Recently some clients have asked me to think about marketing, brands, consumers, the new media, technology, and how the new relationships among these elements are changing old enterprise/customer relationships. Fundamentally I think the deepest shift that is going to happen can be captured by asking one important question. Traditionally, one might ask which brands you like, and why? But a more powerful question for the future is, I think, which brands like you and how do you know?
I don’t think there is any question that future buying activity will be driven heavily by economics, that is, who can offer the most affordable quality. But when there is a decision point between brand options, and price is not the key driver, then consumers will increasingly ask whether the brand demonstrates that it cares about its customers. A couple of examples. Starbucks versus local and smaller coffee houses is a choice that many consumers make. Starbucks attempts, mostly with good success, to overcome its gigantic size with a genuine emphasis on being a local third place. Their reputation for good treatment of employees, for providing health insurance for part-time workers, for frequent promotions and giveaways, like their provision of a free drink for every 15 purchases, the free music download cards on the checkout counter, the constant stream of responses to customer concerns on their Facebook and Twitter feeds, all say that, as a brand, we care about you.
For a subset of coffee customers this is not enough. They will choose a local brand, because the very fact of being local and small says to them, this is a brand that can know us and that cares about us (and, they will usually say, tastes better). It is a built-in feature, really, of the whole localization movement applying to local foods, local book stores, and so on. Local should equal caring and if it does not, something is wrong.
Facilitating such shifts in attitudes about brands are all the tools and new assumptions about marketing. Chief among these is the shift of power to consumers – the Net means that customers own the brand and are the primary marketers. The Net is a megaphone for individual customers and their connected devices are all publishing tools now. Probably the most interesting, and even amazing thing about the Web in the past five years has been its metamorphosis from an information-consuming medium to an information-publishing medium for the average user. I think we are just now beginning to grasp what this means, from consumer interactions to revolutions in the public square.
Of course everyone concerned with marketing and brands is wondering where this is all going. Recently Business 2 Community published The Future of Marketing: 46 Experts Share their Predictions for 2012. Here are a few highlights.
“Cross-department and channel collaboration will become more prevalent as marketing coordinates its research, analysis, activities and reporting with other parts of the business.” -Alexis Kingsbury, Global Marketing Director at Spidergap
“Referrals will also be a much higher percentage of successful business marketing because it’s much easier to either recommend or knock companies online using social media and have your message shared.” -Andrew Baird, Chief Freedom Officer at Amazing Business
“Customer data will become more important than ever. Tapping into Facebook’s social graph will allow businesses to access an incredible amount of information…This will be used to take marketing personalization to a whole new level.” -Chris Wise, Director of Marketing at Guideline Central
“Webinars as an educational and marketing platform saw a huge rise in popularity in 2011, and will continue to grow in popularity in 2012.” -Jeremy Gregg, Executive Director at The PLAN Fund
“The importance of viral and shareable content will drive companies and brands to become more creative with their content, replacing the predictable sales pitch with more informative or entertaining material, making the 2012 browsing experience less like opening pages, and more like changing channels.”- Stephen Powers, President and Founder of Rightlook Creative
In Marketing 2020: Shifting the balance between consumers and brands, the blog Nice to be Seen muses about the new skill sets that the future marketing world demands. Based on a gathering of the AMA Atlanta, the author suggests that technology skills, whether in social media or in newer and proprietary means for reaching individual customers will become a basic requirement.
Finally, Laughlin Constable has created a wonderful video that sums up most of the contemporary assumptions about where marketing is going.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist, author, speaker, consultant, and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech, workshop or consultation contact Futurist.com.