A few weeks ago I was able to attend this year’s Global Marketing Summit, an annual event presented by the International Advertising Association‘s NY Chapter and sponsored by Bloomberg Business Week, CNN International and Google. Big thanks go out to marketing diva Ciara Pressler for the ticket.
We spent the day listening to some serious VIPS in the marketing world address the thorny topic of “The New Normal”. I believe the title was in reference to an article written last year by Ian David, worldwide Managing Director at McKinsey & Co (free registration required). Mr. David expounded on what he called “not merely another turn of the business cycle, but a restructuring of the economic order.”
So what is the new normal?
In this context, the “new normal” refers to a shift in consumption patterns by the U.S. consumer. The experts agreed that value(s) and trust are twin forces to be reckoned with during this period of adjustment. They sense a growing distrust from consumers towards big business, big media and the government (which interestingly, the PEW Research Center just echoed and quantified in this scary report). Gee…I wonder why?
Consumer behavior has changed in response to the information technology revolution we are living through. Increased access to information has helped give rise to virtual communities, independent journalism, consumer research, self-produced media and so on. Marketers have to back up their claims now, which means some massive message restructuring.
The New Normal also refers to a rise in consumer frugality and saving in response to the financial crisis. Consumers are scarred and scared, many of them much poorer than they were a few years ago either due to real estate deflation or high debt levels. Between wage stagnation and high unemployment, many are pessimistic about their future earning prospects. People are looking for high quality in tandem with low prices and we are much more reticent to part with our hard earned cash for non-essentials than in the recent past.
All this spells disaster for people who market products that aren’t necessary for survival.
Here are a few things I took away with me.
Value + Values: Consumers want something of high quality that ALSO reflects their personal values whenever possible now that they can do a ton of research prior to purchase. There is increased consumer scrutiny when money is tight and information is everywhere.
Constant Change: The info tech revolution is still underway with more futuristic technology right around the bend. Marketers who want to do things the old way or the “way we do them” will be in for a bumpy ride. The possibilities are endless but resources are finite, so building flexibility into all communications planning and organizational strategy is key. In addition to creating products & services that present a smarter solution, we need to work smarter to get the message out effectively and when something isn’t working, change it.
Intrusion vs. Engagement (aka Push vs. Pull): The old way is to push your product to large groups of people as often as you can afford to using traditional mass media like radio, newspaper, television. The new way is to create a feeling – of excitement or intrigue or reliability or respect or trust – about your brand/product/service in a consumer who has been specifically targeted using technology and existing data.
As we should all know by now, things on the media landscape are changing rapidly (some not for the better). People are spending lots of their time on the internet and marketers want to be there. But the old way isn’t working well in the brave new wild west and very few have worked out the etiquette of the sale yet. Privacy concerns are huge and consumers are more media savvy than they’ve ever been.
Best case scenario is when people come to you via referral from an existing customer. Relationship building through reputation and personal connection is the engagement marketers seek. What they are experimenting with now is: how do they become your trusted friend?
Other thoughts from my notes:
- Brand is about what you do, not what you say. Since it is difficult to differentiate yourself by what you do when others do the same thing, what truly differentiates you is WHO you are and HOW you do what you do.
- Understand your customers and build the customer experience around them.
- Advertisers need to be content creators for the brands they represent rather than messaging architects (ok artists, we should EXCEL at this one).
- A free white paper titled “The Authentic Enterprise” was mentioned as an excellent resource. I look forward to reading it.
- Word of mouth info sharing is possibly the most powerful force in the universe.
What do you think?