Most discussions regarding the future of marketing tend to revolve around the technology that marketers will use to better target customers and grab their attention. We think of the use of brain imaging for advertising research (so called "neuromarketing"), and paint visions of Tom Cruise walking past holographic billboards in Minority Report.
These and many other high-tech tactics might become commonly used one day. But already we are witnessing a rebirth of the marketing profession that will ultimately guide what we do and how we use amazing new technologies. We stand at the beginning of the next evolution of marketing--one that has more in common with the past than it does the present.
It may have taken some time for broadband access to proliferate and for people to build digital habits into their everyday lives, but now consumers start many purchases online. They judge companies of every size according to the quality of their websites, and they search for reviews and ratings before completing even the smallest of purchases.
People have learned to ignore the 3,000 ad messages that they are bombarded with daily. Even if they do see your carefully crafted advertisement, they're likely to doubt its claims--and defer instead to the wisdom of crowds online.
Brain scans and talking holograms will not save the 'old guard,' interruptive, advertising model. Going forward, businesses must succumb to the power of the consumer. Instead of interrupting their day with ads, advertisers must create something customers will choose to engage with. We must create marketing that adds value to people's lives. I call this new model "marketing with meaning."
The best starting point lies in delivering information and services that help customers make smarter buying decisions. Since they will most likely conduct research online anyway, you might as well offer your perspective. Examples that you can implement tomorrow include:
- Allow customers to post ratings and reviews on your website without editing. Often a few negative reviews actually add credibility--and give you the chance to address an issue directly.
- Create a "buying guide" for customers to help them make a smart decision about which of your products or services are best for them.
- Provide ongoing training and tips after a purchase to help customers get the most out of their purchases--which will eventually turn them into repeat customers.
Some businesses are taking the idea of marketing with meaning a step further, purposely preventing customers from incurring high fees and bills. Imagine a local bank that teaches customers how to avoid fees, a golf shop that stops a customer from buying the expensive new driver that will worsen his slice or a videographer who dissuades a customer from producing an unnecessarily long video despite the chance for higher sales. By actively stopping poor buying decisions--especially at the risk of lost sales--these businesses build enormous trust, earn loyalty for life and generate positive word-of-mouth marketing both online and offline.
In many ways this shift is a trip back-to-the-future. It harkens back to a time when the local shopkeeper treated our grandparents like neighbors. In a way, the interconnected world resulting from the openness of the internet has forced business to revert to these positive social norms of old.
Businesses that behave like neighbors will win, and advertising will look a lot better than most of what we see today.
Bob Gilbreath is Chief Marketing Strategist of Bridge Worldwide, a WPP digital and relationship marketing agency, and author of the new book, The Next Evolution of Marketing: Connect with your Customers by Marketing with Meaning. The Next Evolution of Marketing can be applied to billion-dollar brands or small businesses, to consumer marketers and B2B firms, in both highly developed markets and developing nations around the world. He blogs regularly at www.marketingwithmeaning.com and can be found on Twitter at @mktwithmeaning.