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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