Not long ago, marketing was spend-it-and-forget-it work. When a new widget came off the line, marketers ambled over to a local ad agency, where they placed their bets and crossed their fingers. For 70 years, that's what marketing was: little more than an intermediary between companies and advertisers.
Almost nothing about marketing today resembles that past incarnation. Not only are fewer and fewer marketers placing traditional ads, but more and more of them are doing something they never dreamed of decades ago: steering strategy. Although marketers don't make merger and acquisition decisions, they do the even more important work of architecting their company's customer experience -- the key differentiator of the digital age.
Seth Godin, marketing guru who recently spoke at Vision Critical's 2018 Customer Intelligence Summit, stated marketers are now leaders whether they like it or not. "A CFO's hands aren't clean just because the CEO told him to embezzle money," Godin points out. "Marketers, there can be no stealing trust on your watch. Quit your job if you have to, because as a marketer you are the custodian of trust. Surgeons don't leave forceps in people's bodies, and professional marketers don't betray trust."
As keepers of the customer experience, marketers' new role is multifaceted. No longer are they just promoters; they're de facto educators, relationship builders, ethicists, and visionaries. Inherent to the work of selling the product is now the much harder work of proving to the consumer the company is trustworthy and thoughtful of individual needs.
What Modern Marketers Need
This past January, Epsilon found that 80 percent of consumers are more apt to do business with a company that provides a personalized experience. To deliver that, however, marketers need something their ad-pushing past didn't demand of them: empathy.
When marketers lose sight of empathy in pursuit of the sale, personalization can come back to bite them. Target, for example, famously knew about a teenage girl's pregnancy before her father did. Although its prediction technically hit the bullseye, Target blew its advantage by insensitively mailing maternity ads to the girl's home.
"It's now tougher to earn trust and attention. We don't market to people, we have to market with and for them," said Godin. "Marketers need to ask in a way that's nuanced: How do I change the product/service to make a good impression right away?" In their mistake, Target's marketers learned a hard lesson: simply having the data isn't enough. Even more important are the ways in which marketers manage consumers' personal information. After years of data abuses and accidents, two in three consumers don't trust companies to protect their data.
To escape the Catch-22 of data-related distrust and simultaneous demands for personalization, marketers need another quality their ad-heavy past didn't require of them: integrity. In contrast to the minimal damage done by a misleading newspaper ad, a marketer today can wreck a consumer's financial or personal life with mishandled data.
The New Tools of the Trade
Effective leaders know actions, not words, are what followers pay attention to. Marketers can't simply put out a press release declaring they care about consumers and hope to be taken seriously. To build trust with their audience, marketers must act in ways that demonstrate empathy and integrity.
First and foremost, marketers must show themselves to be human beings. Particularly in times of crisis, that means putting people over profits. During Hurricane Florence, for instance, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors switched from canning beer to water, sending half a million cans to those affected by the disaster.
Just as critically, when the competing brewing conglomerates put out statements, their words matched their actions. "We hope this water donation provides some relief and comfort to residents and first responders in Hurricane Florence's path," said Karina Diehl, MillerCoors senior director for national community affairs.
Second, marketers must recognize and address company actions that cause pain -- no matter where the harmful act came from within the organization. After a Philadelphia Starbucks manager called 911 about two African-American men who wanted to use the store's bathroom, Starbucks closed more than 8,000 stores for an afternoon to conduct racial bias training. The training demonstrated Starbucks' commitment to being the "third place" its leaders want it to be -- somewhere people of all stripes feel comfortable spending time away from work and home.
The actions of Starbucks, MillerCoors, and Anheuser-Busch earned them far more media attention than any ad ever could. But more importantly, their actions built trust with consumers to a degree that no ad could. The brands displayed empathy and integrity by sacrificing a modicum of money and employee time to help consumers who were clearly hurting.
Rarely does helping those in need seem like the safest or least costly decision. But those are the choices consumers remember; those are the ones that create real change. Authentically doing right by others is the new marketing.