Five reasons marketing still matters

Marketing today is more interesting than ever.

Brands, faced with a historic disruption thanks to the collision of media and technology, have an enormous opportunity to redefine their business models for the digital age. That means shifting from playing defense to taking the offense, even if that implies adapting, or discarding, formerly successful approaches.

To win in the new business landscape — where Uber is as much a force as Toyota — established brands need to think like disrupters by placing digital technology firmly at the center of their strategies.

It’s not like smart companies haven’t been doing that. For fifteen years, they’ve been in the constant mode of reorganizing, restructuring and reorienting their businesses in effort to crack the digital code.

Today, companies’ success in decoding digital is a matter of survival. A CEO can wake up any morning to discover that a new Uber or Birchbox or Seamless sprung up and jeopardized their business. Digital technology can turn industries upside down seemingly overnight. Just ask newspaper companies and bookstores. The Internet is business’ Fear Factor.

The good news is digital disruption gives existing business a roadmap for how to use new platforms and technologies to rethink their own businesses and adapt to become stronger than ever. To do so, big companies need to think like disrupters.

There are five reasons why modern marketing can be the driving force behind this business transformation.

Reason #1: Modern marketing sits at the intersection of business, technology and creativity

Most innovative disruptors, like Apple, Burberry or Airbnb seamlessly integrate technology in their brand experience. Their business, branding, design and tech teams work closely together. For them, digital technology is not an afterthought. It is at the core of their business.

What Apple and Burberry are doing right is to attract a winning mix of talent that spans many disciplines and nurture a non-linear, iterative organizational process. These brands live and breathe a truly customer-centric, omni-channel approach. It guides their brand vision, strategy and consumer behavior across all their customer touch points.

In this context, marketing professionals’ job is to deliver solutions that are viable in terms of business, feasible when it comes to technology and desirable by those they are intended for.

The first step in coming up with such solutions is to be open-minded and treat your creative brief as a straw man. Use it as a perpetual draft. Briefs don’t need to be perfect, but they have to be useful. They need to allow you to concept something quickly and immediately put it in front of your audience to see what they say and how they behave.

Reason #2: Modern marketing is the worst thief there is

Modern marketing organizations are rarely trailblazers. Instead, they follow the path that’s already been hacked, often, literally, by tech upstarts. They take inspiration from, and build upon, what’s already out there. They are well-versed in new revenue models, new distribution opportunities and sales channels that technology created (and tested) and their role is to bring this to their clients. They know how technology optimizes operations and organizational communication, so they can devise new ways for brands to connect with a much wider audience than before. Their role isn’t to be innovators, but the perfect thieves.

Reason #3: Modern marketing has a love affair with the consumer

Best marketing professionals don’t predict the future. They focus on “jobs to be done” in the present. This framework, coined by Clayton Christiansen, focuses on consumers’ social, emotional or functional problem, and turns business into its solution. The beauty of Christiansen’s framework doesn’t narrow innovation to the latest technology or the hottest new gadget. Instead, it roots it firmly in human behavior. “Will we use iPhones in 20 years?” asked Antoine Arnault, director at LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy), at the recent Condé Nast International Luxury Conference. “Who knows. But in 20 years, people will still drink Dom Perignon.” So park your crystal ball and adopt a human-centric approach.

Reason #4: Modern marketing swears by a good story

The most successful brand narratives today are intuitive, immersive and attainable. Think Airbnb’s narrative, “belong everywhere.” Or Burberry’s true Britishness. Or Apple’s narrative of man as the creator of change in this world. All of these narratives are experienced in every single interaction with these brands, regardless of the channel, customer touchpoint or price point.

In this context, modern marketing professionals need to think of their solutions in terms of experience and technology to remain relevant. Modern consumption is interlinked with identity, self-expression and lifestyle. To help its clients master the transition from a traditional brand to a contemporary experience, modern marketing needs to successfully manage all of them.

Reason #5: Modern marketing is in the service business

A wealth of consumer data allows smart brands to surprise and delight their customers via personalized offers based on their individual browsing and buying history. Increasingly sophisticated consumers — used to Seamless and Farfetch and Amazon Prime — demand excellence in all parts of their non-linear purchase funnel through increased seamlessness and convenience.

Non-linear purchase funnel has become a norm in digital space, and brand creative should mimic this behavior. Media planning should focus on understanding strengths and opportunities of different retail channels in driving sales, brand affinity and customer loyalty. Investments also need to shift toward post-purchase in a way that encourages earned media and advocacy.

If all of this sounds like too much, do just one thing. Or change what you’re doing just a little bit. That’s how British cycling team won Tour de France in 2012, after a sixty year long hiatus. British cyclists triumphed thanks to Sir David Brailsford and his 1% rule. Brailsford broke down every single thing that goes into the process and experience of riding a bike: nutrition of riders, the ergonomics of bike seat, the pillows cyclists slept on. Then, he improved each thing by one percent. Aggregation of marginal gains isn’t notable — often, it isn’t even noticeable — but it is meaningful in the long run.

If it worked for British cyclists, it can work for you. Don’t listen to naysayers. They just haven’t unlocked the modern marketing’s full potential.