Marketing is on the cusp of a revolution. There is a paradigm shift under way, and today’s marketers must prepare for the marketing world of tomorrow. Instead of clinging to the assumptions and approaches of the traditional marketing framework, they should find answers in the pulse of the future.
And that future – the future of marketing – is both exhilarating and challenging, disruptive and different. Different, in fact, than anything else the branding community has seen before.
So why is marketing changing so radically, so completely?
There are two main forces at work which, together, are igniting the new marketing revolution.
The first is the profound societal transformation in the way people see themselves and how they relate to the world at large – this is the cultural transformation that characterizes the 21st century’s postmodern mood.
For instance, we know from empirical research that the “postmodern consumer” is greatly interested and enticed by the experiential value of any given moment. This is in stark contrast to the consumers of bygone days (when marketing was first developed as a discipline), who were more concerned with buying products which improved their lives in some material, concrete way – increasing their status and wealth, elevating their comfort, making basic household and professional tasks easier, and so on. Products (and later services) reigned supreme, instead of experiences themselves.
This sweeping change in the consumer landscape signals an existential crisis for the approaches of traditional marketing and advertising, which were built upon a much different set of social value systems than that which is now rising to the surface.
The second force at work here is the hyper-advance and unrelenting development of high-technology. Marketing’s all-consuming objective has always been about stimulating people to take particular actions – actions which, in the short-term or long-term, favour a given brand. The coming revolution in marketing will stimulate people to action in new, better, and more precise ways. And it is technology – much of it still in its infancy, like artificial intelligence and virtual reality – which is driving the emergence of these newer and better ways.
It is, of course, a rather naive thing to pretend to know exactly what the future will look like. Nevertheless, there are guideposts in our vista which – combined with well-tempered dollops of imagination – point to likely directions where marketing will go in the years and decades that are just ahead.
Based on various observations, then, the following conclusions can be reasonably made about the future foundations of successful, sound marketing.
The future of marketing is hyper-personalization of brand messaging. As the years fly by, there increasingly comes into vision an inescapable fact that – regrettably – is overlooked by many brands which have a kind of institutional loyalty to mass advertising methods. That fact is this: that there is an ever-growing capability to create marketing messages that are more and more personalized to the individual customer or prospect (a current example of this would be Facebook ads, which can be highly targeted).
The significance of this observation has been known for decades, and was popularized to an extent by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers in The One to One Future. Yet many corporations are still investing heavily in mass advertising – radio, television, print, and so on – which is perhaps the diametric opposite of hyper-personalization. Within many marketing management departments, there still exists a myopic blindness to the emergence of hyper-personalized marketing.
And, by all appearances, this advance towards hyper-personalization isn’t just some cool trend that will vanish in a decade or two. For it is technological development that powers this transition from the mass advertising paradigm to the concept of hyper-personalized marketing.
First, increasingly vast amounts of data on customers can be successfully collected and managed due to the steep drop in data storage costs (and more and more availability of data storage space). With new innovations in information technology appearing daily, this plunging cost of data storage will only continue. Second, the widespread adoption of “smart” digital technologies – like smartphones and smartwatches – now makes it easy for brands to communicate and collaborate with customers in a highly personalized way.
But digital tech isn’t the only reason why the future of marketing will almost certainly be hyper-personalized. Other emerging technologies deserve the attention of the serious, forward-looking marketer – even those which do not seem immediately relevant. As just one example, consider that strides in miniaturization technology will result in tiny sensors – both in our bodies and in the external environment – becoming an omnipresent fact of life. Already, the scientific feasibility of an incredibly wide-range of medical “nanosensors” has been explored, and technologies like FitBit just scratches the surface of the sort of popular sensor-based technologies that the future holds. All of these sensors will capture a staggering amount of data – which can be exploited to produce brand messages that are extraordinarily customized and personalized. And, as these technologies gain momentum, they will sound the death knell of mass marketing and mass advertising.
The future of marketing is experiential. The power of experiences was alluded to at the beginning of this piece. Experiential marketing refers to marketing campaigns centred around live, interactive brand experiences.
Many brands currently adopt experiential marketing as a tactic – instead of making it the core part of the marketing strategy; this, however, is perilous ground to walk in the long-term, given the consumer landscape which is now craving for high-impact experiences instead of another humdrum television ad run. Indeed, experiential marketing is rapidly gaining a golden halo in its status in the marketing mix precisely because it is something that traditional mass advertising campaigns cannot compete with in the 21st century. And branding strategies which place experiential marketing in the centre of all marketing campaigns have greater long-term ROI than other marketing approaches. Experiential marketing also shines brighter than orthodox advertising when it comes to driving brand equity – a key predictor of an organization’s long-term market dominance. The verdict here is unanimous and unambiguous: the future of marketing is utterly experiential, with entire branding campaigns created around live brand experiences.
The future of marketing is rooted in technological innovation. Just as live brand experiences must be placed at the centre of tomorrow’s successful marketing campaigns, technologically-innovative marketing approaches must become a core part of the marketing mix of the future. Why is this the case? Worldwide, the rate of technological change and innovation is absolutely unprecedented – a rate of change, in fact, which was not witnessed 60 years ago, when marketing as a modern discipline first gained ascendency in business.
So to remain not only dominant but also to just survive in this things-are-changing-everyday environment, brands (and/or their marketing agencies) must become technological pioneers in their marketing approach. Simply adopting the most in-vogue technologies will no longer be enough. Thus, competitive brands will need to invest resources in researching the most cutting-edge technologies – and then boldly applying them to marketing purposes, even if it’s never been done before.
For example, brands that begin now to actively learn about, research, train in, and embrace emerging technologies like VR, artificial intelligence, and so on, will be able to plan strategically for the near term future – where technology will be thoroughly embedded in the very fabric of culture and society. Meanwhile, brands which do not appreciate the rapid rate of technological change going on around them will be simply crushed by companies which prepared well in advance – for years – for the day when, say, consuming and creating VR content is just as prevalent as scrolling through Instagram or posting on Facebook is today.
The future of marketing is collaborative. Fifty years ago, marketers were in control. Consumers had little say about what advertising they saw or heard or read; they had little say in when product launches would take place; they had little say really anywhere in the marketplace, because they had relatively limited access to information.
Today, however, this power dynamic has been turned on its head. Now, with smartphones in their pockets and in their hands – giving nearly instant access to information about pretty much everything – consumers are in control. Through online marketplaces, they can decide when to buy goods and services, for how much, and how frequently. They can choose to leave bad reviews or good ones.
Marketers who understand this power shift will see it for the opportunity that it is: the chance to collaborate with consumers in a real way across all phases of branding and marketing campaigns – and even product design. Because the 21st century consumer is empowered in ways the consumer of the 20th century never was, marketers must commit to transparency and ethical marketing practices like corporate philanthropy – and see customers not as “consumers,” but as active partners in creating products, services, experiences, and marketing campaigns. Thus, the successful brand of the future will likely involve customers in earlier and earlier stages of product ideation and design – and the same holds true for the brand’s entire marketing communications strategy.
Marketing – in the years coming upon us – will continue to evolve and undergo astonishing paradigm shifts. Because of the collision of technological forces with postmodern societal changes, marketing will become so transformed as to render the old methods of mass advertising obsolete. The best thing both marketers and brands can do to prepare for this coming revolution? Buck convention and zealously embrace the new era in marketing.