The words ‘Marketing’ and ‘Change’ seem to go together the way ‘Britain’ and ‘Rain’ do (or Bacon & eggs for the foodies out there). Marketing is never quite the same from one month to the next, changes in trends, tastes and technologies make it a fluid space where one is constantly repositioning for advantage.
So why say that marketing has changed? Well, because it has. It has changed at a deeper, fundamental level that has nothing to do with trends and fads and shifting tastes and everything to do with the way technology is changing our lives at a perceptual rather than a functional level.
Marketing in the past took place from single points of presence: a market stall, a shop, a website and involved a specific set of steps (loosely called brand advertising) to help attract shoppers’ attention and money. Every market (and marketing) is driven by scarcity. When that element was applied to quality or design or the nature of the product marketing from a single point made perfect sense. After all your entire point of being in business was to create a marketing funnel that was broad enough at one end to help capture all potential leads and narrow enough at the other to translate the ‘captures’ into conversions.
The percentage of conversions was frequently seen as the ultimate metric of success as it determined the fabled Return of Investment (ROI) around which marketing often revolves.
Technology has not just given us the ability to work faster and connect with the world easier. It also has become the driver behind the commodification of what once used to be unique products. The classic case of the iPhone and Galaxy S series is a handy example. It can be applied to virtually any goods, from what is being sold on supermarket shelves to what can be found, globally, online. And the same goes for services.
This makes it hard for brands to differentiate themselves from each other. Yes, each one is slightly different but, at the end of the day, there are only so many ways you can sell books, software or services online and there are only so many ways you can buy milk. Scarcity in products and services, in other words, no longer exists.
In a world of ‘plenty’ value is driven by incremental increases in revenues across a broad spectrum of the market. Google Ads is the classic example of this. In the past, advertising traded highly-prized, scarce advertising real estate in newspapers, magazines and billboards. Because there was a finite amount of space for each ad, advertisers competed for placement by ordering well in advance, effectively locking themselves in, or paying premium (well above the odds).
Google changed all that. In the digital world there is no limited real estate. Given the ability to have an infinite number of adverts of any size, at any time brought prizes crashing down. It transferred the way we work out the value of an ad from the amount of space available to display it (scarcity) to the number of people looking for it in connection to specific keywords (volume).
The shift from selling something that is limited to a few people at a high profit to selling something that is unlimited to as many people as possible at a low profit has led to an increase in profits for companies like Google and a close re-examination of the existing business models.
The shift has also produced a sharp change in the way consumers relate to brands. In the past it was sufficient to create brand awareness in order to ensure brand loyalty. That’s because in a model of scarcity brand value stands for something very specific: adequate supply, assured quality, status. In a time of plenty all this goes bye-bye. What’s left is cost and … something else.
That ‘something else’ is the environment. Supermarkets were the first ones to realize that if they piped in music and provided plenty of lighting, smells and colour, sales went up. We simply browsed longer, visited more often and bought more.
The same thing is happening again, now. Everywhere. If there is no environment with additional benefits that make the entire association with a brand, a pleasant experience, we are unlikely to remember to do business with it again, no matter how good a one-off contact might have been. There are simply too many distractions on our attention and cash and we, as consumers, are fickle indeed.
In the UK, Tesco, a supermarket chain is offering free streaming TV and film-on-demand services for its Clubcard owners, currently numbering 15 million The attempt is nothing else than the next step offline businesses need to take to unify their online/offline presence in a seamless environment which their customers can use to do more than the simple transaction of business with them.
Again this is a model that Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft already have in place with seamless environments that take those who use their services across from Desktop to Mobile Device and back again in an online/offline fusion.
The draw for many of those who use one or the other of the companies’ services is the fact that within their environment they can do a lot of things they could not normally do outside and most of these are free. App stores, location-based services, search services, software as a service and so on. The list is just an example of the free services that those who create environments introduce in order to maintain loyalty and increase market share.
The pull to do so is so very necessary that even traditional top-down companies like American Express, experiment with ways to help those who use its services to feel empowered and special. Recently they launched a Pay-via-Twitter service that allows Amex holders to use hashtags to complete an online commercial transaction charged to their Amex cards.
There are three significant takeaways out of all this that marketers need to be aware of. First that marketing a single product or a service without following it up with additional means to help those who use it, benefit further in some way, is no longer enough.
Second, unless you have an online presence that is ubiquitous enough to intercept your target audience you are unlikely to find enough customers to maintain the viability of what your business does.
Third, if you are starting a new marketing effort and are beginning to look for your target audience you cannot afford to send out single points of contact anymore and you cannot afford to think in terms of single product sales.
The fundamental shift in marketing lies in the fact that if you cannot find a way to sell a product as a service and create an environment in which your customers can interact and access additional benefits, unique only to your brand, you are fighting a losing battle, looking for customers who themselves are too busy to even notice you and, if they do, won’t remember you the moment the transaction with you has been completed.
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