If the extent of real change since the end of the 20th century is measured by the volume of futuristic rhetoric on SlideShare or the number of brands attending SXSW then yes, marketing has been reborn. If it is measured by ad spend or the number of cocktails quaffed at Cannes then no, it's business as usual.
Marketing has changed because the world has changed. It has been invaded by digital technology and interactive media. Data is the new oil and billions of people are connected by cloud computing applications every second of every day. People have real transparency, choice and control.
Marketing has not changed because people are fundamentally the same; the world they live in just keeps getting faster. They still laugh and cry, fall in love and go shopping just as they always have done. Broadcast media is still the best way to get their attention.
While many people in our industry have become overwhelmed and paralysed by the blizzard of technology now upon us, entrepreneurs and engineers have been able to forge new businesses and disrupt, or create, markets.
There is much we can all learn from the success of Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook and other usurpers. At a 'meta' level, each of these businesses demonstrates an unusually high degree of coherence between their brand, products, services, sales, marketing, IT and operations. There is alignment, synergy and a tangible sense of a living system capable of adapting, learning and growing. And let’s not forget the data: lots and lots of proprietary data.
Coherence on this scale creates value by generating relevance. That is the power of internal and external alignment. Not just as a single entity, but as a beast with many heads capable of adapting and responding to a wide variety of stimulus and context. Most marketers already aim to achieve coherent branding but, in an increasingly digital world, we can go so much further.
Most marketers already aim to achieve coherent branding but, in an increasingly digital world, we can go so much further
It’s about connecting the brand with sales, marketing with IT, then joining up staff, customers, communications and channels. Every start-up, from Google to WhatsApp, knows that coherence is the secret sauce, and more established businesses can also get a taste of it too.
We just have to look and learn from the disrupters themselves. Start by following the mantra of beta, pilot, test and learn. Amazon was not built in a day, (and every day it gets a little bit better). The transformation to being digital can be achieved piece by piece, channel by channel, campaign by campaign, moment by moment and without the need for gear-crunching enterprise IT programmes.
Nike set up a kitchen. Red Bull a media house. Over time, these initiatives have become increasingly important to the success of the businesses they support. They generate relevance and position the brand as a leader. The coherent story that emerges from these initiatives resonates with people and builds a genuine affinity.
Likewise we see Starbucks and Barclays using their mobile strategy to align their touch-points and customer experience. Their apps are becoming ecosystems in themselves, supporting a growing network of behaviours including wireless payments, exclusive rewards and peer-to-peer sharing.
To see where this is going, try to imagine marketing as a whole, acting like an application or a web page - being dynamic, existing only and always in the moment, responding to interaction and evolving over time based upon use and feedback. Gradually, a system emerges and value is created where there is coherence. It is this positive, collaborative and experimental approach that will help businesses survive as technology continues to accelerate progress.
The John Lewis Partnership model is an amazing example of coherence powering success. The world's oldest cooperative has, against a tide of globalisation, shown the value of consistent and continuous belief in the principles of responsibility and trust, delivering genuine and unfailing customer service at each and every touch-point.
There is a strategic opportunity and it is both a creative and a technical challenge; one for both the poets and the geeks
The recent run of success at Sainsbury's – albeit checked of late by conditions affecting the retail sector has a whole - demonstrates the impact that alignment can have, as improvements in product quality and availability have been matched by an increasing confidence in the brand as a representative of both value and integrity.
Here and now, there is a strategic opportunity and it is both a creative and a technical challenge; one for both the poets and the geeks. We need to be able to imagine infinite variations of a brand or business that individuals could experience, and to plumb an invisible flow of data throughout to link it all together. I'm not suggesting trying to think like a machine - that would be counter-productive, but instead to behave more like a network or a living system.
Where once the artists and designers created culture, now the scientists and engineers are building it too, in the cloud. In that sense marketing really has changed, though it's fair to say that not everyone sees it that way.