Marketing in the Human Era

Before looking ahead to the new era of marketing, marketers must take a quick look back to better understand the discipline's evolution.

In the words of larger-than-life (m)adman Don Draper, "Change is neither good nor bad; it just is." Over the years, marketing certainly has demonstrated time and again its ability to adapt to ubiquitous change?in environment, culture, and consumer behaviors, shifting media or, especially-new technology. But, with that change come amazing innovation and break-through creative. And, I believe that things are about to morph once more as we enter a new era for marketing.

Before looking ahead, let's take a quick look back to better understand the discipline's evolution. Modern marketing came of age with the advent of the television spawning the Mass Marketing Era. Never before had marketing experienced such a compelling medium with universal appeal and reach. While Thorsten Veblen introduced the idea of conspicuous consumption at the end of the 19th century, television and television advertising unleashed the consumerist society that we all live in today. It dominated for more than four decades, creating memorable moments, fabulous agencies and even a "not to be missed" retrospective television series.

Another technological coming of age?computing power?ushered in the Channel Era. Two very visible manifestations of this time period are the rise of direct (now digital) marketing and the consolidation of retailing. The ability to collect and segment vast amounts of data was a significant factor in retail evolution. One of the most influential reasons for the explosive development of Wal-mart was its ability to gather, use, and share data to significantly enhance efficiency; enabling their everyday low(er) prices strategy. As always, success meant imitation across the retail landscape, fueling the dominance of big box retailers and with it, a homogenization of retailer format. But just as we think the die is cast, it's all about to change again.

The seeds of the current transformation were sown in the Channel Era but now the power is shifting from the omnipresent retailer and global brand marketer to, figuratively and literally, the hands of the consumer. Yes, the company from Cupertino, CA strikes again. While their physical device gets all the attention, it is the whole eco-system that it unleashed and, just as important, the reaction of other innovators, like Amazon, that is fueling the Human Era.

The power that we hold in our hand is limitless. To paraphrase Thomas Friedman, our world is flat, and transparent and infinitely connected. So, coupled with price convergence, short product advantage windows, and service equalization, how do brands thrive in this new era? The answer lies in the name; it lies with the need to connect on a fundamentally human level. It's time to embrace human truths. We're incredible (and scientifically still barely understood) and continually evolving. One of the things that define our very humanity is the ability to discriminate, to filter, and more critically, filter out. Clearly we've moved from an era of marketing push to one of human pull, where we as individuals select what we choose to pull toward us.

Marketing has for too long been too mechanical and too clinical, unable to interact with its audience in a personable way. In order to connect in such a human manner, brands must be able to demonstrate such empathybut how?

Well, the tools are all available, from much greater understanding of human motivations and behaviors (especially those made at a sub-conscious level) to the continuous and very valuable feedback loop to the ability of brands to be a valued companion or navigator. So what is holding us back?

We need a change in mindset among marketing professionals. My experience is that too many are trying to move forward in this new era by looking in the rearview mirror. Additionally, the structures and barriers between marketing, sales, manufacturers, retailers, media and medium continue to reflect a world that's been, not the one that's emerging.

Marketing must be much more personable and synchronized with our human instincts. For example, those brands that own up to their mistakes and acknowledge they are not flawless are those for whom we have the most attachment in the Human Era. Equally, brands that reward their customers through good times and (especially) bad, that align with shared passions or who demonstrate an ability to integrate seamlessly into people's social graph are those that will thrive in this new era.

One-to-one is an expression that has been exciting marketers of all types for 20 years and most certainly its premise and promise are compelling. It's time to fully capitalize upon its potential by not just communicating one-to-one but rather connecting one-to-one. To realize the opportunity, we must all change mindsets, break down unnecessary barriers and re-imagine our efforts in a way that is fundamentally human. If we do so, then not only will marketing be more valued but also more valuable in the Human Era.