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The 4 Mindset Shifts Marketers Need To Make Now

2016 March 16
by Greg Satell

In Mindset, psychologist Carol Dweck argues, based on decades of research, that how we see ourselves is a major factor in what we can achieve. If we see our abilities as fixed, we tend not to go very far. However, if we see our capabilities as dynamic and changeable, we will work to improve them and are more likely to attain excellence.

The same can be said about a field like marketing. If we see the rules as fixed, we’ll tend to be limited by conventional barriers of achievement. But if we see that paradigms are, to a large degree, self imposed then the possibilities are endless. We are only bound by what we believe.

That’s why it’s important that we learn how to shift our mental models. While the tried and true gives comfort and has a track record to fall back on, the new and different often feels like a reckless shot in the dark. Still, we are living in an era of extreme change and we have no alternative but to keep pace. In an age of disruption, the only viable strategy is to adapt.

Mindset Shift #1: From Grabbing Attention To Holding Attention

It is a coincidence of history that the post-war consumption boom and the rise of TV as a mass medium happened at roughly the same time. Marketers could suddenly reach a large portion of the population with a single ad spot and consumers were eager to buy new products. A brand with the right message would see their product fly off the shelves.

So it’s easy to see how marketers became obsessed with ads and awareness. Although they understood things such as in-store promotions, brand delivery and service, also came into play the thinking was that the more people knew about your product, the more they would buy. It was a simple idea—maybe even simplistic—but it worked, so marketers stuck with it.

Later, cable TV fragmented audiences and more emphasis was put on targeting. Marketers now needed to research the market to identify valuable segments, then adjust the product mix and messaging accordingly. Still, because those market segments remained enormous, things worked largely the same way. Awareness mattered above all else.

Yet today, digital technology has broken that model. Now, when you craft a message that creates awareness, it doesn’t lead to a trip to the store, but to searching behavior online. This behavior, in turn, will be tracked by your competitors who will then retarget those same customers with new offers.

In other words, by relying on awareness, you will essentially be providing a lead generation service for the competition. Today, marketers need to build an ongoing relationship with consumers and that means holding attention, not just grabbing it.

Mindset Shift #2: From Eyeballs to Interfaces

A byproduct of the historical emphasis on awareness has been the value placed on reach. Maximize the number of eyeballs you get your message in front of and the greater potential you will have to increase awareness. This was easier said than done, because in an analog media environment, it takes some doing to avoid duplicating your audience many times over.

So generations of marketers learned to optimize campaigns, especially TV campaigns, by purchasing high reach media. That’s why top programming was able to sell at a premium. Not only did it allow you to reach more eyeballs with each spot, but made it less likely that you would duplicate audiences and end up showing too many spots to the same people.

Yet today’s technology allows us to reach people easily and, because we have greater control over how many times people see the ads, duplication is much less of a problem. For the most part, we can reach who we want, whenever we want to reach them. Now, the problem is that consumers are so deluged with brand messages that they are often overwhelmed.

That’s why the critical entry point for consumers is no longer the brand message, but the brand interface. We can connect with consumers like never before and get them to click on an ad or download an app, but the next brand is only a click away. Unless the initial experience is seamless, friendly and inviting, they will look for greener pastures.

Mindset Shift #3: From Gaussian To Bayesian Data Analysis

Another longstanding ritual in marketing departments has been the research survey. A study is commissioned, data is collected, the results analyzed and conclusions are presented in a conference room. People who like conclusions then nod their heads in agreement, while those who don’t attack the survey questions, the sample size or some other aspect.

This is a flawed process and everybody knows it. First, it usually takes about 6-12 months between commissioning the study and any coherent action. That’s way too long, especially these days when facts on the ground change so quickly. Second, the numbers are always wrong. Sometimes they’re off by a little, sometimes by a lot, but they’re always wrong.

To be fair, this is not a problem in marketing alone, but a widespread replication crisis across many fields including, most alarmingly, cancer research. There are a number of reasons why this is true. Some of the problem lies in how the studies are designed and analyzed. But the most pervasive factor is that they are based on what’s called a Gaussian model.

Under the Gaussian approach, error is not eliminated, but minimized to a level of confidence (usually 95%) that the error will be within a certain range. On the surface, that may seem reasonable, but it means that one time in twenty your results can be wildly off the mark. Even worse, the error won’t be realized until much later, when a new study is commissioned.

Fortunately, big data gives us a way out. Rather than taking a limited sample under controlled conditions, we can take in loads of data and analyze it in real time, updating our judgments as we go. This more Bayesian approach won’t guarantee that we always get it right, but it will allow us to become less wrong over time and correct errors much faster.

Mindset Shift #4: From Crafting Messages To Designing Experiences

For decades, marketing has focused on crafting the right message and getting it in front of the right consumer at the right time. Till now, that proved to be a successful strategy. Communicating a brand’s benefits  and keeping them top of mind has been an effective way to drive sales. But the world has changed and we need to rethink marketing strategy.

Today, consumers can interact with brands through web sites and mobile phones as well as in a traditional retail environment. From virtually any place at any time of day, they can collect information, ask questions, indicate preferences and make purchases. It shouldn’t be surprising that they now demand more than a clever tagline or a catchy jingle.

As they do, they are giving us the opportunity to serve them better by creating positive, immersive experiences, through effective use of data, technology and storytelling. We are no longer confined to communicating about brands, we can extend them into our customers lives, enhancing them instead of interrupting.

Digital technology has already given us the tools and resources to do all of this. Our ability to create and publish content, collect and analyze data and interact with consumers in real time is beyond what anyone could imagine even a decade ago. The real work lies in shifting our mindsets from previous constraints to the possibilities that lie before us now.

Or, as Rishad Tobaccowalla has put it, the “the future does not fit in the containers of the past.”

– Greg

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