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Frozen in Ice: The Great Marketing Revolution

We need a roadmap for the revolution: a common vision which channels the urgency and momentum of change. What is this common vision? Behavior.

Frozen time

Editor’s Note: Alec and I have been plotting a loosely connected series of posts about the new models of marketing emerging and their impact on the insights function, so consider this a companion piece to my post last week on  The Quiet rEvolution In Marketing Insights.

 

In the past year,  I came across a wonderful article that has helped crystallize many thoughts I’ve had on marketing. Titled The Great Marketing Revolution, it is written by a true Mad Man — out of one of the bigger ad agencies on Madison Avenue. The article starts off with a bang.

We are witnessing The Great Marketing Revolution. Think about this.  Our old research approaches are reflections of old marketing concepts.  So very true. We must forge new tools and new concepts for the new jobs. Dead on.

But forward thinkers may think this is not exactly revolutionary. At best evolutionary. Hold on. There’s more.

We need a scalpel, not a meat axe. Brutal truth. We need to build a more complex, more true-to-life understanding of the consumer. Couldn’t agree more. Given the tools at now our disposal, not available even five years ago, we are indeed at the precipice of a marketing revolution.

Again, forward thinkers may say this is common sense. People were calling for this two years ago, even five years ago. Sure, this may be true but it’s not a revolution. Maybe a decade ago you could have said that. But not anymore. Now, it’s moved from revolution to reality. It’s what we gotta do.

Okay, point taken.  I’ll concede.

But.

This article was written in February. Of 1956.

This article is straight from the Mad Men TV show era! The Mad Man behind it is named Bill (William) Moran, employed by Young & Rubicam at the time. Moran wrote a lot more great stuff over the years. He also still consults out of Florida if his LinkedIn profile is up-to-date. Personally, I don’t know him except through his writings.

When I read this article, it felt like the revolution it referred to had been frozen by some marketing ice age — because the same things it speaks about revolutionizing are just as true today as they were in 1956.  This is a revolution frozen in time, like some woolly mammoth pulled from the ice in Siberia. It could have been alive yesterday if we didn’t know better.

The Revolution Awakened

The Marketing Revolution that Bill Moran eloquently wrote of needs to happen. It’s imperative. But it has to start and end in the same place which is, in his words, “a more complex, more true-to-life understanding of the consumer.” Without that understanding, it will be but one more revolution of the hamster wheel of futility rather than a revolution of marketing. It won’t matter who we hire, how much we spend, or what fancy Big Data analytics we employ. We must start with a deep, rich portrait of human understanding. This revolution cannot be a mad (man) rush to some mythical pot at the end of the rainbow.  If we continue to do that, as we have since 1956 and before, the great marketing revolution will remain frozen in the ice of good intentions.

Fortunately, several things have happened in the past decade which has put us in a position to truly revolutionize marketing.

  1. We have a much better understanding of behavior science — in ways that can be applied by marketers and are accepted by business and academia (as evidenced by the Nobel Prize in Economics for Daniel Kahneman’s work on behavioral psychology).  It hasn’t just been economists living in a false bubble of human rationality; marketing researchers have been just as guilty with grids of death, sterile labs for consumer tests (devoid of any realistic context), and questions predicated on post-rationalization of ambiguous concepts, such as “intent” and “liking,” which have fuzzily nebulous ties to true, in-the-moment behavior.
  2. We have an amazing amount of behavioral (and other market and consumer) information at our disposal.  This will only grow as consumer/customer interactions with everyday things become more aware by the internet (as well as interactions between things/machines on our behalf) — in the “internet of things.”  The amount of data available for analysis has exploded with ridiculous statistics such as 90% of the world’s data was created in the last two years alone. As amazingly incomprehensible as that seems, that pace is likely to grow nonlinearly (perhaps even exponentially) over the coming years. The implication of this “big data” is that marketers, in theory, can comb through it and make more sense and meaning of the market, better identify gaps and threats, be more predictive of trends, and be more responsive in general — across different channels and touchpoints.
  3. The Great Recession has permanently changed the playing field. The rose-colored reality distortion field marketers enjoyed is no longer so rosy nor distorted. Reality is, well, reality. And reality is that consumers are fickle and demanding; brand equity is earned, not given; and if you get complacent you get eaten. The Great Recession has forced necessity on the market. And necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. Perhaps an outcome of the Great Recession will be a realization of Moran’s Great Marketing Revolution?

So we have a burning need created by the Great Recession. CEOs and shareholders seek answers. We have CMOs scrambling like mad to come up with answers. Beth Comstock, CMO of General Electric, recently stated as much.

Cliffs, contagions and chaos have been the watchwords for business over the past five years. We strive to survive and try to tolerate chaos. But is surviving enough?

In order to thrive in the craziness and take advantage of change, leaders are increasingly realizing they need to take smart risks constantly, not just in special cases. It’s enough to make executives dizzy.

Marketing needs answers now. There’s burning urgency, which I love. Without urgency, change won’t happen. And “The Great Marketing Revolution” is big time change. But urgency can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that it encourages movement and change.  It’s a curse because, if not channeled, that movement can easily turn into senseless thrashing like fish in a boat.

We need a roadmap for the revolution: a common vision which channels the urgency and momentum of change. What is this common vision? Behavior. After all, says Comstock:

understanding behavior is what 
we marketers are all about.

To truly realize the grand vision of Moran’s marketing revolution, we must put behavior front and center — and not just what people are doing but why they are doing those things.  With the growing body of work in behavior economics and psychology, we are now better prepared to make this happen than ever before.

In the commentary of a RetailWire article (“How can companies go from fractured insights to holistic understanding?”), some great minds identified mileposts for just such a roadmap, which I summarize here:

  • Leadership & vision to align organizations on a cohesive view of the customer
  • Universal (or common) understanding of humans and their behavior
  • Alignment across the organization
  • Linking/integration of disparate data—perhaps via a customer analytic platform

Putting this all together, we need 1) customer stewardship empowered to align the organization around the customer experience and to 2) integrate a multi-faceted view of the customer 3) using a customer analytic platform that 4) leverages a common framework of human (behavior) understanding.

Easier said than done. However, it does give us a vision of what to shoot for in a world of ever-growing complexity.

Perhaps Moran’s marketing revolution will come?

William Moran
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3 Responses to “Frozen in Ice: The Great Marketing Revolution”

  1. Martin Silcock says:

    March 5th, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I saw it written somewhere “Revolutions are the radical repudiation of the status quo”

    Made me think (sorry if gets a bit deep):

    Which and whose status quo’s need repudiating?
    What are the replacements and what will the new status quo be like?

    What are the new constructs, principles and language to be used after the revolution?

    e.g co-operation v competition?

    How has the model of people changed (are we only interested in people when they act as consumers??

    Does a profusion of digital data really mean we will understand more, or just understand differently (because we are using a different model of people)?

    If behaviour is the central focus, why do we need to know why people do things, as what they say is suspect.

    “We need to build a more complex, more true-to-life understanding of the consumer” Do we really?

    I was thinking with so much profusion and complexity of additional data sources, searching for new or modified principles about people might be more fruitful….simple operating principles. Apparent complexity is often at its heart based on a few simple rules played out over and over again.

    The real revolution may be more about challenging the implicit assumptions about the purpose of marketing itself. What would we do differently if the aim was “sustaining” value rather than “growing”

  2. Alec Maki says:

    March 5th, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Martin: I agree. We don’t necessarily need a more true-to-life understanding of humans as consumers — however, we, as a field of marketing research, do need to apply best practices of what we know. The field has been far too complacent for far too long in the application of tools/methods/approaches that yield poor approximations of the human condition. We are, often, statistically confident in risk adverse approaches that don’t really move business forward. You’re right that with the proliferation (and resulting complexity) of data sources a simpler approach to human understanding would be great. But I don’t think it’s simple in sense of understanding. I think it should be simple in terms of application: a common, unified approach, which continuously improves as we better understand humans. Right now, I liken the field to the story of Babel — where people were scattered across the land to speak many languages. At the end of the day, many of us are saying the same things–with some small variations–but we’re speaking different languages, as it were. Different firms and individuals have their way of applying principles of behavior — in proprietary, scattered formats — such that learning from one study to another (even on the same initiative) becomes inefficient and ineffective. Multiply that by countless organizations, stakeholders, proprietary techniques, etc., and it’s a wonder that anything gets done at all. Now add new data sources and formats and the challenge. As a field, we’ve created major obstacles to driving a more true-to-life understanding of human behavior — always with the best of intentions. We need common information frameworks that can couple the “what” and “why” of behavior.

  3. Linda McIsaac says:

    March 5th, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Xyte can now answer why a person does what they do. Why they watch a particular TV program, why they have particular buying habits, why/how they understand a marketing message. We have identified the different structures in the way people function intellectually–how they think that results in predictable behaviors. Call me 608 516-3197

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