I’ve worked in marketing for about 40 years so I can say with some authority that it’s very difficult to succeed in our profession these days! In fact, this might be the most challenging time to be in marketing.
Today I’m connecting a few dots to provide a perspective on why it seems so hard to be successful in marketing today.
Before we get into these challenges, let me emphasize that I think marketing is an amazing field of work! I could not imagine a more rewarding career. But it is a challenging time to be in marketing …
1. Information density
On June 24, 2009, an important milestone was achieved. Individual creators were publishing content at a volume that exceeded traditional media companies. From that moment on, the amount of creator content exploded, easily outpacing corporate efforts. In his book The Context Revolution, Mathew Sweezey calls this the Era of Infinite Media.
And it’s almost impossible to stand out in this field of overwhelming information density.
I explore this pattern of content waves in a recent post. Even relatively new social media platforms like TikTok quickly fill with content to make connection and engagement daunting.
As I wrote in my Content Shock article, competing for attention today is a never-ending content arms race. It is hard work earning attention against this expanding wall of noise. You have to be strategic and focused!
2. Fragmentation of communication channels
In the early days of my career, the marketing opportunities were straight-forward. There were three network television channels, industry publications, direct mail, local media, and trade shows. That was about it.
Today, the media landscape is fragmented into thousands of ever-evolving groups and subgroups. No matter how niche or quirky your interest, there is a place on the web for your customers.
This is both a good thing and a bad thing for marketers. Connecting to customers in a hundred places instead of three takes more effort, but this also provides more direct and relevant customer connections. In any event, marketing is more complex, especially if your core demographic is shifting from place to place.
Today is the slowest day of technological change you will ever experience. Let that sink in for a moment.
A couple of decades ago, you could see irrelevance coming at you, so you could prepare. Today the pace of change is so fast, I don’t believe anybody can truly be an expert in marketing. How can you absorb it all? We are all students.
If you’re in accounting or even sales, the pace of change is slower. But marketing opportunities change by the minute. And it’s not just technological shifts. Social media enables and spreads new trends and tastes with bullet speed. Speed is changing the very nature of marketing, putting incredible pressure on research, customer service, and creativity.
In two years, our daily marketing activities might be unrecognizable compared to today.
4. Executive disconnect
The fact that the average tenure of CMOs has been declining is well-known.
I think the main reason for this trend is a disconnect between traditional corporate expectations and the world reality.
Most executive teams expect marketing to be coin-operated. You put coins in, you get more coins out. And it’s true that in the long run, that must be the case.
However, measurement and attribution have not kept up with the speed of the world. As I wrote in Marketing Rebellion, consumers today have the accumulated knowledge of the human race in the palm of their hands. They can make really smart decisions … and they expect more from us than sales pitches. But our bosses want sales pitches.
Today’s customers want to see storytelling over cheap attempts at persuasion. They want to see authenticity, rather than manufactured personas. They want immersive experiences. They want to find their own organic content, rather than being forced to confront an advertisement that annoys them and interrupts their daily life.
The traditional marketing and advertising approach is practically dead. But many management teams haven’t caught on to that yet.
Effective marketing today requires that we realize that our customers are the marketers. We have to earn our place in that narrative. And that is hard work, especially when the executive team is stuck in the past.
This leads to another issue …
Let’s put a few of these trends together. Technology is speeding up the nature of marketing as well as consumer trends and tastes. Our organizations, meanwhile, are insisting that we operate at this breakneck speed, capitalize on every new opportunity, and tie our efforts to the bottom line.
Something has to give.
We are not going to be able to keep up with the pulse of cultural change and measure it too. At least not at first. Diving into word-of-mouth marketing, Web3, or the metaverse might be the right thing to do but it might take a while for the measurement techniques to catch up.
I think there is a tendency to stick to the comfortable practices that we can easily measure, but that might not be what works with customers now and it can certainly be an obstacle with management.
6. System fragility
We are increasingly dependent on technology and the giant platforms that support them. Hundreds of businesses built their content plan on Facebook Notes. And then a few years ago Facebook wiped out the platform, and all that content, overnight.
Most of you have experienced a Facebook, Twitter, or Google change that put your business in a “penalty box” for some unexplained reason. All your work goes down the drain, at least for a few scary days!
All it takes is one new AI system or one new wave in consumer preferences to completely disrupt — or even destroy — what you’ve managed to build. The fragility of digital marketing is something you have to acknowledge and build into your campaigns.
Another symptom of “fragility” is marketing costs. Much of the direct-to-consumer industry was built on social media advertising. But as the cost of ads went up (in part due to the popularity of DTC!) the entire industry was imperiled. These cost swings can happen rather quickly.
This might seem like a strange topic to place in a post about the challenging time for marketing, but hear me out.
Twenty or 30 years ago, we could count on our marketing to be carried out by some agency. We paid them money, they created a plan, executed the creative, and bought the media time. It was scalable.
And honestly, we didn’t have to be authentic. Our ads at the time had to be funny, entertaining, or sexy.
In the streaming economy, there is another consumer priority. Customers don’t necessarily want you to be any of these things. They want you to be authentic. That’s hard to delegate to an agency. That’s hard to scale.
That’s why I think small- to medium-sized businesses have an advantage these days because many founders and owners are already on the front line with csutomers. Authentic human connection is difficult, or impossible, for giant companies to pull off at scale.
Sort of ironic. In the early days of marketing, small companies used to copy the big national brands. Now that consumer tastes and values have shifted, the big companies need to learn from small and nimble firms!
The most challenging time for marketing
My hope is that this article does not bring you down. I’m guessing you’re nodding your head, agreeing with me on a lot of this.
Yes, this is a challenging time for marketing. But it’s also the most exciting and fun time to be in marketing!
Think of it this way … 30 years ago:
- The most popular marketing channels like TV and newspapers were prohibitively expensive for many businesses. Cost-effective, creative marketing through video, audio, and visual communications is available to almost anybody today.
- Research was nearly impossible for smaller companies. Today, a lot of research is almost free.
- You had no opportunity to create meaningful business relationships unless you hopped on a plane and saw people face to face.
- It’s unlikely you could be “known” in your industry or in the world unless somebody picked you.
… to name just a few opportunities unique to today. Marketing is an amazing career choice!
Are you with me?
Mark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling digital marketing books. and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.
Illustration courtesy Unsplash.com
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