The future of marketing: from 2006 to 2016

It is rare opportunity to compare two published research studies a decade apart that focus on the future of marketing. Early in 2006, I worked with The Economist Intelligence Unit and Google on a research programme to address the future of marketing in the age of the Internet. This was before iPhone launched. Facebook in 2006 had just opened up to non college students.

We put together an advisory board of some of the best digital marketers in industry and the agency world to help develop an online survey and research framework to understand the forces at work. The end result was a snapshot of marketing thought and best practice titled, “The future of marketing: From monologue to dialogue”.

In the paper, we explored four basic areas of change affecting how CMOs approached their jobs — — branding, integration with the rest of the business, measurement and accountability, and internal organisation. These changes were not the result of a single, specific technology innovation. Instead, they were a response to a large and growing audience that had integrated the Internet into daily life. The survey data and cross-industry interviews pointed to the ability to conduct an intelligent conversation with this audience, regardless of media or marketing platform, as the key factor that determined whether marketers thrived or struggled in the new environment.

Fast forward to 2016.

Yesterday, The Economist Intelligence Unit and Marketo launched a new research study on the future of marketing called, “The path to 2020: Marketers seize the customer experience”. The research is based on a global survey of 499 CMOs and senior marketing executives, plus interviews with leading CMOs at Unilever, JP Morgan Chase, Philips, Pure Storage and Georgetown University. The research explores which technologies and customer trends are likely to change marketing organisations the most over the next five years.

The data and interviews converged around personalised customer experience as the driving force behind marketing innovation from now to 2020. Marketing is no longer about just providing a customer with information about a product or service. Connection with a brand is based on more direct experience with a brand’s products or service more than iconography and/or catch-phrases. The “Big Idea” era is yielding to “Big Capabilities” of data and analytics to create a unique experience for customers when they interact with a brand.

The sharing economy heavyweights like Uber or AirBnB have effectively merged customer experience driven by Big Capabilities with marketing to multiply results and loyalty. Whether they provide a template for other industry sectors isn’t well known. But they do represent a new way to approach to engage people in an environment of ambient information and choice — — an environment poised to explode further with the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence.

Be that as it may, the core challenge in 2006 and 2016 comes back to this: How will brands find, win, grow and retain customers across fragmented audiences and unlimited digital shelf space?

It’s a question that will never resolve completely like a mathematic equation. It will be an ongoing evolution. I think Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed encapsulated it best when he said, “Brands need to help people simplify life so we all don’t go mad as this world becomes more complex. I believe people who focus on that will unlock the true power of data”.

I want to thank everyone at The Economist Intelligence Unit, Google and Marketo for giving me the chance to work on this stream of research. We didn’t agree on everything, which is the essence of good research anyway. It’s hard to find organisations that respect debate instead of obsessing over “alignment”.

But that is what extends the shelf life of research well into the next decade. I hope to check back in 2020 to see how we did.

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