Aline Santos explains why the marketing profession is at a crossroads, where one direction points to a dead end and the other to an exciting new age.
About the author
Aline leads Unilever’s global marketing capabilities with a particular focus on digital upskilling, brand communication and innovation excellence. She is also responsible for the Unilever corporate brand and the Unilever Foundry (connecting our brands with start-ups).
The end of an era, the start of a revolution
You have to feel for dinosaurs. There they were, happily evolving for millions of years when, suddenly, bam! One asteroid changed everything. But the same could be happening to marketing. Here we are. Happily evolving over the last 100 years and now, bam! Along comes the connected world, where technology is ubiquitous and the smartphone is king. And it’s turning life as we know it upside down.
You could argue that the demise of dinosaurs heralded an altogether better era. The question is… will the same happen to the marketing profession? In this very different world, will marketing become extinct? Or will we survive and thrive?
In the connected world, marketers must adapt to serve a new species of value-demanding, hyper-empowered and in-control consumers. A generalist approach won’t do anymore. We must become more specialised, more agile and more empowered ourselves. That requires a revolution.
Developing differentiated brands that have a purpose
The connected world is driving new brand proliferation because of reduced barriers to entry in retail and media. Niche brands are catering for the specific needs, passions and values of consumers – with more personalised solutions versus mass market brands. They’re also tapping into the uncertainty and lack of trust around global environmental, social and political issues. And with great success. They’ve already taken €18 billion from large FMCG companies since 2011.
How to engage with someone who’s happy to ignore you
Consumers are increasingly in control of the branded messages they receive from marketers. So just like tectonic plates in the Jurassic era, the media landscape is shifting. The biggest threat is that consumers simply ignore us. Over 600 million people already use ad-blocking software on their devices and subscription TV penetration is over 50% in some markets.
This means we need to step up not only how we reach people, but what we serve them. Attention spans are decreasing and an addiction to scrolling is driving a need for shorter ads. To grab someone’s attention, advertisers now have just three seconds, not the luxury of 30.
We also love to search. People can’t remember what it was like not to be able to learn or do things when the need struck them simply by reaching for their mobile phone. They are looking for brands to be relevant, tailored and personal. To provide utility and assistance when required. They’re searching on their mobiles, they're asking Google, Siri and Alexa, and even using images to search.
That’s why the savviest brands are creating content that people can seek out when they have an in-the-moment need, such as how-to videos, articles, ratings and reviews, and chatbots. The smartest brands are also developing content that people seek out because of their interests and passions, around things like TV series, virtual reality experiences, games, music videos and movies.
This isn’t just about ads any more. It’s about great stories, brilliantly told.
How do you market to an algorithm?
This new breed of consumers is also increasingly in control of how they shop for brands. These days, e-commerce is not just about sales, it’s about marketing. No more ‘see now, buy later’. Instead, it’s ‘see now, buy now.’ And one day soon, they won’t even need to say a word or click a button. Their washing machine will order detergent for them.
This begs the question; how do you market to an algorithm and not a person? How do you convince a washing machine that your new formula is better than the rest? It's all about experimentation... test, learn, rinse, repeat.
Our most valuable resource
With disruption across everything from brands to media, content to commerce, where do you find an edge? The answer is as simple as it is complex: data. Now, more than ever, data is a marketer’s most valuable resource. And yet there is so much of it, everywhere. Where you are. Who you are. What you’re doing. Every exposure. Every interaction. Every sale.
The challenge is to turn all of that into something valuable. To build direct, one-to-one relationships with millions of people. To be able to personalise at scale.
Marketing in the connected world is more challenging, more fluid, ever-changing. But that’s the exciting thing. Adapt to this new, faster, better world, and you’ll flourish. Carry on as usual, and you’d better watch your back – that asteroid is closing in fast.