Is marketing dead?

by Bruce Kasanoff on October 18, 2011

I’m wondering whether marketing will still exist in five years. Nearly all customers will carry smart devices, and it’s possible that smart customers will only interact with smart companies.

No technology in human history has been adopted faster than wireless devices like smartphones and iPads. Tens of millions of these devices are spurring countless developers to innovate.

Customers are able to act smarter, because they have far better access to information and empowering capabilities. Traditional marketing tools like advertising and outbound solicitations look dumb by comparison, and will soon be ineffective and irrelevant.

Many marketing professionals don’t recognize the degree to which this sea change is the result of a perfect storm of four disruptive forces that are just now bearing down on us: Digital Sensors, Social Influence, Pervasive Memory and the Physical Web.

A very quick primer on the four forces that may kill advertising.

Digital Sensors are being embedded everywhere, transforming everything from your car to your toaster into a smart device.

Social Influence means that increasingly other people are influencing transactions or even preventing transactions between companies and customers. Imagine a crowd of your customer’s friends shouting, “Stop!” just as your salesperson is about to close a big deal, and you get the idea.

Pervasive Memory highlights the fact that every interaction via a digital device leaves a record in databases. When you make an error, everyone will know it. When your prices, quality levels or satisfaction ratings lag competitors, it will be obvious.

The rise of the Physical Web means that we will soon be surfing and bookmarking the real world like we do the Web. The sort of consumer tracking practices that have emerged online – following individuals and recording their actions – won’t be tolerated in the real world. Expect a flood of new privacy laws, and much stricter restrictions on the practice of advertising.

Om Malik, writing at GigaOm, today noted that Apple sold four million iPhone 4S devices in its first weekend, and observed that such devices are “in competition with the old way. Thanks to new chip technologies, cheap sensors and fast growing networks, the idea of what is a phone has changed. This is leading to behavior changes and new interactions. They are behaviors of a new connected life. These new behaviors will change many different parts of society and business.”

Disruption always comes from the edges of your industry.

Source: Clayton Christensen

Marketers at established firms often misjudge the pace of change, because they focus on their biggest competitors. But your biggest competitor is less likely to change your industry than a new start-up. Disruption comes from the edges, not the center, of an industry.

The only way to compete successfully in the years ahead is to be smarter than both your customers and your competitors.

By smart, I don’t mean that you hire smart executives, although that might help. I mean that the systems in your company act smart, and that all customer touchpoints act smart.

Unless you work at a disruptive start-up, Google, Facebook, Amazon or Apple… your company is almost certainly not prepared for the storm ahead. This does not mean that established companies are doomed, but it does mean that they’ll need to look at their business and their customers in ways that run counter to established channels and structures.

That’s why many of the incumbents who succeed at innovating do so with a bit of outside help to help them recognize and respond appropriately. So if you work for an established firm, learn what it means to “Act Smart” in this rapidly changing environment. Then look to intrapreneurship, skunkworks, your customers, independent developers and other sources of inspiration, and be prepared to go outside your comfort zone (and give up some control.)

Where will marketing dollars – and talent – go?

Most of the creativity and money poured until now into advertising, positioning and promotion will end up in the products themselves.

Instead of making a product look cool in an ad, companies will make the product actually be cool to find, learn, use, enjoy and share.

Customer experience will be the new marketing. Today, “customer experience” is a vague term. Soon, it will be the driver. Customer experience will be the main way to not only set your product apart, but to also gain attention. It will be about substance and style, functionality and form.

This is not just a business crossroads. It is a career crossroads.

Maybe the sky is not falling. Perhaps I am overstating the scope of change. But if I am even partially correct, these changes will impact the course of your career as well as the success of your business.

It is far better to lead a change than fall victim to it.

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