A marketing manager from the late 1970s arrives via time machine. After recovering from the shock of the obvious social and behavioral changes, he/she decides to get down to business. Our friend from the past finds a near-by Starbucks. After puzzling over the myriad coffee options, the time traveling practitioner sits down to write a marketing plan. That’s when the panic sets in. Nothing is the same. It’s a brave new world. It’s a scary place for a marketer from the past.

So, what exactly has changed? A better question would be what hasn’t? Marketing is still about the four P’s– product, place, price, and promotion. But how the contemporary promotion is done bears little resemblance to how it was done 40 or so years ago. 

Here’s an oversimplified but common business-to-consumer (B to C) example from way back. First, a marketing team researched to identify potential customers. The desired customer profile was based mainly on demographics (age, gender, income, education). The team would have also looked at psychographics (attitudes, behaviors, beliefs). Then they created the message. Often the message was general in nature. After all, these were the glory days of the mass market. The message might end up something like “so and so widget is the widget of champions.” Then the team decided on the vehicles for disseminating that message. TV and radio spots were purchased. Space in a magazine or newspaper was secured. A catchy direct mail piece was produced. Outdoor billboards may have also been included in the mix.

Once launched, the marketing team crossed their collective fingers and hoped for the best. If the plan met sales goals within budget, the marketing campaign was a success. But often it wasn’t. There’s an old advertising adage that says, “I know half of my advertising spend is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” 

What’s changed?

Effective marketing has become more complex for today’s businesses.  In no particular order, here’s a list of some of the more significant changes in marketing from then until now.

1. Visual is more important than words. Visual messages are more effective than words to establish a position for a product or a brand. This is because images can be universally understood, whereas words are limited to those who can understand them. It’s therefore no surprise to see video become a powerful selling tool in the digital age. Potential customers can now access a video message 24/7 on their computers or smart devices. Seeing a product in action or watching a product’s or service’s attributes come to life before our eyes is compelling stuff. That’s why a whiteboard video is a popular approach for startup marketing and big business alike. It gives a company the opportunity to get down to the brass tacks in a way which maintains interest without getting too complicated. The same can be said for posting YouTube videos and clips uploaded onto Facebook and other social media.

2. The pie is divided into more slices. It’s no longer possible to buy a TV ad in a prime-time program or a newspaper ad that will reach enough of the right customers. Markets are highly segmented. They now exist in small slices of the pie. Media must now be thoughtfully connected to known customer traits. Each of these segments can be divided into smaller submarkets, all needing a customized sales approach.

3. The Internet. A few decades ago the avenues for getting information about a product or service were limited. They were primarily confined to advertising such as TV, radio, a newspaper or magazine ad, a direct mail piece or even through interaction with a salesperson. Now we can log onto the internet at any time. We search for a specific product and in a few milliseconds, volumes of information and a boatload of offers appear. 

4. The rise of social media. PR is more important than advertising because advertising has lost credibility. Public relations via social media has become the dominant force in in today’s marketing. Modern campaigns are more often launched on Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites. Nothing beats word of mouth.

5. Power has shifted. In days gone by, companies held most of the power in consumer markets. They decided what products would be available, what form they would take, where they could be purchased and what the price was. Today, customers hold the power advantage. Companies now need permission to market to customers through specific channels and opt-ins. Customers can easily find like and competing products in a given category. The strategy for reaching potential customers is more important than the brand. 

6. Email Marketing. Email marketing is the modern version of direct mail. But, when targeted to customers who have given their permission to receive your email messages, it’s powerful. Email marketing makes it possible to reach only those who want to be reached and are already inclined to buy.

This was overwhelming to the marketer of the past. So much more complex. So much more to do.  “Take me back,” were the last words we heard.

By Eddy

Eddy is the editorial columnist in Business Fundas, and oversees partner relationships. He posts articles of partners on various topics related to strategy, marketing, supply chain, technology management, social media, e-business, finance, economics and operations management. The articles posted are copyrighted under a Creative Commons unported license 4.0. To contact him, please direct your emails to [email protected].