The Changing Face of Marketing

Ow – my head hurts!

I’ve spent the day at the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s summit on the changing face of marketing. In the awe-inspiring surroundings of the British Museum in central London, 150 or so marketing professionals came together to consider the question, how is marketing changing? What are the trends and technology which are shaping our profession and will influence our work in the next decade?

At times today, the world described by the speakers felt completely alien and totally overwhelming. Whilst agile, automation, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, large-scale data integration and augmented reality are being widely adopted by companies such as Amazon, Disney and IBM, they feel a long way from the day-to-day reality of running a social business in Wales, or even a co-operative development agency. It was very tempting to respond like the proverbial bunny in the headlights when faced with this arsenal of technology.

But I didn’t. Why not? Because marketing is not changing.

Since the 1950s, marketing has been fundamentally about understanding your customer, and creating a product or service based on their needs. The marketing mix – produce, price, place and promotion – should be driven by what works best for the customer. This is what was drummed into me when I got my first marketing job in 1994.

So this is not new, although a couple of the speakers from the summit clearly thought they had invented it! As marketeers, we know this stuff. Perhaps we’ve just forgotten about it amidst all the talk of digital transformation and the latest technology gimmick.

We still need to know our customers. We need to know what they think of our service. Does it do what they want it to do? Is it easy for them to do what they want with it? How does it make them feel? How is their customer experience?

Another thing that hasn’t changed – we need to segment and target properly. We can’t just talk to everyone the same way (something else I was taught in 1994).

So let’s re-phrase the question – how is technology changing the way we do marketing?

  • 78% of customers now start the buying process with an online search
  • Their online journey from attraction, to interest, to conversion, to advocate, now crosses multiple platforms and multiple devices, including offline communications
  • No customer journey is the same
  • No customer journey is linear

And we’re in the era of the ‘me’ economy. Customers expect us to be where they are – available on the devices and channels that they use. They expect a highly personalised online experience (for example, content, offers and recommendations which are 100% unique to them). They want us to know and understand where they are in their journey. They expect us to be always connected and available. They demand instant gratification.

We take it for granted that huge organisations like Amazon and BBC iPlayer can do this. But how long before all companies are expected to have this functionality – even small social enterprises serving a local community?

This is scary, but imagine the possibilities. Someone visits the Wales Co-operative Centre website and downloads a marketing guide. Within hours, they get an email inviting them to participate in a webinar on marketing. Someone checks the opening hours of their local community owned pub online, and minutes later a pop-up advert on another website offers them a discount for a meal there. And this process is totally automated!

I’d like to be able to end this blog with a list of top tips for social businesses on how to set about a digital transformation. At the very least, I’d like to be able to set out the steps which I’m going to embark on to embrace this technological revolution. But I can’t do either of these things, because I’m just at the start of this journey myself.

So I’m just going to recommend one first step, the one thing I am going to do when I get back to the office tomorrow. I am going to go back to marketing basics and get to know my customers again. I’m going to talk to them.

As first steps go, it might not sound very radical. But if our path to digital transformation is going to be a success, then it might well be the most important step of all.

*Note to self, and anyone reading this blog – data protection legislation is changing in May 2018, and however we use people’s data, we must comply with the General Data Protection Regulation.

1 Comment


    Excellent blog – reflecting a lot of my own views on the ‘changes’ in marketing, The tools change but the principles remain broadly the same!

    It would be very interesting to hear from Welsh social businesses what challenges they face in applying some of these ‘new’ marketing approaches to their work…

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