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February 23, 2018

By Justin Thomas-Copeland, President, RAPP NY

During Super Bowl LII, Toyota ran an ad that didn’t include a single shot of a car. Focusing on the personal triumphs of a Paralympic gold medalist, the company highlighted the kind of personal, pathos-oriented narrative that resonates with consumers without plugging its product. While this arresting choice by the brand is antithetical to traditional marketing standards, it exemplifies what’s happening today.

The reality is that this is the most disruptive period to business and marketing that we’ve known — from technology and the need for real purpose to media proliferation and the need to give up brand control to the platform business model to the tech four horsemen (Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon) to attracting and retaining marketing talent in our industry and the rise of the entrepreneur. Essentially, big data, content marketing, and machine learning have come together in 2018 with a singular message: Marketers have changed, and marketing’s role inside business has changed forever.

No longer are consumers static, categorical data points that marketers can design broad messages for. Each person interacts with brands differently: Consumers frequently change habits, affinities, and loyalties and form opinions on products or offerings with or without connecting to a particular brand. It’s not enough for marketing to be the communicator of brand and product. Brands must “unlearn” prior practices and illuminate the humanity essential to consumers to be the business connector and enabler — to remake marketing into the bridge between consumers and brands that it rightfully is.

Marketing for Today Means ‘Unlearning’ Yesterday

Brands can’t push their messages onto consumers anymore, as consumers expect personal and nuanced experiences from those brands they interact with. This calls for a change in the strategic pillars long governing marketing philosophy. What worked for the world of yesterday and the consumer expectations of yesteryear simply will not have the same impact today and even less so tomorrow.

Put simply, brands need to “unlearn” their approaches to marketing. Unlearning requires that brands and marketers revolutionize their thinking about business by reassessing previous knowledge about industry sectors — like retail, B2B, finance, insurance, healthcare, and entertainment — that are themselves being redefined and disrupted. Regarding everything from competitors and new market entrants to its people and its environment, a brand needs to embrace change, transformation, and new perspectives — or risk falling into irrelevancy.

Moving forward, some of the successful marketing strategies and philosophical changes brands must embrace include:
• Sharing rather than transmitting messages to drive optimization
• Thinking content rather than communication
• Focusing on individuals and journeys rather than segments or touchpoints
• Gathering actionable insights instead of data by thinking contextually
• Building the business as well as the brand — omnichannel

These shifts reflect the way digital living has infiltrated all facets of consumers’ daily lives, including the new platforms and immersive experiences that will be designed and delivered by consumers — in their own spaces, on their own time, and without any brand interest.

Still, brands have a real opportunity now to think in an “always-on” way that can scale and pivot organically to match the dynamic needs and expectations of their target audiences. Here’s how:

1. Focus on Smart Data Rather Than Big Data
Speed and agility are brand differentiators, both of which will be realized only by companies that learn to listen to their consumers — and data is essential to hearing and understanding what consumers want. Many brands understand this, but they often get overwhelmed by the amount of data and can’t untangle the insights.

Learn to listen, look at the data, spot trends, test hypotheses, and build and learn about your target as you go. Build your first-party data. Integrate with DMP technology and third-party data to start connecting and engaging on a personal level — at scale.

Still, make sure that you don’t lose sight of your intent. Data isn’t an oversight tool for monitoring consumers. Rather, it should help you bolster the consumer experience, so look for ways that data can foster faster, more personal connections that help people feel closerto your brand.

2. Be Courageous and Committed
Even with data, without the right culture built by the right people, brands won’t be able to realize this marketing shift. You need people who are hungry to prove themselves; have appetites for change; and approach problems from open-minded, broad perspectives.

To quote Maya Angelou: “Courage is the most important of all the virtues. Because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently.” In marketing, courage translates to an individual’s willingness to try, test, and fail. So iterate on your practices, understanding that what works today may not work tomorrow.

Such a change must start at the top, though. The C-suite’s job is to redefine marketing’s value within an organization, as well as with stakeholders and clients. In fact, the current generation of the CMO office is already shifting, particularly because future generations of marketers will demand and operate differently, having come up living and breathing these tenets of unlearning.

3. Keep Consumers at Heart
Never stop trying to help consumers. Today’s marketers must exhibit holistic consumer expertise, meaning you should understand consumer habits, likes, and dislikes, in addition to consumers’ conversion and purchasing practices.

By using technology, content, AR/VR, etc., you can improve the human experience instead of frustrating it and help clear a path for the consumer to reach their end goals faster. In this way, you’ll be rewarded with better consumer engagement and improved return on investment.

The breadth of unlearning of marketing goes beyond communication evolution and into talent attraction and development. That is the new frontier to win. Marketing organizations need to redefine “the marketer” as a career with a freshly realized and converged skill set: publisher (content), tech-savvy (marketing automation), analytically oriented (data and analytics), entertainer (engaging and transformational experiences), and business lead (revenue/profit driver, e-commerce integrator, and monetization expert). The career of “the marketer” will be the business equivalent of the Renaissance man or woman, rendering a converged leader, thinker, and practitioner.

Ultimately, unlearning isn’t a conceptual thought — it’s a business imperative. And the question is, are you ready?

With over 20 years’ experience, Justin Thomas-Copeland leads RAPP'S New York office. He focuses on driving business outcomes through applying data, digital and engagement strategies to clients’ business problems. Justin has a unique perspective, having held agency and client leadership positions globally, as well as serving as a client, driving digital transformation, in the role of Chief Digital Officer, Novartis OTC Europe. Most notably, Justin believes every successful business begins and ends with talent, and it’s been his passion for over a decade to mentor young talent in our industry.

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