Is this the end of marketing?

Nov. 29, 2012 | by Doug Stephens

Imagine a world without marketing. No really… imagine a world where no one tries to sell you anything. Not because they don’t want to but because attempting to do so would be a fruitless waste of time and money. A world where there is just one trusted voice capable of penetrating your consciousness. It’s the voice of your digital assistant and that voice alone guides your every shopping experience and decision.

It may sound implausible but this future may not be as far off as you think. In fact, there are a number of things happening right now that are indicative of a future where marketing (at least as we’ve known it) could become largely ineffective.

Over the last century in particular, advertisements, pitches, jingles, packaging, rebates, guarantees, celebrity endorsements, all worked to sway consumer perception and behavior. Much of this influence was based on sensory, non-rational or emotional inputs that the consumer, often unknowingly, allowed to work on them, creating desire and ultimately purchase-intent for a given brand or product. The effectiveness of marketing was largely a consequence of the consumer’s inability to factually distinguish between one brand and another because they either lacked the time or the stamina to sift through the data. So, in the absence of any overt performance differences between the alternatives, consumers were willing to put faith in whatever data a marketer put in front of them – a healthy percentage of which was of questionable validity. But what if that all changed?

What if all that marketing window-dressing got stripped away. What if the only considerations between one brand and another were facts and hard metrics about product and service performance, price and genuine reputation? In other words, what if all the marketing bullshit was removed from the equation and every business was evaluated purely on how good they really were? If all of a sudden the difference between two sandwich shops became solely about how good their sandwiches actually are relative to their price and how many positive experiences they’ve created for customers in their stores as evidenced by honest and measurable ratings – not how funny their TV commercial is or how memorable their radio jingle has become but purely based on an amalgam of factors that equate to a hard-ranking of overall performance. In other words, what if we returned to a world where businesses succeeded because they were excellent, not because they could buy more advertising than anyone else or secure a more creative agency. And what if these supremely rational supplier evaluations were being brought to consumers in a serendipitous way as they went through their day – not for further analysis but merely for a go-ahead to buy.

The signs of such a future are beginning to show themselves. Projects like GoogleNow give us a glimpse of a future where apps begin to talk and share with one another on a common communication platform to bring us just in time information based on where we are and what we’re doing. Facebook Gifts is a slice of what’s to come when we truly begin to integrate our respective social graphs into our consumer lives to inform purchase decisions. And fledgling projects like Kimera strong artificial intelligence, position us at the cusp of being able to rely on our mobile devices as digital valet/butler/concierge, to guide us through the best choices to meet our shopping needs at any given instant.

These algorithmic, Hadoop sifting assistants will be unmoved by marketing spin, smoke and mirrors pricing games or superfluous retailer claims. They won’t care how many ad words you’ve bought or how you’ve optimized your website. They will stick unemotionally to what is factual and measurable. They will promote brands, offers and retailers that best meet the needs of their users based on fact not fluff or fictitious claims.

I believe the marketing era is coming to a close. Furthermore, I think we all feel that in the pit of our stomachs. And the thing keeping more than a few CEO’s up at night is that success in business is going to be increasingly about real performance – doing what you say you do and doing it excellently well; standing out so distinctly from competitors on every level that you become the default choice – the mathematical certainty.

The question for all businesses – regardless of what they sell is this… could you survive in a world without marketing? Does your business have the chops to withstand the scrutiny of a cloud-based algorithm that can sum up its true performance an instant? Are you still reliant on buying attention or does your outstanding performance earn it every day? In other words, how good are you… really?

Topics: Consumer Behavior , Marketing

Doug Stephens / Retail futurist, Doug Stephens is an in-demand speaker for private and public sector audiences across North America on the mega-trends shaping a new era of retailing and consumerism. His thinking has influenced many of North America's best-known brands. Doug is a regular guest expert on the CTV television series App Central TV and media contact on trends in the retail landscape.
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