Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Marketing 2009: Change we can believe in

Over the course of several impromptu meetings, colleagues Diane Martin, Robert Landa and I engaged in some dialogue about the road ahead for marketers in 2009. As a synopsis of these discussions--and the many others with many others that they reflect--we arrived at five themes for this year.

We see these themes not as predictions but as a set of lenses through which to characterize and inform marketing and advertising thinking in the year ahead...we'll look forward to describing the themes and their implications with examples throughout the year. And I hope that all will feel free to contribute to the discussion.

We recognize these themes as incomplete and they are posted with the humility required by H.L. Mencken's words about what is obvious:

"There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong."

With that in mind, here are five Inauguration Day themes that we believe will [continue] driving marketing change in 2009:

Theme 1: Wearing other people's shoes

The era of the simulacra in marketing--whereby we substitute a representation of what is real for what is real--will further resolve itself in 2009. Defining a customer's values by using a marketer's representation of those values will be discredited by...the customer. Unauthentic marketer monologues that rely on self-referencing notions or that characterize people as collectivist definitions based on gender, race, age, income, or as...consumers...will be cast aside. In their place, favor will rest with real conversations among real people that enable the real people in marketing to catch a glimpse of the real world as it exists where someone else stands.

Theme 2: Increasing the discomfort index

The tools and techniques that have gotten marketers where they are will be unable to sustain them going forward. In a year when many long held beliefs--from capitalism to consumption--are being questioned, people in marketing will need to question whatever makes them feel comfortable. If it's easy, if it's table stakes, it probably needs to be questioned.

Theme 3: Testing the real world

Along the lines of themes 1 and 2, the idea of market-testing ideas will continue to evolve toward a ready, fire, reload approach. With one-size-fits-all focus group and field studies too slow, too expensive and too generalized, creative and product testing will take place in realtime using clickstream data to inform evolution and variation in low cost, perpetual prototypes...much as direct mailers have practiced in paper space for some time.

Theme 4: Detailed online impressions

After years of ignoring the online space, many people in marketing have rushed in to fully embrace it...using the traditional models of impressions-based media, intrusion, and branding that they comfortably carried with them from meatspace. In 2009, impressions-based pricing online will continue its deflationary trend and be replaced by pricing models that pay only for performance. Intrusion-based ad units such as rich media and popovers will be ignored routinely. People in marketing roles will focus on the nuances of online brand experiences as defined by a long-tailed view of customer preferences and interactions with a brand. Usable, useful, and desirable will be the criteria against which meaningful brand experiences will be designed and delivered online--and off.

Theme 5: Time as a risk to manage

Time is the one commodity everyone has in equal portions each day. People in marketing will increasingly confront the reality that wasting a customer's time is a brand risk that must be actively managed. Engagement will be defined more precisely in terms of positive and negative engagements where efficient use of and respect for a person's time becomes the expectation. Whether it's call center catacombs, unusable information, spam like solicitations, or irrelevant pitches, marketers will find that a risk premium comes standard with every touchpoint.

Bonus Inaugural Theme: [Your theme here]

A human voice is a terrible thing to waste. If you have one, please make it heard.


  1. Yes, testing in the real world is definitely on the rise. Large retailers like Schwab and Levi have experience the benefits of it with sales increases in Q4 2008 when most everyone else was suffering from the economic downturn.

    In fact, according to this article (http://adage.com/article?article_id=134144), the Advertising Research Foundation (considered to be the premier research foundation in the advertising industry) recognizes the need for a change and is in the process of developing a new path for market research that is less dependent on the conventional ways and more focused on creating strategic insights for marketers.

  2. I thought the AdAge article was interesting, though I did find the following statement to be more indicative of the real issue:

    ...has helped Schwab somehow defy the odds amid plummeting financial markets...

    The continued inability to explain why, not just what, is at the heart of required market research reforms. Too often, research seems to be conducted in an environment to affirm or deny a preconceived notion, relying on the face value of what people say or are observed doing.

    I think the Obama pollster had it closest to correct when he said that you have to dig a little deeper to understand what people actually mean when they respond a certain way...put another way, researchers might do well to focus on the psychology of decision making rather than the limiting themselves to observing behavior.