The FT discusses the future of marketing and calls for believing the unbelievable

The Financial Times recently held their annual Future of Marketing summit in New York City this week. Discussing among other things the state of marketing in today’s climate and what can be done to improve the environment for businesses and consumers alike.

Gillian Tett, who is the Managing U.S editor for the F.T moderated a panel discussing the state of marketing today. Talking about how there is a mood of malaise and gloom among people in today’s boardrooms. Saying that if you want to understand what is going on to read Alice in Wonderland. Going into detail on how the Lewis Carroll book is, “About learning to think and the Six impossible things before breakfast.” Calling for people to, “Break down mental boundaries and to believe the unbelievable.”

She used the recession as an example talking about how people woke up the day after Lehman Brothers fell and believed it not after breakfast but before the closing bell.

Saying that, “Finance is based entirely in principles of trust and the six impossible things before breakfast.”

She said that the pillars of trust in today’s world are crumbling, and how trust has been moved to where people no longer believe authority figures but rather social friends.

Examples of this lack of trust among the general public can be seen every day on social media. Where people are growing more cynical towards the establishment along with other things.

Ms. Tett spoke of how young people feel like they should be able to customize everything and that trickles down into politics. And how people want to pick and mix things. Calling them Generation C.

She used the concept behind the secret menu at Starbucks as an example of this and called it one of the best marketing ideas to happen.

But in spite of all this customization there is almost a feeling of helplessness as many young people are facing the realities of the economy and a slow recovery that has yet to trickle down for some people.

Saying that, “We have inequality, student debt, poverty, people who look at the system and are mad. It’s not just about economics it’s about social media and communication. We need to have ideas that connect through empowerment, engagement, and motivation.”

Ms. Tett also believes that one word that describes the state of things is a verb, and how the ideas that have the most resonance are the ones that begin with a verb and empowerment.

Brexit was used as a example, because the remain camp did a bad job of convincing people to support them. They put down others who were against them and had a bad strategy. Brexit had a good slogan, “Take back control” It’s a verb that works. She thinks that is why they won.

Whereas Donald Trump’s Slogan is “Make America Great Again” it’s also a verb that has power. Compared to the Democrats whose slogan is, “Stronger together” which seems feeble.

The idea was raised that perhaps we are living in a new volatile world.

Bessie Lee who is the C.E.O of WPP a Marketing agency in China spoke as well. Jokingly referring to General Mao as, “The greatest marketer if you like.” She brought up the little red book as a example.

Talking about how China has grown even in the last three years but some are still struggling. In spite of that there is a rise of local brands in China that have a combination of Western marketing with Chinese marketing.

For example Ms. Lee brought up WeChat which is owned by the largest company in china but is almost a copy of WhatsApp. So they put features on there that other apps don’t have. Such as using WeChat to pay for Starbucks.

According to Ms. Lee WeChat can do almost 80% of daily tasks.

Gillian Tett talked about this concept of products borrowing from each other as well, saying how one of the big buzzwords now from Davos is Reverse Innovation. Which is the view that bright ideas are coming from outside the west and the west can learn from it.

Ms. Tett told a story about how someone in China said how the west has democracy and how it’s not working, meanwhile China has social media and you can look at trends to see where they are going. In China Ms. Lee says that people will tell you secretly that they all know they are being watched.

And that if you look at Chinese people’s trust in their Government, they look at the west and are happy for a one party state with a strong central Government.

However, Ms. Lee also said that, “The Chinese envy that we can vote.” With Ms. Tett remarking that she is not so sure with this election.

Dalia Abdel Kader, who is the Director of marketing and communications for the Arab African International Bank talked about the relationship between growth and engagement.

Saying that, “We are facing new challenges with the same dogmatic mindset, the problem isn’t facing challenges it’s changing the mindset.”

Faced with the question of how can marketing trigger growth. Ms. Kader said that, “You have to replace marketing with connecting to the whole ecosystem. To create value instead of making profit.”

Adding that, “We are in a post postmodern age, where evolution turns to revolution. It’s no longer the powerful voice that is heard but rather the oppressed one.”

Which raises the question of how can the mindset be changed in this volatile world? This is a rather complex question that probably doesn’t have a easy answer. More importantly, what exactly is the mindset?

Much has been said about why things are going wrong right now but little has been said about the mentality behind the people who caused these problems.

Cindy Gallop who is the founder Of, “Make Love Not Porn” was the last speaker who talked about the rampant sexism in the business world today. And how companies need to be more diverse in order to succeed. Along with how the mindset needs to be changed if things are to improve.

Ms. Gallop said that, “Change isn’t happening because at the top of our industry because it’s a bunch of white guys talking about other rich white guys.” Adding that, “Why would they rock the boat? They talk about diversity because they have to, they will give talks on diversity but they don’t want change because the system is working just fine for them.”

While many companies do in fact have diversity programs, and use the rhetoric of being diverse it is hard to tell if this has really resulted in progress. Given that inequality continues to grow and will only rise. Particularly among poor men and women.

As Ms. Kader said, how can the mindset be changed? And what can people do to change it along with believing the unbelievable before breakfast?

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