A New Paradigm in Marketing: A Review of Mark Schaefer’s New Book — Marketing Rebellion
Every time I read one of Mark Schaefer’s books, I find myself saying, “this is the best marketing book ever.” I found myself repeating that same line again as I was indulging in Mark’s latest release, Marketing Rebellion — The Most Human Company Wins.
Wow! What a book!
I actually read the book during a family vacation to Bali. It was the most perfect vacation with sunshine ☀️, beach 🏖, a drink 🍸, and a book by a marketing genius, Mark Schaefer. At that moment, life felt perfect.
Marketing Rebellion fundamentally disrupts common beliefs — misperceptions — about how social media and marketing should work. It provides sharp and oftentimes counterintuitive insights into why so many companies fail at digital marketing; it also provides hope by offering strategies and tactics that marketers can apply to generate profit while adopting a humanistic and values-based approach to business and selling. The truth is, when done right, marketing can bring satisfaction to customers and positive changes to our society.
In this article, I’ll summarize the top three key takeaways from Marketing Rebellion that resonated the most with me. Before I dive into my specific takeaways, I offer a brief preface to explain why contemporary marketing has “ruined” people’s life from a consumer’s perspective. Among all the insights shared in Marketing Rebellion, the failure of marketers to maintain a human connection might be the most profound one.
Do yourself a favor and check out Mark’s book. Your business and your customers will thank you!
Now, let’s get started!
Why Marketers Ruin Everything — My Personal Experience as A Consumer
As marketers, we are all familiar with the statement that “marketing ruins everything.” There is definitely a certain level of truth to this statement.
In December 2018, I read the most heart-breaking story about a mom whose baby was stillborn but was still bombarded by countless Facebook ads related to baby supplies. The mom was so heartbroken that she wrote an open letter to Facebook. I took two screenshots of her lettered and shared with you below.
What a sad story!
As a mom, I cried with her because I felt her pain and frustration.
I don’t have such a compelling story to share with you.
However, I am equally frustrated by all the spammy and self-promotional messages that I receive on a daily basis that ask me to check out this or buy that.
The truth is that I have NEVER purchased anything due to an email I received.
All these automated messages communicate to me that they do NOT care about who I am as a person other than how much I am willing to spend my money on their product or service.
Especially over the last year or so, such messages and practices have become particularly annoying to me, largely due to their increasing volume, which is produced and released ad nauseum on a daily basis. Or sometimes I left a webinar halfway through it and then I would receive at least three emails asking me why I hadn’t made my purchase yet. Here is my response, not interested. #SorryNotSorry
Let’s step back for a minute and think about how much information people are faced with every day.
Check out this site by WorldoMeters, where you will see how fast our world is changing in literal numbers. Pay particular attention to the section on “society and media.” You will probably be shocked by the human amount of information that is sending to us daily. I have also attached a screenshot below in case you don’t feel like clicking on any links.
My friend, within a day, almost 140 billion emails were sent, 3 million blog posts were written, and 4 billion tweets were sent!
That’s a huge amount of content!
Who has the energy and ability to stay update to date with everything?
🤦🏻♀️ Not me!
It is within this context that Marketing Rebellion has become such a perfect read. It offers a solution to marketers who have become increasingly desperate at selling and trying to stand out while forgetting about the most fundamental aspect of running a business: relationship building & having conversations with their customers. Such conversations do not always have to occur via automated or chatbot messages.
As Mark wrote in his title,
The most human company wins.
I cannot agree more with Mark.
The Linear Sales Funnel is No Longer Working
To read that the linear sales funnel is no longer serving us was a bit shocking, to say the least. Isn’t that what everybody teaches and practices? However, Mark’s argument makes perfect sense. As he wrote,
People no longer clear a linear path from awareness to consideration to purchase. They’re narrowing and broadening their consideration set in unique and unpredictable ways.
Mark shared in the book that his clients are actually coming from all over the place.
In fact, I notice a similar pattern in my own purchasing behaviors. I am no longer loyal to any specific brand. I am loyal to brands who offer me the best value at the time and brands who care about me the most as a consumer.
Within this content, Mark discusses how brand loyalty is also diminishing. Instead of sticking to one brand over an extended period of time, consumers are switching from brands to brands. They shop around, or as Mark called them, shop-around consumers.
In fact, as Mark shared,
…only 13 percent of consumers are loyal to a brand, on average. … a full 87 percent of consumers shop around. (p.71)
Are you a shop-around consumer? I am definitely one.
What this means for marketers is that we need to create “consumer conversations that can keep us in the consideration set” (p. 72).
Are you creating conversations and stories that keep your audience thinking about you?
Two-thirds of Marketing is Driven by Customer-Generated Activities
In Marketing Rebellion, Mark cited numerous compelling studies. One of them is by McKinsey researchers who discovered that
two-thirds of our marketing is being driven by customer-generated activities … the best use of technology is not to intercept or interrupt but rather to make the consumer’s path to our products fast and easy. (p 165)
Can we get an amen for this?
How many brands are using technology to disrupt our lives and make our lives harder?
I’m reminded of the countless times that I have had to give away my email and phone number to receive content that offered little value, not to mention all these pop-up ads that I could never find the exit “X” symbol to close off.
If two-thirds of the marketing is done by consumers and is out of the control of marketers, isn’t it high time that marketers start to prioritize customer experience and make it as smooth and seamless as possible? What consumers are going to talk about you can probably to a great extent affect your prospective clients.
Within this context, Mark talks about how important it is that marketers start to take care of their superfans who have gone above and beyond to spread the brand’s messages, products, or services.
As Mark advised,
Take exceptional care of the 13 percent of your customers who are true loyalists. Give them the tools to be a referral engine for your brand. Stop bombarding consumers who don’t want a relationship with endless emails or complex loyalty programs, and lovingly reward your best customers. Do you know them by name? (p.74)
Mark calls these loyal fans an “Alpha Audience” (p. 222). Those people are brands or businesses’ “marketing department” as Mark brilliantly phrased. Mark also talks about this concept in one of his other best-selling books, Known, if you want to check it out. It is another value-packed book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
There is great value in treating your fans well and surprising and delighting them from time to time.
I am a perfect example here. Mark didn’t ask me to do a book review for him. But, I am spending a good amount of time on this article to make sure it reflects Mark’s message accurately.
Why? Because Mark treats his fans well. In fact, I also did a book review for his other book, Known. See the link below if interested.
Brands are Humans
I firmly believe that brands need to engage in storytelling to humanize who they are. However, I have never thought about brands as humans. That’s why one of my biggest takeaway lessons from reading Marketing Rebellion is that brands, if they want to win, have to present themselves as humans.
Brands need to use their products or services to tell stories, to communicate their values, to be authentic and vulnerable, and to take a stand in important sociopolitical issues even if that may upset some people.
I love how Mark added a fifth “P” to the classic four Ps in marketing. The fifth P is “Purpose” (Chapter 6). People purchase products and services not only because of the features and benefits that these products and services deliver; but because of the stories that these brands tell and the values that they promote and believe in.
Let me share a personal story with you and how I became a super fan of a brand because the brand communicates a sense of purpose and holds strong values.
In September 2018, I attended HubSpot’s #Inbound18 conference. During the conference, I had the great honor to hear Scott Harrison share the most emotionally compelling story of a charity that he founded called charity: water. The brand became alive to me through Scott’s stories, not just his personal stories but stories that came from everyday people like you and me. I was so touched that I was not only sobbing the entire time as Scott was speaking, but became a super fan on the spot. Our family has been donating money to them.
Similarly, in Marketing Rebellion, Mark shared lots of equally compelling examples of brands that have become narratives and promote themselves via these stories.
My favorite one is Tony’s Chocolonely, which was founded by a Dutch journalist Teun (Tony) van de Keuken. The brand’s goal is to eradicate child slavery in the chocolate making business. Below is a screenshot of their website.
What is also fascinating about Tony’s Chocolonely, from a marketing perspective, is that Tony doesn’t invest in any traditional marketing. Instead, he “uses its product to speak directly to the consumer and spur word-of-mouth conversations and referrals” (p. 239). For example, the chocolate bars are cut into uneven pieces to symbolize the unethical practices in the industry and the inside of the chocolate wrapper has a story to tell as well. As Mark wrote,
Once you know Tony’s story, it’s hard to look at chocolate the same way ever again. (p.240)
That’s exactly how I feel after reading Tony’s story. I have also shared Tony’s story with my own children, which triggered a meaningful discussion. I know for sure where we will be shopping for chocolate from now on.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my review here. To recap, here are the three takeaways that resonated the most with me. Please make sure to check out the book yourself.
✅ Forget the traditional linear sales funnel — marketing is now a continuous, 360-degree experience
✅ Your customers are your marketers — two-thirds of marketing activities are generated by customers. Focus on your loyal segments to get the word out for you.
✅ Be human — We’re not just here to sell. We’re here to make life better for others, in both broad and narrow ways. Incorporate that philosophy into your marketing strategy.
If you are a college professor like you, you will also like the workbook that comes with Mark’s book. The workbook is an excellent way to initiate class discussions.
Finally, I’d like to end the article by sharing some of my favorite quotes in Marketing Rebellion.
My Favorite Sayings in Marketing Rebellion
The greatest companies are fans of their fans. (p.83)
Be fans of your fans. Make them the heroes of your story. (p.176)
Most corporate content still looks like corporate content. … A company may call it a story, but the world sees it as an ad. (pp 109–110).
Meaning is the new money. Meaning is the new marketing.(p.128)
The key strategy is to build an emotional connection into your user experience and every customer touchpoint. (p.182)
One of the themes in this book is the need for marketers to close out of their digital dashboards and get out and talk to customers. Discovering how customers are already sharing your stories can help you formulate a WOMM strategy for your own business. (p. 191)
Get out and get to know your communities and customers! Stop spamming your audience and loyal fans with automated messages because they don’t actually work.
Be human if you want to win!
Thank you, Mark, for a brilliant read!
Ai Addyson-Zhang is a professor, speaker, live streamer, social media expert, and digital learning and storytelling consultant. She coaches educators and leaders to embrace digital storytelling to build thriving communities conducive to learning and growing. Ai has been featured in Forbes and Inside Higher Education. She is also a contributor to Entrepreneur. Ai is on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram@AiAddysonZhang. She’s the host of a weekly Facebook live show, Classroom Without Walls, every Wednesday at 5PM, EST.