Any marketer waiting for the world to get back to normal hasn't been noticing the new reality. Every day, a new headline, book, TED talk or coffee shop conversation proves anew that customers, products, markets and marketing approaches aren't just undergoing change -- they've changed already.
The old paradigm -- where businesses produced, marketers talked, consumers listened and sales followed -- has given way to an economy where customers co-create, marketing involves two-way interactions, and customized product offerings move into the marketplace via channels unheard of even a few years ago.
Thought leaders haven't even settled on a single term for the world marketers face.
America Online founder Steve Case, commenting on the acquisition of Zipcar by the Avis Budget Group, describes the deal as evidence of a new sharing economy, adding, "And fasten your seat belts: It's just beginning."
Seth Godin, in his newest book, "The Icarus Deception," names it the connection economy, in which "the value we create is directly related to how much valuable information we can produce, how much trust we can earn and how often we innovate."
Social media consultant Gary Vaynerchuk calls it "The Thank You Economy," which he describes as "a fundamental shift in how businesses behave," prompted by how the Internet has empowered customers, requiring businesses to either "scale the caring their grandparents exhibited towards their customers or watch their competition pass them by."
For businesses marketing with outdated approaches, the stakes couldn't be higher.
Normal has left the marketing arena
Any marketer resisting change should simply wave a white flag. No business sector is immune.
As evidence, pull up coverage of the 2013 CES, the giant 46-year-old consumer electronics trade show, and you'll see phrases like "waste of time" and "a vestige of a bygone era." ZDNet estimated that "half the products introduced won't actually materialize," in part because 68 percent of people are satisfied with the technology they already own, and in part because consumers are more interested in solutions to what The Washington Post terms "seemingly intractable problems such as sanitation in the developing world, sustainable agriculture and data privacy."
And by any name, consumer opinions are driving the new economy. Their voices are amplified like never before, and marketers need to be tuned in and responsive. As proof, look at how outrage over new Gap and University of California logos prompted withdrawal of both redesigns, a nod to what New York magazine called consumer dislike (it also used the word hatred) of "change for change's sake forced upon them without consultation."
Don't get crowdsmashed
Attune your business to consumer interests by addressing these three questions:
- What do customers love about your business and what one change could make them love it even more? Example: Disney is replacing its popular decade-old FastPass, which allows visitors to skip long lines, with an RFID-encoded MagicBand bracelet that unlocks the resort experience with a flick of the wrist.
- What aspects of your customers' experience cause annoyance and what one change could eliminate that point of irritation? Example: Starbucks addressed public pressure to reduce trash by rolling out $1 reusable plastic cups, along with the incentive of a 10 percent discount each time the cups get used.
- What attributes or values make customers choose your business over others and what one change could deepen or reward their commitment?Example: Nearly a million small businesses have started using Square card readers, enabling them to complete purchases on the spot while also responding to customers' preference for a charge payment option.
Go out on a limb
Change happens when you view and tackle problems from new perspectives.
Assemble your business team to brainstorm all the ways you could address your answers to the preceding questions. Don't play it safe. Ask "What if?" again and again, exploring as many ideas as your group can generate. Then take the best ideas to people outside your business for feedback and a broader perspective.
Then ask two final questions: Will it work, and what will make it work better?
Promise yourself that every marketing action you take this year will aim for one objective: to positively alter customer experiences, opinions and behaviors. Because that's not only what marketing is all about, it's also what consumers in today's sharing, connected and thank-you economy demand.