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May 5, 2009
The Future Of Marketing
 
Pick up any of the trade papers or read any of the marketing blogs recently and you’re likely to notice Amara’s law at work: “we invariably overestimate the short-term impact of new technologies while underestimating their long-term effects”. We read a lot about the rush to do something ‘on’ the next tech phenomenon - do something on Facebook, have a presence on Twitter or (yes, still) launch a viral marketing campaign. But there is precious little conversation about the impact technology is having long-term on culture, and how this might challenge some of the assumptions we have built marketing programs on for the last few decades.
 
While I would never be foolish enough to claim any ability to predict the future, I think there are four interesting signs of where marketing may be heading.
 
1.    Brands will be built on cultural and social missions, not commercial propositions
 
Marketing historically has been obsessed with the concept of positioning – how you are different to your competitors in your category. Increasingly, great brands are realizing that people don’t see categories and don’t obsess about them. What actually matters is having a point of view on the world, a cultural mission to ask people to rally around. You can begin to see this come to life in marketing ideas like Dove’s ‘Campaign For Real Beauty’ and, more importantly, embedded into the very DNA of businesses. Howies, a UK clothing brand is a great example. As its founder Dave Hieatt said, “We’re not trying to sell things. We are trying to make people think about stuff.” That belief (make people think about the world around them) is self-evident in everything from the materials they use to their design to their catalogues to store design.
 
2.    Marketing will be about what you do, not what you say
 
Marketing has for far too long been built on the notion of saying things at people, rather than doing things for or with people. Great marketing will increasingly be about what you do, not what you say. And that means that rather than being a silo within a business, marketing needs to be an ethos pervasive throughout an organization. Great marketing ideas today and in the future are as likely to be ideas that ‘live’ in operations (think Zappos unannounced upgrade to overnight shipping or Amazon’s one-click shopping), retail design (handheld registers in Apple stores to cut down queues and increase staff/customer interaction) or HR (the Zappos culture book). 
 
3.    Lots of little ideas, not one big idea
 
The future of marketing lies in breaking the tyranny of the big idea for two reasons. 
First, we must remember that while marketing (and brands) exist for a commercial purpose, they live in a cultural space. And culture is far richer, deeper, complex and nuanced than 99.9% of marketing. Marketing will be more culturally interesting if it is made up of lots of coherent ideas than repeating consistently one idea. 
Second, given our inability to predict the future (despite the fortunes spent on research) it makes much more sense to start lots of fires to see what takes hold and place lots of small bets, rather than putting everything on black 35. We need to think about investing lots of small bets, learning from them and then scaling up behind the ideas that seem to be working. (It’s worth noting that this has been made practical by the fact that the internet is reducing the cost of failure to almost zero).
 
4.    People first
 
Marketing in the future will be about putting people first. This may sound ridiculously obvious, but too often marketing is about convincing people how great you are rather than working out what people are interested in and working out how you might be able to help or add value.
 
A great example of this was the Tate Tracks campaign created by Fallon London for the Tate Modern gallery. They needed to increase the number of under-25s visiting the gallery and quickly realized that the conventions of gallery marketing – show the art on display – was unlikely to change behavior. So instead they thought about what this audience were passionate about – music – and created a campaign around art inspiring new, exclusive music.
 
So, there are four signs of where I think marketing may be heading. If I had to sum it up I think the future lies in realizing that creating cultural value will create commercial value. Whatever the future may bring, it’s certainly an exciting time to be in the industry.

5/5/09

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As head of Planning for Modernista!, Gareth Kay oversees the strategic direction of all accounts. His department has won accolades from the EFFIEs, AMA awards, and the AAAA Account Planning Awards. Gareth has also worked at TBWA, dfgw, and Lowe on Unilever, the BBC, General Motors, fcuk, Waterstone’s, and Reebok. He writes “Brand New,” a popular blog on brands and communication. He also blogs at modernista.com.
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