Rethinking marketing for the digital age

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This blog post comes to you live from the Forrester Research Marketing Forum 2010 held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. (So please excuse any typos.) After Christine Overby of Forrester sets the stage, David Cooperstein asserts that marketers are entering into a new era of adaptive marketing, in which marketers are sensing and responding to change constantly.

David shares a brief history of media as a metaphor for marketing in the digital age. In the 1950s, we saw the advent of on-demand media (somewhat) with the introduction of TV.  But what really changed the media business was the launch of CNN Headline News, which gave us the means to get news on our own schedules.  Reporters needed to start managing around constantly updated content.  Then, with the advent of CNN.com, reporters needed to file and update stories constantly.  And then citizen journalists became a whole new competitor — and CNN treated them wisely as collaborators by opening up CNN.com to citizen journalists.

CNN is an example of an adaptive organization.  The company has successfully responded to changing audience needs and ways to distribute content.  By contrast, more than 100 newspapers in 2009 stopped printing, and the magazine publishing industry is in serious turmoil.

The journalists who have adapted successfully have learned how to report faster and more frequently, amplify their own content, and learn how to live alongside new voices (bloggers being obvious examples).

To David, the survival of marketers depends on their ability to adapt.  The question is, are marketers going to adapt like CNN or become also-rans like the publishers who have shut down?

And marketers need to adapt to many kinds of changes: as has been well documented by now, consumers are more empowered, they depend on each other for advice (less on advertisers), and their attention is split among multiple media channels, simultaneously watching TV and surfing content online.   Our own notion of “media” has nothing to do with consumer perceptions of the past.  YouTube stands alongside television as a medium for viewing video content. About 83 percent of U.S. adults have participated in social media in some fashion.

So which marketers are adapting successfully to this change?  Burberry has.  Through the Art of the Trench social campaign that encourages consumers to participate in the Burberry brand, Burberry has reached 7 million people who spend on average 5 minutes on the site; and the site has generated an substantial lift in business for Burberry.

David indicates that marketers and their agency partners need to get comfortable with adaptive models of marketing. How?  David defines adaptive marketing as this: a flexible approach in which marketers respond quickly to their environment to align customer and brand goals to maximize return on brand equity.

He outlines three tenets of adaptability:

1. Think and move differently. Consumers want marketers to engage, not advertise.  Lay’s has adapted to this reality by creating different, fun ways to share its brand message around “happiness is simple,” for example inviting consumers to post photos expressing their happiness on Flickr.  Some of those photos will be incorporated into Lay’s packaging.

2. Listen more, react intelligently. Incorporate social media insights into your marketing.  Hyundai responded to customer needs by using the Hyundai Think Tank to understand customer needs.  Thanks to the Think Tank, Hyundai introduced a gas lock program promising consumers more efficient performance from their cars.  And Hyundai sales grew during a recession. Meantime, Razorfish client Mercedes-Benz adapted its brand to stress innovation instead of the Mercedes-Benz heritage.

3. Target people, not statistics. Focus on consumer behaviors, not demographic data.  P&G is in the midst of merging Dawn and Olay in response to customer behaviors, not necessarily customer segmentation.

So what can marketers do today in order to adapt?

1. Adapt your approach to new ideas.  Watch for, and be ready to adapt to, major groundswell events (like the emergence of Foursquare occurring now).

2. Adapt the roles of your team.  Brand managers need to consider the role of brand advocates, or people who share your brand every day on multiple platforms and communities — invaluable sources of customer insight for the brand strategist.

3. Adapt your process. Plan iteratively and frequently.  Don’t think of planning as a one-time process. Partner for creativity, not durability.  Use predictive metrics in addition to descriptive ones.

4. Adapt your mix of media.  Think in terms of owned media for the portable brand and paid media as a brand catalyst.

In summary . . . remember that customers always evolve.  Be ready to innovate on their terms as CNN has done.  And marketers need to change the pace at which we learn and adapt.  We must constantly learn — and quickly. You can give feedback directly to David on Twitter or dcooperstein@forrester.com

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