Marketing is changing whether we like it or not. Although this is not new—as the old axiom goes: the only constant is that change is constant. What is unique about the fact that marketing is changing is how visible the changes are as compared to other aspects of our culture. The change is so highly visible because part of the ABCs of marketing is to track results, and as we track results the reality of our changing culture is right there staring back at us in the form of diminishing returns.
In the early Mad Men days if you had enough money and a half way decent product you could hire a top-notch ad agency who would position your product in such a way to grab attention. You would let them place the ads and your success was somewhat insured. The catch was having enough money to hire the agency and run the ads, and choosing an agency who was creative enough to grab attention.
As “more” is the prevailing mantra of business, more companies and more products made the old model more challenging and it was only a matter of time before the old advertising model failed to ensure the same results.
I worked at a big city newspaper from 97’ to 2008, through the dot-com boom and bust and a time of great upheaval and change in the media industry. Circulation was steadily decreasing, which meant that ad revenue was soon to follow. Being in product development and marketing meant that I interacted with many of the key thinkers in the company, those who knew the world was changing around us, but little of that understanding translated into a strategy pivot or even a moderate reinvention of the business model.
And yet the results were there, glaring at us day in and day out.
Today we’re in the midst of another sea change, but this time the change is being instigated not so much by a tech revolution (and that definitely plays into it) but more so by changing cultural tides. Millennials and Gen Zs are a different breed. They are not so much interested in cleverness and hype, as they are in knowing what a company stands for. They are averse to the old school model of interruption marketing. Commodity products for a cheaper price might be useful, but it’s not what they’re looking for.
A growing number of those within these two generations, and even a fair number of Boomers are more interested in meaning and purpose—less interruption and noise, more nourishment and meaning.
There is research that points to this, and yet our own marketing data collection paints a vivid picture—old techniques are not working the same way or to the same level of effectiveness. Brands with enriching stories engage, while brands focused on features and benefits tend to sell transactionally. What’s the difference? The difference lies in the loyalty and the pass-it-on effect in which word of mouth far exceeds paid advertising.
Transactionally related marketing requires constant push marketing. Marketing based on meaningful stories builds momentum and stands the test of time.
The change we are experiencing is from transactional to relationship, from features and benefits to meaningful story, and from profit maximization to authentically engrained purpose.
The change is upon us whether we like it or not. The choice we have is to resist or embrace.
“Party on,” as Wayne and Garth once said.