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The Future of Marketing: The 4 P's Are Passé

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In this introduction to his book, The Future of Marketing: Strategies from 15 Leading Brands on How Authenticity, Relevance, and Transparency Will Help You Survive the Age of the Customer, Nicholas Johnson explains that by focusing on authenticity, relevance, transparency, and taking responsibility for experience, insight, and agility, marketers not only can survive in an era of radically heightened customer expectation, but also thrive. Now more than ever, marketing is about customer relationships, customer understanding, and ways to deliver customer value.
This chapter is from the book
  • “When I first became a marketer, we really believed that we could understand the environment, design products and services to address needs in the marketplace, and communicate directly to consumers using some fairly well-defined channels—and things would magically happen.”
  • —Barry Wolfish, Chief Marketing Officer, Land O’Lakes

One can detect an air of wistfulness when talking with chief marketing officers (CMOs) nowadays.

If you glance at conference agendas, white papers, or the marketing trade press, you are welcomed with a plethora of new buzzwords and acronyms almost daily. Digital and social, en vogue just a few years ago, have been swiftly superseded by terms such as omni channel, native advertising, and programmatic.

The applicability of these topics to the upper echelons of large corporations is still very much up for debate. But the fact that marketing departments around the world are facing a shifting, increasingly complex, and challenging new landscape is not.

In the course of conducting research for this book, I spent many hours talking with some of the most respected chief marketing officers from some of the most successful companies in the world. Their products and services span a wide range, from energy to entertainment, beer to ketchup, and electronics to education. I collected plenty of different insights, challenges, and opportunities. But one observation brings everyone into agreement:

Things are an awful lot more complicated than they’ve ever been.

Cammie Dunaway was one of the first CMOs I spoke with. During her more than 30 years in marketing, she has worked for companies that include Frito Lay, Nintendo, and Yahoo!; she served as CMO for the latter two companies. Now CMO at KidZania, a global chain of “edutainment” centers, Cammie is well-placed to reflect on the evolutions and revolutions in the marketing space during the last 30 years.

Previously, the formula for success was somewhat less complicated, Cammie says: “You learned your 4 P’s of marketing, and provided you applied your particular brand challenges to that known framework, and had good products and good advertising, success was fairly predictable.”

That’s no longer the case. Over the last decade, a plethora of new influences—with digital and social technology to the fore—have increased the complexity of the marketer’s role. Senior marketing leaders from a range of industries have made clear that the framework Cammie mentions has been dismantled. The rules of marketing—the famous 4 P’s of Product, Price, Place, and Promotion—have been disrupted, and relying on that old framework is simply not sufficient in the face of unprecedented change.

“You still have the same goals, but all of a sudden, all the traditional wisdom that you’ve relied on isn’t serving you anymore,” Cammie says.

Power Has Changed Hands

The past ten years have seen a change in relationship between corporations and their customers. Essentially, the power has shifted away from the company and toward the consumer.

Customers can kill brand redesigns. Just ask Gap, who was forced to roll back a logo redesign in the face of social media uproar. Customers can kill entire brand strategies. Look at the Netflix decision to abort the Quikster brand when separating out that company’s DVD and streaming business components. Customers also can demote incumbents in favor of disruptive newcomers with better customer experience. Look at the fortunes of taxi firms since Uber and Lyft came on the scene.

Previously successful marketing campaigns no longer pass muster, either. Look at the famous Modoc Oil Test, highlighted by the team at Marketing Experiments in the white paper Transparent Marketing. In 1885, an advertisement appeared in the Altoona Tribune in Blair County, Pennsylvania, promoting a new miracle cure, Modoc Oil. It certainly wasn’t shy about highlighting the benefits of this new wonderstuff:

  • Modoc Oil—the greatest medicine on earth. It has no equal. It relieves all pain instantly: Toothache in one minute—Headache in one minute—Earache in ten minutes—Sore throat in one night—Neuralgia in from three to five minutes...Modoc Oil is a sure and speedy cure. Every family should have a bottle within reach. It’s a doctor in the house.1

The response was so explosive, and the demand so high, that the company producing this frankly incredible substance had to build an enormous new factory in Corry, Pennsylvania. It was still firing on all cylinders in 1912.

Nowadays, that approach simply doesn’t work. The Marketing Experiments team put that exact same advertisement in a similar paper with a circulation of 35,000. They got no sales.

Of course, this is a rather simplistic example, but it speaks to a broader truth. What customers expect has changed. They’re wary of “marketing.” They’re skeptical. And gaining their trust requires a lot more than overblown claims of instantaneous pain relief.

This shift is forcing global companies to reevaluate the fundamentals of how they do business, from product development right through to marketing campaigns. They must reflect this new reality in which the customer is in control, as the vast majority of marketing executives realize:

“73% of marketers now realize that competitive advantage will come from a singular focus on the customer.”2

In-house, companies are beginning to transition their business models and their organizational structures to reflect the primacy of the customer. This often is known as a “customer-centric” strategy. Yet although many will tell you that being customer-centric is an old precept masquerading as a new buzzword (after all, haven’t companies always focused on the customer?), that thinking is somewhat disingenuous.

For many years now, companies have organized themselves around geographies and product lines. Only since customer power increased have forward-looking companies begun to focus on organizing around customer groups and understanding those groups—and even individual customers—in as much detail as possible.

On the external side, marketing is beginning to create more value for the customer, and striving to be more relevant to their target audiences. The increasing primacy of content as part of a marketing strategy is related to this recognition: Ninety-three percent of brand marketers are planning to create more content in 2015 and beyond3—and that’s because content marketing can deliver relevance and value, both critical in this new world.

The rules of the game have changed. The rulebook is now written by the customer, not the corporation. Fundamentally, four tectonic shifts have contributed to the transfer of power between brand and customer:

  1. The move online: Communication, content consumption, and customer touchpoints have all increasingly begun to move online.
  2. An explosion in transparency: Customers can now see and understand their options far more clearly. Likewise, they are increasingly able to ascertain when someone is trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, regardless of the marketing budget.
  3. A media landscape that is fragmenting quickly: It’s far more difficult for marketers to find their customers and talk to them where they are—and it’s also difficult to follow the inherent rules and expectations of new channels and platforms.
  4. Customer data that is more readily available than ever: Although this means companies have an opportunity to deliver more targeted, relevant campaigns, it also means that competitors are already doing so. Customers increasingly expect an equivalent—relevant and valuable—experience from companies in the same market.
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