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This chapter is from the book

Not Everything Has Changed: The Fundamentals Remain the Same

This book is on the future of marketing. It’s set in the context of a shifting landscape. In writing it, I’ve attempted to cover the fundamental changes to the marketer’s ability to do their job, as well as the rapidly evolving customer expectations that have added complexity and challenge to what was once a simpler role. It talks about how authenticity, relevance, and transparency have become ever more critical elements of the function.

In short, the book focuses on change.

Yet it’s important to note that many elements of marketing have remained the same, and will continue to do so. Certain priorities and foci have remained consistent—and always will.

Take a look at the following list pulled from a McKinsey article on broad trends that impact on the role of the marketer:

  1. The dominance of the customer: “The need to understand and anticipate future customers is bound to become even more essential than in the past...the company that is not alert to the customers’ needs and the changing complexities of marketplaces is inviting disaster.”
  2. The impact of digital and the need for companies to quickly turn customer data into actionable insight: “Generally speaking, I think it must be conceded that companies have dragged their feet in taking advantage of electronic data-processing analyses, online communications, and information-retrieval systems as tools to help make marketing more efficient.”
  3. The challenges of marketing to a global audience: “Top management must think through how best to coordinate a multinational selling effort to [ensure] adequate corporate control over a worldwide marketing plan—yet without unduly restricting initiative and responsibility within each national segment.”

The author ends with a warning that the face of marketing is changing radically, and that it’s essential for brands to make significant changes to stay in the game:

“To keep pace with these changes, and to play the strong role in the future that I believe to be the key challenge to marketing executives, the face of the marketing function will have to change accordingly.”

To “keep pace,” then, marketers must focus on customer-centric business practices, use data to become more agile, and be cognizant of their place in an increasingly global marketplace. That’s a sensible set of goals for the marketer in 2015, and each is highlighted as a core focus in the research I’ve been doing for this book.

Yet this article was written in 1966.42

When considering changes and evolution within the marketing function, it’s important to draw a distinction between what has changed and what will (and should) remain the same. As Jason West, formerly Chief Marketing Officer of Heinz, told me:

“I feel like two thirds of marketing is unchanged. And one third is dramatically changed.”

The two thirds that stay the same? Those pieces involve three important elements:

  1. Finding something that matters to your customer
  2. Finding something you can deliver against
  3. Finding something that differentiates you from your competition

Most of marketing is about figuring out who you are and what you want to say. Fundamentally, marketing will always come down to finding what matters to the customer, working out how to deliver against that, and then differentiating against your competition. The 4 P’s then, while a little passé, are still important.

Jason West also had this to say about it: “If you can consistently figure out a way to answer those three questions, you can succeed as a marketer, regardless of what’s happening in the different channels, or in the different ways of marketing in 2015, 2020, 2025.”

So what part changes? According to many, that’s only the delivery mechanism—Channels. Those mechanisms are constantly changing and evolving, and in this digital age, the pace of that change has increased.

Changes in the delivery mechanism are essentially a surface, tactical concern. Yet many snake oil salesmen in the space promise a new platform or channel that offers untold benefits. Many breathless trade press pieces laud the benefits of new channel X. And plenty of fads come and go. Indeed, an increasing challenge for savvy marketers is spotting the channels and platforms worth their time and, likewise, identifying those that are a waste.

It seems to me, however, that something broader and more fundamental has happened over the last ten years. That more than one third of marketing has changed. Attempting to shoehorn these broad shifts into a discussion of new channels and platforms would be doing it a disservice. This is far bigger than a discussion on the rise of Facebook or Twitter. Perhaps it’s more sensible to separate three distinct elements of marketing:

  1. Unchanging: the consistent goals of the marketer: Executives must always keep in mind that their ultimate goals (surrounding both marketing and the delivery of customer experience) will require answers to the same questions they always did. Concerns surrounding customer need, consumer behavior, who you are and what you want to say will remain, regardless of other shifts. The 4 P’s will continue to matter.
  2. Always changing: delivery mechanisms: This is where the majority of consultancies and other vendors make their money. This is also where most buzzwords and fads creep into marketing. New channels and platforms will always crop up. Marketers have been coping with new channels and platforms since Gutenberg invented the printing press.
  3. Slowly changing: the shifting changes to consumer expectations: This is the area I feel is worthy of more attention, and it’s the area this book focuses on. In the last decade, customers’ expectations of corporations have changed significantly.

A plethora of influences have led to a marked shift in what customers expect from marketing and their interactions with businesses. These are loosely summed up in the acronym ‘ART’ (for Authenticity, Relevance, and Transparency).

Marketers must now be in a position to deliver authenticity, relevance, and transparency in all their dealings with their customer base if they plan to flourish in the years ahead. The turbulence from new channels and platforms and the fundamental need to get the message across is sure to continue unabated.

ART Means Major Changes Must Be Made

It’s simply impossible to focus on delivering authenticity, relevance, and transparency without a significant amount of groundwork done by marketers, CMOs, and the entire C-suite.

To deliver nimble, targeted marketing that cuts through the noise and engages a target audience (all now expectations of your customer base), brands must make more extensive changes than shaking up the channels on which they disseminate their marketing messages.

After all, channels and platforms are always changing. Technological advancements will always happen; new startups will always offer shiny new apps and tools for people to communicate. The speed with which marketing now develops is inextricable from the speed at which technology progresses. The “incredible speed” and “fearful pace of change” that many CMOs have highlighted to me isn’t going to slow.

But no recent shift will be as big as the one we’ve experienced with the rise of social and digital marketing. Marketers have seen a tremendous impact on customer expectations and must focus on the customer more than ever.

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