Rapid digital technological change has brought its power to bear on today’s businesses, causing new pains and disrupting businesses of every size across every industry. This trend has been well-documented by the World Economic Forum and Marc Andreessen. The technological evolution’s biggest impact is on the media, telcom, financial services and retail industries. Beyond the well-publicized fall of companies like Blockbuster and JCPenney, there are thousands of mid-level retail brands that fade into obscurity without anyone noticing. As a result, there is a new normal in how organizations build and maintain relationships with their customers — and only those prepared to make the shift will thrive.
The fundamentals of business have not changed:
- Make a thing people want (find product/market fit);
- Give potential customers emotional and rational reasons to buy (marketing);
- Make commerce easy to conduct (customer experience); and
- Build a team to support the above.
What has changed is not what businesses must do, but how they must do it. Technology makes business easier to conduct, but also more difficult to manage. For example, shoppable Instagram posts can increase sales, but this also requires understanding how to build, test and learn yet another new platform behavior and content trends that change at the speed of light. This in itself may not challenge traditional marketing practices, but when you consider the speed and depth with which change is happening, traditional practices start to break down. Every time you implement a new marketing tool, you will already be one step behind whatever is next.
Modern marketing takes traditional marketing’s principles and frameworks and reshapes the process so we can more quickly adapt to change. It’s an approach that must be user-centered, iterative and built for continuous learning.
The rise of marketing systems
Yesterday, marketing meant asking “who, what, when, where and why” for any given business need, then creating a series of campaigns that provided answers. While this allowed marketers to scale a focused message across broad-reaching platforms like television, print and radio, it also inevitably oversimplified differences in customer mindsets.
Today, marketers must answer the same questions, but they must do it:
- for an ever-increasing number of platforms; and
- for an ever-more diversely targetable and identity-based audience (not everyone is an 18–24 YO white male, thank goodness).
Modern marketing is about designing systems that allow you and your team to consistently answer these questions in better, more creative ways.
“We noticed that the average length between lipstick purchases is X. It’s likely because of Y customer insight. There is an opportunity to send an automated email that says WHAT.”
“We have a new lipstick coming out and it does X really well. Our Y customer is in need of this solution, so there is an opportunity to reach out to them WHERE.”
“Our team and lipstick brand stands for X and we know our Y customer does too, but WHEN is the opportunity to share our POV?”
The collapse of the marketing funnel
In the old world, there was a clear distinction between brand marketing and performance marketing. The goal of brand marketing was to increase the emotional relationship with a customer and your product even when your product wasn’t there. Think “Coca-Cola means happiness.” Brand marketing is traditionally represented by powerful stories dictated by right-brained creative directors and shared with the world through video, print and merchandising. On the other hand, the goal of performance marketing was to drive measurable conversion and sales by promotions or other incentives. It is commonly understood as bottom of the funnel, number-crunching and optimizing by analysts who had little to no concern for the brand story.
Today, every channel is both a brand and performance channel. Advertising technology is shrinking the distinction between brand, content and commerce. In this new world, commerce can happen anywhere, at any time, and data is shared across platforms. Scroll through your Facebook feed: between posts about babies and cats, you’ll see ads attempting to accomplish a variety of marketing objectives across the funnel.
All touchpoints are points of sale. There is never a moment when your product isn’t there, so brand means something different today.
This is the new normal
And yet, at most organizations, brand and performance marketing practices are disconnected from each other. There is a false dichotomy between the data-driven, analytical mind and the the culturally creative and inspired brand mind, and a false distinction between these roles. This is true for external teams as well, with creative agencies owning the abstraction of the brand and performance teams focused on short-term wins.
To succeed in modern marketing, you need to bring this thinking together and build systems for the collapsed funnel. Marketing systems are large and complex. No one team, internal or external, can do it all.
Here are the questions you need to answer as you develop a modern marketing practice:
- How does our brand live as a system? Where’s the best place to start?
- How do I organize a multidisciplinary team to accomplish this?
- What core capabilities do I need in-house? What can be handed off to external partners?
- Which internal capabilities do we need support growing? Which can be cut?
At Part and Sum, we’ve developed an approach that’s tailored for this new normal. Some consultants drop in, then vanish a few weeks later, leaving behind jargon-filled decks and a to-do list for internal teams to decipher. We do things very differently. We work as partners with our clients, sitting side-by-side with them to help get work done (we call it pairing), design better systems and gain deep understanding about their strengths and weaknesses.
That means we start solving problems right away. This gives us insight into how internal teams work, and provides essential feedback that we can use to iterate, do more and do better. Instead of taking a long time to reach perfection (which, newsflash, doesn’t exist), our goal is to get clients up and running with real-world output that will start making a difference. Instead of being experts on one platform or channel, we are platform and channel agnostic with an expertise in collaboration and agility. We believe strategy is not a phase, but an ongoing way of thinking and working, and everything we do reflects this belief. Most importantly, we do it as a team, guided by the principles of transparency, empathy, curiosity and enthusiasm.
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