Daniel Burstein

The Future of Advertising: What Wharton learned from 200 marketing leaders

February 10th, 2017
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The world is moving away from a standard view of advertising. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, advertising was fairly easy to identify. But what is it today? And what will it be tomorrow? These are the challenges that have been facing the advertising and marketing industry for at least the past decade.

What should advertising be in the future? How do we get there? And, most importantly, who can answer these questions?

The Wharton Future of Advertising Innovation Network

So in 2008, Catharine Hays teamed up with Wharton’s SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management, founded the Future of Advertising Program at the Wharton School, and began assembling what would be a team of 200 advertising, marketing and academic leaders at organizations ranging from Facebook and Google to Tsinghua University and NPR.

hays 3Research from this who’s who of the advertising and marketing industry ultimately informed the publication of Hays’ book (with co-author Jerry Wind, Director, SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management), Beyond Advertising: Creating value through all customer touchpoints.

In the book, she provides a perfect summation of the challenges facing our industry: “This book is for those who recognize that tremendous and far-reaching changes continue unabated in the field of advertising and marketing.”

Catharine’s research intrigued us, and I’ll be interviewing her on stage at MarketingSherpa Summit 2017 in Las Vegas.

As we prepared for that session, we chatted about these challenges, and I wanted to share a few of the lessons I learned from that conversation about her research.

Wharton hears a who

Let’s step back and think about the origination of the modern advertising and marketing industry. With the Industrial Revolution, producers were able to make products at a vastly improved rate. So supply was no longer a limiting factor.

With all of this excess supply lying around, the main focus was to generate demand for it. But that’s changed.

“Even though it sounds intuitive, we all know that the vast majority of marketing has been product and service specific — ‘I have this product. I have this service. I need to tell you all about it’ — as opposed to turning that around and saying, ‘How can I bring value to you emotionally, cognitively, monetarily, etc., and how can I do that through all touchpoints?’”

Since the beginning of Catharine’s research, this focus on the who (the customer) instead of the what (the product) is the change that’s moved the furthest and most deeply across the way marketers are thinking.

The future is customer first (and beyond)

“One of the things that came through in our research is ‘beyond customer first.’ It’s almost as if you have to get the pendulum to swing from ‘us first’ — our bottom line, efficiency, effectiveness, — to ‘customer first’ and the other way,” Catharine said.

As we’ve found in our MarketingSherpa research, customers are less likely to be dissatisfied with your marketing if you practice customer-first marketing. This means putting the customers’ best interests before short-term marketing and business goals.

And even creating a business in which customers’ best interests’ naturally align with long-term business success. ““It can’t be customer-first to the extent that it becomes unprofitable for the corporation over the life of the relationship. They have to think of that relationship holistically; like a win-win.”

Marketing is more than just marketing

The reason that taking this broader, business-level context is important is because customers don’t only evaluate a company’s marketing and advertising when building an internal brand expectation of a company. Rather, every customer touchpoint is considered in a subconscious calculus in the customer’s mind.

So look at your budget as more than just platform licenses and agency retainers and consider all customer touchpoints. As Catharine said, “If you think of your budget and your resources more broadly, and how to maximize those and balance them, … you’re probably going to be much more efficient. And if you’re thinking about how they’re an integrated whole, from a customer-first perspective, seeing it from their vantage point, then I think that helps.”

So marketers must be more than just marketers

Beyond the budget, marketers should consider their worldview and their purview. Whether you work externally for a brand at an agency or internally in a marketing department, don’t just think of yourself as a specialist in a certain discipline, think of yourself as a key business stakeholder. Expand your philosophy of advertising and marketing to be holistic enough to include business practices.

And for that reason, to be effective, expand your scope of influence.

“Ironically we teach marketing in the four P’s [place, product, promotion, price], and very few of those four P’s are actually within the purview of most chief marketing officers, although that’s beginning to change. Different marketers are in different situations in their companies, but in theory, all of these touchpoints should be orchestrated,” Catharine said.

So, marketers, think more like Reagan than Trump. Don’t build new walls. Tear down walls. Because if all customer touchpoints matter, then the flip side of the above is true as well — not only must all marketers be businesspeople, everyone in the business is a marketer (whether they know it or not).

“Even if they don’t have it under their purview, [marketers are] forging strong partnerships with a chief technology officer, with a chief information officer, with the chief HR officer, seeing employees as brand ambassadors. They are seeing marketing messages as important both within and outside the organization, like GE has been so successful in doing.” Catharine advised.

One well-known example we discussed is Zappos: “To your point, it’s not just a marketing technique in the example of Zappos. It’s the whole ethos of the company. Every single person in that organization understands because it is the way their business model operates; they’re successful by making the customer successful,” Catharine said.

How to affect all customer touchpoints

Of course, everything we’ve talked about in this MarketingSherpa blog post is hard. Really, really hard. We’re talking about the evolution of a marketer from just finding the best media buy and message for a customer (which, of course, is still an integral part), to being concerned with everything that touches the customer (and, as far-reaching as that is, those touchpoints just keep multiplying).

I don’t have any easy answers for you. No “marketing hacks” or shortcuts — just smart, sensible, strategic thinking coupled by hard work and a focus on the customer.

Hays talked about the necessity of marrying data analysis and experimentation with what she calls small data — first-hand insights gathered from direct interaction with people to understand, qualitatively, how customers viscerally experience every touchpoint with your product.

“So you have this fantastic marriage between the data and the emotional part of it that I think infuses the way people make choices and decisions,” Catharine said.

When I asked her for a good example, she brought up a marketing leader who is a mutual acquaintance.

“Of course I think of Dan Briscoe at HCSS because his team is so close to their customers. Their whole philosophy in terms of working with their clients, how their staff is with them first hand when they come in for training, for the products and services they have,” Catharine said.

I will be interviewing Dan on stage at MarketingSherpa Summit 2017 because the VP of Marketing at software company HCSS won MarketingSherpa’s Best-in-Show awards for his team’s exemplary customer-first marketing, and Catharine interviewed Dan on her Siriux SM radio show “Marketing Matters” as well.

How to affect society

When I asked Catherine about what most surprised her in her research findings, she ended our conversation on a very positive note for the marketing and advertising industry.

“These 200 individuals across a wide range felt that advertising and marketing has such an outsized opportunity, if not responsibility, to be a force for good, to have a net positive impact,” Catharine said.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean saving the world. We’re not talking about cause marketing,” she said. “[Just be] something that benefits society. We have so many people in this field whose creativity makes real positive impacts.”

Share your story

“We’d love to hear from people who are thinking about these concepts and learn what’s happening with them. A big part of our role is to share examples of what’s working and what’s not,” Catharine said.

You can get involved with the Wharton Future of Advertising program. And, of course, if you have an inspirational story of customer-first marketing, we at MarketingSherpa would love to hear from you as well.

You can follow Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MarketingSherpa, on Twitter @DanielBurstein.

You might also like

If you enjoyed this academic view of advertising and marketing, you might enjoy the Communicating Value and Web Conversion graduate certificate program from University of Florida and MECLABS Institute (parent research organization of MarketingSherpa)

Make Your Customer the Hero: How HCSS saw a 54% increase in annualized revenue without mentioning the product

B2B External Communications: How IBM conveys the value of complex products, spotlights innovative employees and entrusts employees with social media

Customer-first Marketing: Do you put your customers’ interests first?

Join me, Catharine Hays and Dan Briscoe at MarketingSherpa Summit 2017 in Las Vegas

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS, Daniel oversees all editorial content coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – working with our team of reporters to dig for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a frequent speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications, specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware and BEA Systems. Daniel has more than 15 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement, and field marketing communications.

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