Brian Carroll

How to Be Ready for the Future of Marketing in 3 Steps

May 3rd, 2016

Editor’s Note: This interview was edited for length and grammar only.

Marketers by the very nature of what they do are constantly trying to predict what’s going to happen next. That could include answering questions like: What’s our next big campaign? How will this new channel perform at generating leads? Will this strategy work?

But marketers seldom — if at all — get to sit back to wonder about or predict the broader future of marketing.

In my role as chief evangelist, I often get to talk to influencers about what they’re seeing in the marketing community. When I read about Nick Johnson, Brand Director, Incite Group, and the research he did to understand the future of marketing, and later writing a book about it, I wanted to talk to him about what he learned and how marketers can get ready for the future of marketing.


Brian Carroll: What inspired you to research and write about the Future of Marketing?

nick-johnson-headshotNick Johnson: A variety of things really, so I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a position to speak with senior marketing executives on a daily basis for five years now in my position of running Incite.

I spend a lot of my time doing research, working out what priorities, challenges and shifting opportunities there are for marketers — which get into white papers and reports we put together. It became apparent there was an unprecedented level of turbulence in the space. The changes in marketing were happening at a pace that was unprecedented and shift in terms of the marketer’s role and their ability to influence the fortunes of their company were absolutely enormous. I remember speaking to several marketers that have been in their positions for decades and they say things like, “I used to know what I was doing and now it’s all changed.”


BC: How did you gather all this research?

NJ: So what I have tried to do is notice similarities and notice trends between those people and draw attention to those things. I spent a lot of time speaking to 18 CMOs from big companies over several days with each one of them and several different calls. As well as I did a survey to add some numbers to the observations that came from the CMOs. It was a light and basic survey, and it went out to about 500 people. All it did was add a little weight to what was being said. I wanted to make sure we weren’t completely off base and, by some fluke, I wasn’t speaking to 18 crazy people and that they were representative CMOs.


BC: What did you learn from your research?  

NJ: Sure, I have a list of four things:

  1. Customers have more power than ever.

It seems obvious now that customers have loud speakers. And customers have a choice. They can pick between your brand and any other brand that out there because those are brands are able to get in front of them for easier than they ever could before.

It’s made it more of a meritocracy in terms of who that customer will pick. I was speaking to L’Oréal, and the competition used to be all the major shampoo producers that everyone used to know, but now its competition is a tiny little shampoo company selling 100 bottles of shampoo every month out of a garage in California. And those people in that garage — as long as they are providing value and providing interesting engagement online — can get an audience just as large as L’Oréal can with billions and billions of dollars in advertising. So customers have far more choice, and they can get their voice heard far more easily than ever before.

  1. The challenges that people talk about often have solutions.

There are obvious solutions in many ways in terms of better use of CRM and gaining customer understanding. It starts with hiring people who have this literacy with data and being able to spot insights.

While these are solutions, they’re very hard to implement. It’s about how you facilitate data sharing and transparency between different departments to make sure the view of the customer is more comprehensive than it would otherwise be. Also, getting buy-in and making sure your base of employees understands what the song sheet is and are signing from it. I think in an age when transparency means both communications between departments, and also [between] the walls of your business … your employees are advocates for you. It’s absolutely critical you present a consistent and authentic brand that those employees not only understand what the corporate position is and the corporate persona but that they buy into it.

3) The turbulence is localized.

A lot of the turbulence that companies are facing comes from the fact that there are new platforms springing up on what seems to be on a daily basis. Companies struggle with that. They struggle [over] how they should use Snapchat and if they should use it at all. How should they use Pinterest? How should they use WhatsApp? And then communicate using those platforms. That problem is not going to go away. And it’s relatively new. It’s a tactical problem. It’s one that can largely be solved by hiring smart people who are digital natives and who understand the platform and understand the rest of your marketing framework as a company.

4) Brands are still struggling with communicating with an authentic voice and with speed on social media.

You see mistakes and wins on social media quite often. You see companies misstep, and see companies really capture zeitgeist and go viral. This communicating with an authentic voice is based on a fundamentally different relationship between the customer and company. Those customers expect a fundamentally different relationship — they expect it to be authentic, engaging [and] to be valuable. And you’re seeing a lot of companies … that have attempted to go for authenticity, and have ended up with some campaigns that just doesn’t ring true.


BC: What advice would you give to marketers who want to prepare for the future?

NJ: There are three things I think are going to be pretty universal:

1) Focus on culture by working out what your company’s story is

… and making sure that comes from an authentic place and that and it isn’t gold plating. Ensure that your employees are bought into it because that’s going to give you that consistency that you need when you no longer have control of the message as a marketer as your customers do and your employees do. And it’s also going to ensure the voice you’re using is authentic and it’s seen as such, because your customers are increasingly skeptical and increasingly savvy to fake authenticity.

2) Spend time and spend money trying to understand your customers better.

What people have been talking about is [hiring] data analysts and people who can look at Big Data and can do social listening, [pulling] together massive repositories of data on customers.

Actually, what the majority of CMOs I spoke to said, is that that’s all well and good, but you’ve got to move from data to actionable insights. And to do that you need to hire someone who can deliver it back and straddle the two departments — the data analysis team and the marketing team.

So being able to hire data translators who can take other than information and turn it into insight that marketers can use is going to be really helpful to make sure you are delivering that relevance in terms of the message you’re giving.

3) Become more agile.

How can you cut that red tape sensibly without opening yourself up to risk? How can you empower those employees that can use your authentic voice? … [Don’t] let them have to sit with their arms tied … watching as a conversation goes to waste as they’re trying to get approval from the teams above them.

How can you do that while retaining the brand voice while mitigating that risk so you can learn fast and react fast? One thing that isn’t going to go away is the speed [at] which these communications and conversations take place.

How can people contact you if they have more questions, and how can they find more information?


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