People love to decry the end of marketing. It’s a good attention-getter. While those who shout about the coming of the end of marketing from their soapboxes are usually guilty of lacking realism or using poor logic, they do make us think about the future and that can be a learning experience. Let’s take an example…
Knowledge @ Wharton recently published an interesting, albeit narrow-sighted and overly apocalyptic article about the end of marketing and what, according to the author, will be the very narrow opportunities to engage audiences that will remain in the future. The author does a very good job of identifying trends but a very bad job of predicting what the future will likely look like, but both the good and the bad provide important lessons and highlight valuable opportunities.
First, the trends. No reason to discuss these much because most should be more or less obvious to anyone reading this.
- People would rather listen to other people than brands.
- People are going to greater lengths to avoid the onslaught of advertisement.
- Marketing technology “cannot truly understand the complexities of consumer intent” and therefore hitting the trifecta of the right message on the right channel at the right time is exceedingly difficult. (This I would actually say is up for debate. It’s a gray area. A discussion for another time, perhaps…)
- Marketers are overwhelming digital channels, further driving users to avoid marketing out of simple necessity. See point #2.
And here are the author’s four corresponding points of how he envisions the future:
- “As consumers bypass media with greater ease, the social feed is the wormhole to the entire online experience.”
- “As consumers outcompete marketers for each other’s attention, every piece of media contained in the feed is not only shareable, but shoppable.” – basically, he’s arguing that social channels become capable of performing transactions.
- “As the individual controls the marketing experience, communication shifts from public to semi-private.” In other words, people move from things like Facebook to things like Snapchat, where there are fewer ads and more privacy.
- Only two types of marketing will remain: discounts / sales and transparent sponsored content.
These predictions amount to a wild fantasy.
The most obvious flaw in the author’s reasoning is that somehow a completely shoppable social media ecosystem would evade the rules that everyone else has to play by – namely that when marketing becomes overwhelming, the audience will block it out or leave. This also ignores the plain fact that the large majority of the things that people buy are not found organically via social media. There is no shortage of people who shop. Decisions may be influenced in the social sphere, and perhaps some impulse decisions both begin and end there, but those are the exception; the overwhelming majority of purchasing decisions do not occur entirely within the social sphere and that would not change if social channels were empowered with transactability.
The real world contains a great deal of equilibrium. The ability to target people and their ability to tune it out is a balancing act. It is a cat and mouse game. Technology works both ways, and as new channels and technologies are born there become more ways to reach customers. However, as channels are flooded, the impact of each individual effort diminishes. Marketing self-regulates by decreasing its own ROI as utilization of any particular channel increases.
So What Will the Future of Marketing Look Like?
There are definitely many channels that will continue their trend towards ineffectiveness. It’s increasingly likely that audiences, fed up with maddening digital display advertising techniques, continue to adopt ad blocking technology and erode the potential of that channel. Email, while still rated as a high-ROI channel, is looking like it may have a perilous future as email service providers become better at filtering out promotions. Social media will certainly take on a larger share of permission-based marketing, but it will remain a risky business to rely too much on “rented” audiences. Increasing utilization of content marketing will continue to add noise and, in turn, increase its own cost by requiring better and better content to obtain the inherently limited resource it seeks to obtain: the audience’s attention. Increased use of social media may, if adoption increases as we project, fall victim to a similar effect, limiting brands’ ability to market effectively using social channels.
Not all developments will be bad. A decline in interruption tactics will lead to a fundamental shift in how marketing is viewed from a tool to generate demand to a mechanism to deliver value to audiences and a source of strategic advantage. Customer-centric resources and other owned platforms will proliferate as companies seek new ways to deliver value to customers while increasing the affinity level between customer and brand. These companies with strong brand affinities will create sustainable advantage for themselves as they shortcut and compress the customer decision journeys. Additionally, new and yet unknown channels will develop, and at increasingly rapid pace. Consider that until about 20 years ago, no digital channels existed at all. Accelerating technology development will continue this trend and also enable more personalized, coordinated, and targeted marketing in a manner which is more accessible and usable by companies of all sizes, budgets and capabilities.
I’m not going to try to pinpoint detailed specifics – I’m not claiming to be a psychic and it would be a waste of your time to read simple conjecture – but there are things that we can be fairly certain of given current trends, a bit of logic, and a hint of foresight. Marketing isn’t going anywhere, and while in the future it may not look quite like it does today, it will still be something that Philip Kotler would distinctly recognize.