Skip to content

The Big Marketing Shift

2015 March 18

Marketing used to be pretty simple.  You developed a compelling message, used mass media to broadcast that message to large audiences and grew market share. Mostly, you aimed for the meaty part of the curve, where the law of averages conspired in your favor.

Then came the cable TV era.  Audiences fragmented and targeting became the order of the day.  Instead of starting with the message, marketers thrived on consumer insight and tried to identify a specific emotional trigger that would win them loyal customers.

Now mass marketing has shifted to mass personalization and messaging and targeting have given way to activation.  It is no longer enough to simply grab attention, we have to hold attention.  Today’s marketers need to inspire movements in which their customers become their best salespeople.  We need to make a fundamental shift in mental models.

The End Of Push

In the days of mass audiences, marketers could treat everyone as if they were the same. Programming was so limited and television audiences were so large—you could easily reach a large chunk of the population with a single ad spot—that the numbers made this a pragmatic approach.

So marketers sought to grab consumers’ attention through glitzy ad campaigns and then “push” them through the sales funnel.
The basic idea was that you would get people’s attention, tell them about your product or service, convince them why it should be their preferred option and then drive them to action. While there were important steps along the way, the thinking was that the more people you put in the top, the more would come out the bottom.

It was a very simple—some would say naive—model, but it worked.  In fact, most of the great brands of the 20th century were built that way.  Later, when audiences fragmented, tactics changed, but the basic strategy stayed the same.  We were still shooting messages at consumers, although with rifle instead of a shotgun.

Now that strategy is broken.  Put up an attention grabbing TV campaign today and consumers won’t flock to the stores, but to the Internet.  Their activity will leave a data trail, which your competitors will use to retarget your consumers with competing messages before a purchase event can occur.

In effect, the rise of digital marketing technology means that building awareness is no longer a sales driver, but a lead generation service for your competition.  So marketers have started to look for another way.

The Problem With Pull

As audiences continued to fragment and digital technology made it increasingly viable for brands to become publishers, many began to think that maybe it was time to turn the funnel on its head.  Rather than pushing consumers with awareness, they would pull them through it using inbound strategies, like helpful websites, events and social media strategies.

Yet the cautionary tale of the Pepsi Refresh project shows why this approach has pitfalls as well.  For those who are not familiar, in 2010 Pepsi decided to forego its usual Super Bowl ads and spend $20 million on a social campaign in which consumers would vote to give grants to good causes.  It was a miserable failure.

A Harvard Business School case study explains what went wrong.  Rather than engaging people interested in Pepsi’s product, the campaign connected with those who were interested in social causes.  It was a bad match.  There was little connection between the initiative and Pepsi’s brand, its previous marketing activity, demographics or positioning.

So rather than showing itself to be an uber-hip marketer, Pepsi became a corporate carpetbagger, trying to buy the love of consumers by doling out bags of money to causes it had no previous involvement with or long-term commitment to.  The result: Pepsi actually lost market share and dropped to third in its category for the first time in modern history.

Shifting Mental Models

What many marketers fail to realize is that technology has not only changed how consumers behave and the tools we use to reach them, but a fundamental shift in how we attain and use the power to influence actions.

In the old model we could leverage specific resources under our control—such as brand equity and large TV budgets—to get people to do what we want.  Firms with large budgets could deploy bigger ad campaigns, muscle competitors out of shelf space and run predatory price promotions when things got hairy.  The bigger you got, the more you leverage you had.

Yet today control is an illusion.  Even the smallest startup has access to resources—such as powerful software through the cloud, robust marketing vehicles like Facebook and Google and limitless shelf space on the Web—that only major corporations had a generation ago. Today, power has become distributed, rather than centralized.

So we need a new mental model.  Rather than clawing our way to the top of the heap, we need to nudge our way to the center of the network.  To do that, we need to use platforms to access ecosystems in order to create movements.  Pepsi Refresh failed not because it was pulling, but because it was pulling from the periphery rather than from the center.

Transforming Brands Into Movements

Today, we live in a networked world, where the success of our strategy is determined by how we manage connections. And it’s not only connections between consumers and brands that we have to take into account.  As we deepen our our bonds to consumers, they also increase engagement with each other and recruit others into the fold.

It is this combination of small groups, loose connections and shared context that gives rise to the movements.  When relatively small actors synchronize their actions through networks, they can muster resources far greater than any organization, enterprise or government. That’s how disruption happens.

Some brands, like Uber, build platforms of their own to access ecosystems of consumers. Others, such as Zynga, and app developers, use platforms that others have built, like Facebook or Apple’s App Store.  Still others, like Buzzfeed, build platforms that integrate with other platforms.  Yet all of them compete through centrality rather than brute force.

So we can no longer think in terms of rifles vs. shotguns or push vs. pull.  It’s not nodes that we need to target, but the networks.  We can no longer coerce customers to do what we want, but must inspire them to want what we want.

– Greg

6 Responses leave one →
  1. March 22, 2015

    Hi Greg,

    I loved this article. One portion jumped out “So we need a new mental model. Rather than clawing our way to the top of the heap, we need to nudge our way to the center of the network. To do that, we need to use platforms to access ecosystems in order to create movements”. This mirrors nicely with what author Dan Pink states in ‘Why Right brainer’s will rule the future’ and how our application of PR to invest to understand perceptions, trends, gaps and shape the right market dialog with credibility, empathy and prevailing truths.
    My approach to eco-systems – while that started way before social networks were in existence, is even more spot on today as they emerge, gain a sense of their own power and use it to recreate trust networks.

    Marketing and creativity have leaped past traditional canvases and limitations to now pose the opportunity to shape entire organizations, communities and connect companies with offerings within these value systems.

    I confess trying to do all of this against a wall of resistant control holdover leaders is challenging but the mission and outcomes are exciting. Folks like you are enabling folks like me to serve a better purpose. For that i deeply thank you. Bill

    My team and I have been working to show how marketing

  2. March 22, 2015

    Greg, “Marketing” is a lot more than just Promotion (Advertising). Your article misses that.

  3. March 22, 2015

    Yes, marketing is more than promotion. Certainly platforms and personalization encompass a lot more than that. But you’re right, in this post I was focused mostly on that aspect.

  4. March 22, 2015

    I think you’re right. Trust is essential to building strong ecosystems. Keep at it Bill!

    – Greg

  5. Eli Cummings permalink
    March 29, 2015

    The “charity value” as a marketing technique is as old as when city newspapers would sell subscriptions over the phone and talk about how some portion of the purchase would go towards a hospital. If your product does not have value in and of itself, then tacking on a charity is a poor substitute to figuring out what the market wants.

    As for Pepsi, the problem was simply loss of awareness. The Super bowl is one of the few events where one can truly put into play a mass broadcast campaign. There is no substitute for that especially when one is selling a commodity product that relies on pure mind manipulation for added value and where one doesn’t attack the competitor but rather the habitual behavior of the consumer.

    Soft drinks are easily substituted one for another. Absent Coke, few people would turn down Pepsi.

    The case is even worse for bottled water where one has to somehow convince customers that the water they get for next to nothing is not as good as what has to be transported by truck and they have to buy as if there was cholera crisis in the municipal water supply.

    Much of big brand marketing is about familiarity. It’s knowing that out of sight is out of mind. Consumers are much less emotionally invested in products than those who rely on paychecks from the sale of those products. Much of marketing is about trying to up the degree of emotional investment on the part of the consumer usually by appealing to a “don’t get left behind”, “be one of the cool, hip”, “prestige enhancement”, “promise of feeling better about oneself”, “alleviate anxiety”, “you deserve it” type of campaigns.

    Other than those there is of course the old “save today”, “prices slashed”, “limited time offer” type of campaigns to appeal to the universal sensitivity towards price.

    Marketing is really product politics. It is rare when something is actually an improvement and when it is it usually doesn’t take long for the improvement to be across many brands at which point one is back to the old standby type of campaigns.

    It is no wonder that companies spend quite a bit of time arguing in courts over “intellectual property”. Production and distribution itself is a commodity.

    Most marketing is wasted money. It is evident that those in the marketing business have as little clue what to do as anyone else. One only has to look at not just failed attempts but outright fiascoes (new Coke is the classic case of this and I guess we can add those who suggested Pepsi not advertise during Superbowl to the list). Successes have more to do with luck and timing than outright talent.

    Marketing is a confidence trick from the outset. Politics has taken on the tools and mind set of marketing and this confidence trick aspect can be seen even more clearly in politics.

    Here is a fact. The Japanese captured a large share of the American car market not by better marketing campaigns but simply by better products. Their initial foray was into a market that perceived Japanese products to be cheap and of low quality. The way they fought this was not with big ad campaigns but by producing reliable cars that were well priced.

    Too many companies today sacrifice what got them to where they are in the name of growth and in the process they dilute their brand. A brand in order for it to be valuable has to mean more than just a novel mind experience tugging on the emotions.

    One should not think web companies are good examples of marketing strategies. There is more serendipity to success in that world than there is in almost any other except show business.

    The digital world is largely a frictionless world. Such is not the case in the “real” world.

    Let’s not forget that most entrepreneurs fail. Marketing doesn’t change that although poor marketing can be a contributing factor.

    Marketing has never been simple. If it was, the resources given to it would have been less.
    The fact is the market itself is unpredictable. There is no magic bullet. There is no best strategy. A marketing campaign is itself another product that comes into the market and in more cases than not, it will fail. Success is celebrated not because it is common but because it is rare.

  6. March 29, 2015

    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts Eli.

    – Greg

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS