction, you invite people to find the deeper meaning.”

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh spoke on his resounding theme, saying, “A company’s culture and a company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin.”

Jeanne Bliss of CustomerBliss.com explained that brand experience is driven by five things:

  1. clarity of purpose: redefine your purpose from your customer’s point of view.
  2. recognize that employees are the brand in so many interactions.
  3. be human and real in your communications.
  4. become a talk-able brand by delivering a reliable experience your customers can tell others about.
  5. be there on customers’ terms and nurture your humility and your humility muscle in how you say sorry and respond to customer disappointments.

On the one hand, this breakdown is concerning – only a handful of marketing experts put customers or the brand in the center of their vision of the future of marketing, while over half are betting on social or some marketing tactic.  It would seem they’re forgetting the fundamentals of marketing.

But as I try to be open-minded and give these people (many of whom I respect a lot) the benefit of the doubt, I think I may understand their perspective.  Customers and the brand are indeed marketing fundamentals — the core of the discipline — and their importance is timeless.

But perhaps it’s the tools and tactics that are what’s changing. And they are ushering in the new marketing era.

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  • Great summary Denise. It reminds me of the story of the three blind men and the elephant. What you’re getting are the “experts” view of the world from their perspective, driven by their agendas.

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  • Great post Denise, perfect timing. I’m off to Phoenix at 8 tomorrow evening to do a presentation to clients re the future of marketing, so, very cool to have these add ons!

  • Monica Hahn

    Denise, I agree that the tools & tactics are what’s changing. I also think that it’s what companies are forcing marketers to spend their time on these days, even at very senior levels. A marketing executive recently said to me that they spend more time measuring what they did TO customers yesterday than they do imagining what they can do FOR customers tomorrow. That’s really scary to me, because if Marketing isn’t doing that, I know no one else is.
    I think the people who are thinking of the broader business aspect are really smart, if they’re in fact thinking of the holistic customer experience. We need to understand how we fit into our customers’ lives, what their challenges & needs are, & what we could be doing to make their world a little easier. The Virgin examples to me speak more about that totality of the customer experience than about innovation. Innovation could just have easily been applied to promotional tactics or pricing gimmicks. By focusing their innovation on improving & differentiating the broader experience, they’re reinforcing their brand & building loyalty.

  • Tactics seeking an objective. It’s a common trap that most of the conference notables have fallen into. But it didn’t catch you, you know that the customer is core to all marketing. And while technology may create new demand, it will never surplant the customer/market needs. Human beings remain essentially the same over time, in the scientific history of mankind there has never been an abrupt change of how we think (how the human mind works going back over three thousand years to The Great Budda) and act as human beings in the space of a mere decade or two. This is not to say that demand can not be created because we know it can but there will be no essential change in the “marketing of the future”. Continue to trust your instincts, learning and business experience. They are good. These waves of predictors and enthusiastic thought leaders course over the marketing landscape every so often, they mean well but they are mistaken. Filled with half truths and aggressive suppositions they would love to be the ones who predict the future. Predict anything for that matter. Social media needs time to play out to its balanced level. All these things seek balance. Truly it staggers me that only 3% of this group sees the reality. I had thought we had come a bit further since the “Dot Com” frenzy subsided and found its balance. I shake my head in submission to the power of marketing people to delude themselves. But not you, you are one sharp cookie. Tactics seeking an objective. Like a nail seeking a hammer. I await your next iteration. You continue to impress.

  • Another nice post, DLY, and much appreciated. I didn’t attend the conference, but got all the benefits from you anyway :).

    Interesting observations on focus (or not) on the customer, brand as the center, and particularly the presenter demographics. While its good for me (40’s, white, male), its certainly not reflective of the consumer population. While neither good or bad on its own, it does leave one room to ponder … hmmm.

  • Denise, great post. You are the queen of valuable recaps! 🙂 I’d like to see more focus on the customer… do you think that’s because marketers are still working to “stay in power” and putting the focus on the customer means relinquishing some of that power? Just a thought.

  • Nicely done–and I agree with your perspective. A guess is that every time a new medium enters the marketing arsenal, it becomes the obsession; I’ve no doubt television advertising dominated marketing conferences for years.

    Brands will always matter; to suggest that they won’t is like suggesting a person’s reputation will not effect her sucess.

    Again, thanks. Crisp, insightful and interesting.

  • thanks for all these great comments! i’m sorry it took me so long to approve them and respond (having tech issues).

    i love monica’s distinction of marketing as doing something TO customers vs. FOR customers — it really gets to the heart of the issue — marketing should be something that is of value to customers.

    stephanie — you raise a provocative question — i suspect there’s some truth to it!

    and it’s funny to think about what marketing conferences in the past must have been like, harry — back in the 50’s/60’s, was everyone buzzing about producing cool tv ads?!

    thanks to all for the positive feedback and insights — please keep them coming!

    — denise lee yohn

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