The world of marketing is always changing. It has to. As buyer expectations shift while technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, marketing cannot stand still.
If you’re in marketing, think about your career for a minute. Could you have predicted you would be doing what you’re doing now at the start of your career? Did your job even exist several years ago?
There are many ways that marketing has evolved over the years, but I think there are three key paradigm shifts that have driven that change. I’ll explore them in this blog post.
Paradigm Shift #1: From One-Size-Fits-All to Individualized Customer Connections
Historically, marketing was all about reaching the largest audience possible with the same experience. TV ads, print ads, billboards, etc. were the tactics employed by mass marketers of the past.
But the dream of individualized communication was there from the early days of internet marketing. In their seminal book, The One to One Future, published in the early 1990’s, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D. predicted that “using new media of the one-to-one future, you will be able to communicate directly with consumers, individually, rather than shouting at them, in groups.” Unfortunately, early technology didn’t allow for this yet. Each online experience was the same, just as it was for a TV or print ad.
Now, over two decades later, the technology finally exists to deliver individualized experiences. Personally, I can’t go a week without relying on Netflix or Spotify recommendations to help me pick what I should watch or listen to. I couldn’t navigate most e-commerce sites effectively without clicking on the products they recommend for me. These are examples of businesses learning about me and delivering experiences that are relevant to me.
But those are just the most noticeable instances of personalization. There are many subtle ways that marketers are leveraging technology to deliver more relevant experiences today across websites, mobile apps, email campaigns, digital ads, and in-person channels like stores or branch locations, call centers, or online chat. Check out this blog post on the definition of personalization for more details and examples.
Marketers are finally able to speak to their customers and prospects as the unique individuals they are — they no longer need to “shout at them in groups.” As both a marketer and a consumer myself, that’s one of the most exciting paradigm shifts I’ve seen.
Paradigm Shift #2: From Delayed Decision Making to Real-Time Action
In a follow-up white paper to Peppers and Rogers’ book in 2008, Infor director of CRM Patric Timmermans made a point about the status of real-time analytics:
Companies used to cheer about having updated data every six weeks. Then they felt great about updating customer data every week. Now we’ve progressed to the point where companies can have constantly updated customer information, but I don’t think enough companies understand exactly how important real-time customer information can be.
We’ve made huge advances in big data processing since the early days of the internet. These days, any delay in data processing is seen as a massive inconvenience. Real-time data is the standard. And even if marketers may not have known how to use real-time data in 2008, they clearly know how to use it today.
We can monitor campaign performance in real time and make decisions quickly if a campaign isn’t performing as well as we’d hoped. We can respond to customers in the moment if they’re experiencing a problem. And we can understand and react to different things we learn about customers or prospects in the moment.
It’s this last one that has big implications for paradigm shift #1. What good is an experience that’s targeted to you based on something the company learned about you, if it comes too late? The ability to take in information and act on it to personalize an experience in real time is certainly possible with today’s technology, and it’s something that marketers must take advantage of.
Paradigm Shift #3: From Guesswork to Experimentation and Measurement
Think back to the olden days of marketing. Think Mad Men days. When those marketers had a decision to make about how to allocate their budgets or which creative to select for an ad, how did they decide? They may have relied on something that worked in the past or made a decision based on what an executive wanted. Or they went with their “gut.” Then, they might have been able to roughly measure the results at a later time to decide if the decision paid off. But there was no way to know for sure if another approach would have produced better results, because there was no good way to test the approaches against each other.
Today, marketing has a heavy focus on experimentation and testing to find the best approach. This is also called “optimization.” If your team can’t decide between two different website homepage designs, you simply set up an A/B test to tell you for sure which one produces the best results. And most modern and successful marketers I know are never satisfied that they have everything figured out. They know there is always a way to improve so they are always iterating on their successes.
These days, testing is evolving even further, blending into paradigm shift #1 as well. The focus of traditional A/B testing is on finding the best experience for everyone, but marketers have moved from focusing on one-size-fits-all experiences to individualized communication. A/B testing and experimentation don’t go away in a personalized world — they help marketers find the optimal experience for each segment or individual, rather than a mass audience. This blog post on combining A/B testing and personalization goes into more detail on this important trend.
Marketing has seen a lot of change over the years, but one thing has never changed: marketers have always strived to reach buyers where they are. Today, there are many more ways to reach those same buyers than in the past. Technological advances have sparked paradigm shifts in marketing in the form of individualized communication, real-time analytics and action, and experimentation and measurement.