10 Marketing Concepts that are (becoming) Obsolete

Published 03.10.2016

1. Demographics

It’s been a long time since the old segmentation models worked in isolation, but now more than ever brands have to appeal to mindsets, not pre-determined segments. We live in a post-demographic, connected and democratised world. Very few industries can rely on demographics alone. Brands have to pull on the heart strings before even dreaming of tugging on purse strings – and that means they have to penetrate, participate/engage with and empower tribes – aggregated audiences that often bare very little similarity in terms of demographic traits.

2. Storytelling

Now I’ve been an advocate of positioning ‘some’ of what agencies do as brand story telling for a long time. But I’m amazed at the amount of agencies dropping their old fully functional descriptors (creative agency, integrated agency, digital agency etc) in exchange for being ‘Brand Storytellers’. Which is weak. At best. Yes, brands have stories. Yes, agencies help tell them. But where is the focus on engagement, customer experience, results, brand building? You see, stories in themselves, are one way. By their nature, they are broadcast media. With low levels of participation. They are linear. 2 dimensional in reality, even when told in 5D.

Certainly they are not conversations – and that’s the world we live in – a world where brands are owned and often created by customers, not the brand owner themselves.

Stories have a beginning, middle and end. Brands don’t. They are living, conscious personalities and reputations that are made up of a myriad of experiences, stories, conversations, products, services,  etc.

Marty Neumeier puts it beautifully in his book Brand Flip arguing that brands need to move from story tellers, to story framers. And good brand and communication agencies should be at the forefront of this thinking… not the back. Buyers beware.

3. At any cost

Products and services are split into numerous commodities and those that have built in or associated values, identities, difference and properties – i.e. brands. I have a tool which I have used for many used many years, called ‘the brand loyalty curve’ – which plots brands anywhere from the commodity (it could be anyone) to the love brand (it could only be you).

But even commodity brands are feeling the same social pressures as the love brands – a pressure to do business the right way. Customers (WE) do not want to buy products manufactured by children way below the poverty line (remember Primark and the revelations about their supply chain as far back as 2008), or technologies that use raw materials that devastate the region they come from.

Even Ryan Air… yes, even them… are focusing on improving the customer experience and transparency of their pricing as in their droves customers look for something ‘better’.

Look at the success of socially aware brands like Toms – buy a pair of shoes and we give a pair of shoes to someone in need of them in Africa. Or like the brilliant little sock producing start-up (or should I say up-start… in a good way I might add) Jollie, whose socks are made in Britain and for every pair bought a pair is given to the homeless around the UK. Brilliant.

4. Sales over Marketing

Organisations that place sales over marketing, or undervalue the importance of marketing  (i.e. the customer) are losing relevance in today’s world. I still find it hard to imagine any ambitious company that doesn’t have marketing representation on their boards being in the same or better position than they are today in five or ten years time.

Short term sales focus is strangling business, innovation, strategy and brand building. Yes, it is critical to sell NOW. Profit is critical… but it should not be seen as the only end game. As far back as 1954 Peter Drucker in his book The Practice of Management said “the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer”. He was before his time. But his idea has certainly found its moment.

Customers cannot be excluded from decision making for brands, if they are to grow. In fact, it’s been forecast by 2020 that only 25% of the S&P 500 will be made of companies that are on the list today… to be replaced with start-ups, tech brands and other customer driven people focused and marketing centred organisations.

Interestingly out of the S&P500 one survey said only 20% have dedicated marketing representation – a frighteningly similar number. Read into that what you will.

5. Hard-sell

This one is writ large in the nature of the way we make buying decisions today. We baulk at being sold to. As consumers we seek choice (even if it is an illusion), we are won over by simplicity and we walk (run) away from shouty, hard sell. As relationships and loyalty (what we used to call retention) are now central mid and long-term success drivers, the hard-sell just doesn’t have the same bang per buck that it used to.

6. Slow

The world moves fast. Brands have to keep up with their customers in a world with absolute connectivity where every experience counts. And it’s the same for agencies servicing their clients. Also, for supply partners with their agencies’ clients. The phrase ‘speed kills’ could be flipped on its head for brands and anyone they work with that can’t keep up. Slow kills. This isn’t really new. Speed has always been a competitive advantage – the more agile a brand the faster it grows… but it’s more important right now than ever before.

7. Complexity

This is the Customer Era – a people focused era where customers have more control and influence than ever before. With mountains of choice. In every customer survey and market research piece I have run in the last five years simplicity is one of the most motivating sales drivers for acquisition and retention.

My ‘Customer Equation’ (Increasing Choice multiplied by Decreasing Time = Consumer have a Reduced Attention Span and Lower Levels of Brand Interest) has long argued that consumers have low attention spans when faced with complexity. They hunger simplicity and choices that they can trust.

Brands that solve problems, take away complexity but still offer the customer levels of informed choice are winning – brands like Ovo, uSwitch and Virgin Media are brilliant examples of this customer-led, problem-solving and simplification-focused approach across their entire product offering, pricing and service design.

Put simply if youre difficult to do business with, someone else will make it easy for your customers to get what they want.

8. Research without prototyping

I am a huge believer in the importance and power of good customer research – not just any research. And today whether we are testing a message, products, pack design, TV ad, UX, brand names or entire websites, the barriers (cost and time) to prototyping are so low that it makes no sense to research hypothesis without testing (albeit sometimes low level) prototypes at some level – actually getting the customer involved with creating, evolving or focusing your product and service design, communications or in fact any part of your customer experience. Test everything. Learn everything. Put your customers at the heart of your decisions.

9. The schmooze

Ok – I may be a little unpopular here, but the business world I grew up in was as much about who you know as what you can do… and how good at it you are. But, thankfully, this is changing, fast. But as long ago as 1970, in his brilliant book about the advertising world (on which Mad Men was inspired by) ‘From Those Lovely Folk Who Gave us Pearl Harbour” Jerry Della Femina described himself as a man that would only dine with clients if they wanted to talk business.

Now, I agree interpersonal relationships are important in business, I love a good lunch, but we are leaving the schmooze – the day out, the golf course, the free holiday – well and truly behind us. Today the ability to deliver is key to success. And Marketers and Boards know that the agencies they choose to work with are in part responsible for their climb or slip on the corporate ladder.

10. Digital

I’ve not gone mad. I’m merely making a point. Technology is a beautiful thing and I do as much work in digital as traditional communications. My point though, is exactly that. We should be no longer talking about digital like it’s a new shiny thing. It’s as traditional, as… well, traditional. Everything has a digital and connected context – because your customers do.

Technology is permanently and beautifully interwoven into our every day – and the best marketers and brands think, behave and feel that way. Where digital is no longer a subject, but a set of tools and channels that are as important, relevant and powerful as, or more so in some instances, than any other.

If “digital” is like a foreign language to a business or brand – it isn’t to their customers. Any business that does not have digital at the heart of its thinking within the next two or three years will be wildly exposed over the next five. It’s not good enough to appoint a digital person or digital agency (which I still sometimes adovcate for both specialist services and ongoing digital channel comms) to solve your business problems.

Reinvention with the customer at the heart of your thinking (and whatever that means in terms of delivering experiences, products and services across any relevant channel – digital or other) is the only future for an ambitious or growing brand.