Beyond brand loyalty: Where “daily relevance” now matters.

In recent times, the Harvard Business Review has reported on a so-called “new era” that is emerging in marketing.  In an HBR article co-authored by Joshua Bellin, Robert Wollan and John Zealley, three marketing science specialists at Accenture, the notion of marketing as a set of sequential trends that overtake and supersede one another is covered.

What are those sequential trends? The HBR article outlines five of them and dubs them “eras,” each of them evolving with increasing rapidity:

  • Mass marketing (up through the 1970s) – The era of mass production, scale and distribution.
  • Marketing segmentation (1980s) – More sophisticated research enabling marketers to target customers in niche segments.
  • Customer-level marketing (1990s and 2000s) – Advances in enterprise IT make it possible to target individuals and aim to maximize customer lifetime value.
  • Loyalty marketing (2010s) – The era of CRM, tailored incentives and advanced customer retention.
  • Relevance marketing (emerging) – Mass communication to the previously unattainable “Segment of One.”

Clearly, it’s technology that has been the catalyst for change as we migrate from one era to the next. Mass marketing was a staple for the better part of 40 years, what with radio/TV and newspaper advertising being paramount.  But subsequent eras have come along much more quickly as we’ve moved from market segmentation to customer-level marketing and loyalty marketing.

As for the emerging era of “relevance marketing,” new techniques are enabling marketers to exploit explicit data by name (such as previous purchase history and other known information) along with implicit data (additional information that can be inferred by behavior).

The question is whether this kind of “relevance” will engender long-term wins with today’s customers. The same technology that enables advertisers to target “Segments of One” is what enables those very targets to weigh the worth of those messages, discounts and offers so that they can find the best “deal” for themselves in their exact moment of need.

As far as the customer is concerned, wholesale digitization means that last week’s “preferred vendor” could be next week’s “reject” — with “loyalty” standing at the wayside holding the bag.

The danger is that for the seller, it can rapidly become a “race to the bottom” as buyers’ spontaneity erodes profit margins while the brand goodwill dissipates as quickly as it was created.

Marketing thought leaders Jim Lecinski, Gord Hotchkiss and several others have referred to this as the “zero moment of truth” – and in this case the “zero” may also be referring to the seller’s profit margin after we’ve progressed through the five eras of marketing that bring us to the “Segment of One.”

What are your thoughts about where marketing is ending up now that technology has given companies the power to micro-target — particularly if it means profit margins declining to their own “micro” levels? Please share your thoughts with other readers.

Marketing Technology: Is “Implosion” Where We’re Headed?

A chart of just some of the major marketing technology platforms -- and this is as of 2013!
A chart of just some of the major marketing technology platforms — and this was in 2013!

It seems that with each passing day, one or two new technology products are announced by MediaPost and other publishers in the marketing field.

The numbers tell the story. The marketing technology industry website lists nearly 1,900 marketing technology vendors in more than 40 categories.

That’s nearly double last year’s tally of around 950 vendors.

Software clearinghouse Capterra lists even more: a whopping 3,000+ marketing technology products across 30 categories.

These firms account for well over $20 billion in financing – the dollars that can be tracked, that is – including around 30 companies that are valued at $1 billion or more each.

That’s a lot of companies and vendors. Of course, there are many customers who are looking for tech-driven marketing solutions as well.  The question is whether things have gotten out of balance.

Business writer and marketing tech specialist Malcom Friedberg thinks so. He’s Chief Marketing Officer at CleverTap, and he also publishes columns on a variety of business topics.

In Friedberg’s view, the sheer number of marketing technology vendors and products means that the segment may now be on the brink of an implosion.

Friedman references a recent CMO Council document that reports that more than 80% of marketers are using as many as ten different marketing-related technologies or cloud solutions.

And as new technologies are added, the problem is finding educated staff – and enough hours in the day – to cover all of these products well. In many instances, users may be just scratching the surface of what these products can provide; the “multiple hat” dynamics of many marketing departments mean that very few people qualify as being “advanced” users.

The problems boil down to this: Even if a department has two or three marketing people devoted exclusively to tech-related responsibilities (at tall order in most companies) – this assumes that those people can work equally well on multiple different platforms.

The reality is quite different. It’s more like a big jumble – with consultants brought in to sort things out.  It may get the job done, but it isn’t pretty – and it’s hardly a recipe for “the best of best practices.”

Survey work by the CMO Council supports this hypothesis. The Council has found that fewer than on in ten of the marketers it surveyed reported that they possess a highly evolved digital marketing model that has a proven, clear path of evolution.

Malcolm Friedberg
Malcolm Friedberg

Friedman thinks he knows where things are heading. Not to more choices, but rather to less:

“In my opinion, we’ll start to see massive consolidation and uber-marketing systems. Think super-integrated marketing and advertising clouds … the preoccupation with ‘best-of-breed’ in every category will be replaced by a ‘tree-and-branch’ model, with one core technology and a few ‘good enough’ complementary ones.”

Friedman calls it “an expensive French meal” instead of “a Vegas buffet.” While there will always be new products promising incremental improvements, he predicts that by 2020, the common business model will be super-integrated marketing and advertising clouds as we see already with the likes of Marketo and Hubspot.

What do you think? Is Friedman onto something … or is the orgy of new marketing technology products going to continue unabated?  Please share your thoughts with other viewers here.

Are young marketers now the “smartest people in the room”?

Deanie Elsner
Deanie Elsner

Recently I read about some interesting remarks made by Deanie Elsner, who is the former executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Kraft Foods.

Ms. Elsner made them as the keynote speaker at the Tapad Unify Tech 2015 cross-screen technology conference held in mid-June.  The gist of her argument was that senior-level marketers and heads of companies are most often the ones who are the “ball and chain” in a company when it comes to following effective marketing practices.

The way Elsner sees it, too few of these officials understand digital marketing as an integrated program that commingles data with a coordinated brand strategy:

“When you ask marketers to define digital strategy, they will give you ‘random acts of digital’ rather than an holistic strategy informed by data, with KPSs and data points that prove success.”

It doesn’t help that most upper-level managers are part of the Baby Boomer generation or just slightly younger, whereas most of the big developments in marketing technology and the communications landscape are being driven by Millennials.

[An aside:  recently we learned that Millennials, at 87 million strong, are now this country’s largest age cohort — ~14% larger than Baby Boomers.  And they’ll only grow more important in the coming decade or two as the Boomer generation passes into retirement and then into history.]


In Elsner’s view, Millennial employees understand something that their older counterparts generally don’t see, which is that the “one-way communications” perspective on advertising and promotion is no longer so important — or even relevant.

I can see her point.  Consumers today are the ones determining the conversation and the agenda.  It’s up to marketers to figure out the best ways to follow that agenda and to use the best tools to make it happen.

But then Elsner makes this bold statement that I’m not sure is totally accurate:

“Your smartest person is your most junior talent.  The most dangerous, potentially, is the current CEO, because what they know doesn’t exist anymore.”

I don’t disagree that junior talent “gets” the modern communications environment more inherently than older employees.  However … younger talent is prone to the opposite extreme:  making assumptions based the latest trends for the youngest audiences.

When that happens, people can misread how industry changes affect consumers of all age levels, other demographics and psychographics.

In fact, in my work with numerous corporate clients, often the “smartest person in the room” is the one who’s over the age of 65.  And why not?  The reality is that irrespective of the seismic changes in marketing, there’s a lot to be said for 20 or 30 years of life experience to truly understand what makes human beings “tick” … why people are often so different … and what makes them choose to do the things that they do.

So the bottom line is actually this:  Both younger and older marketers are important and can bring a lot to the table, and there’s more than enough respect to go around.