The Future of Marketing 2017: Part One

March 1, 2017 Marcus Varner

In a recent webinar, four marketing thought leaders—Mark Schaefer, marketing author and speaker; Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs; Ian Cleary, CEO at RazorSocial; and Alex Shootman, CEO at Workfront—shared their visions for the future of marketing in 2017. What follows is the first in a three-part recap of the webinar. If you want to watch the entire webinar on demand, click here.

Mark Schaefer: What I thought I would do today is talk about three unusual trends. A lot of people are making projections around the use of video and Snapchat. Today, I want to talk about three things that aren’t getting a lot of visibility. They’re profound, they’re going to impact everyone, but there’s not a lot of discussion about these things right now.

Let’s start with this first one, this idea of the Social Media Dead End.

Let me tell you what I mean by that. Here’s kind of the historical model of how content marketing or inbound marketing might work. We provide content on our website that almost acts like a magnet for our customers. It’s so interesting and helpful, and we’ve depended on posting links to this content in the information ecosystem surrounding our website and the social media platforms. Now, let’s step back for a minute and look at what drives these social media platforms. What are the economics of social media?

It’s very simple. Number one, they want to get people on the platform, they want to keep people on the platform. They want to collect personal information about you while you’re there so they can turn that into ads.

But here’s the problem. If we’re using links to drive people away from these social media platforms and back to our site, it ruins the economics of social media.

So these platforms, they don't like that anymore. They don’t want the links; they want the content. Facebook, LinkedIn, and the other social media platforms are becoming a publishing house, and this has a profound impact on what it means to act as marketers who have relied on this traditional model to drive our programs.

What are some of the implications? First of all, I don't think we can fight this. I think we need to submit; if these social media platforms want our content, we’re going to have to give them our content.

I don’t know how this is going to play out completely. I think one of the big ideas here is instead of focusing on traction or clicks, we may have to focus more on awareness or the strategy behind our social media content. And then through our content, we need to give people a new reason, some new, compelling reason to visit our site other than going there for the content because they’re already going to see the content embedded in these platforms.

The next trend is what I call Content in the Clouds. And this is a big one; it’s really affecting everybody. So let’s talk about the evolution of how content has moved. It wasn’t that long ago that we got our content in some sort of paper form, which then moved to the web, which then moved to a web. Now, here is the big trend. The information is now moving from websites and apps to new streams. This is being driven by the economics that we just talked about, but it’s also being driven by user preference.

People want all their information in one place right now. And increasingly, the content is moving to the Facebook stream, the Apple news stream, even Snapchat. So some of the implications we have to deal with is that in many ways we are losing control of our content.

We’re losing control of how it looks, how it feels, how it’s branded because it’s going into these clunky little grey boxes in these news streams. We’re losing control of the analytics as we’re being pressured to move the content away from our sites and or apps. The analytics are now being owned in other places. And sometimes we can see what’s going on; sometimes we can’t.

Finally but most importantly, we’re losing direct connection to our customers because the content is residing in these different platforms.

I think one of the big challenges in the next few years is going to be finding new and creative ways to retain that direct connection with customers, something I’ve been studying a lot about. I’ve been talking to the publishers in the traditional media industry to learn what they’re doing, because I think that’s what we’re going to have to copy and learn from them. That’s going to also be transferring to the corporate world.

The final trend I’m going to talk about today is the Rise of the Private Networks. So what do I mean by that?

This is a really mind-blowing chart, I think. Again, it’s another one of these trends that a lot of people aren’t talking about. If you take the activity level, the users of the four biggest social media platforms represented by the blue bar, and compare that to how many people are now using the four biggest private networks, which would be Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Snapchat, and Kick, for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2015, the number of people using the private messaging has outpaced the public messaging we see on social media.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You can see here that social media is still growing, still important; still needs to be an emphasis. But we also see that there’s something very important going on, here; something very profound going on here. People are taking control of their conversations, and they’re not putting them out in public anymore. What is going on here?

  1. People are tired of the public scrutiny. They’re tired of being criticized. They’re tired of being even bullied. So they’re taking these conversations into these private channels.
  2. Many people are afraid of this public record that they’re creating. They’re afraid of how this might affect their career, their relationships, maybe their future relationships. And so something like Snapchat is very appealing where people can have conversations, they can have fun, and yet it disappears. Some people even have the opinion that this is really what social media was always meant to be; it was always meant to have a format like this where we didn’t have to worry about scrutiny and being bullied.
  3. And it’s enabling more vulnerability. It’s allowing us to really have deeper, more emotional conversations because we don’t have to worry about what the public thinks.

There are profound implications for marketing here, if you think about how many of our programs are based on public-facing content. That’s going away. Look at where Facebook and some of the other apps are putting their focus in R&D right now: it’s on thoughts.

There’s a new marketing discipline merging called conversation marketing. It’s not about the old types of conversation we used to think about on social media; it’s about creating conversations with thoughts and our human customers recording those conversations, and having that information stay as part of the personas of these customers.


So very, very interesting times ahead, and I hope you’ll stay connected with me so I can continue to learn about this from you and continue the discussion. And now I'd like to turn this over to my friend, Alex Shootman.

Alex Shootman: Mark, thanks so much for the thoughts and comments. As you all look at this slide and begin to learn about this company, I’m sure the company comes to mind.

It’s a company that we all know very well, a company that started off selling a single product, taking advantage of some new distribution capabilities, got to work around the retailers that sold that product in the beginning. And as they increasingly offered choice and flexibility to customers, they grew.

We don’t have a poll right here, but I think if we took a poll, we’d get a very quick answer and you’d all probably express your thoughts about who this company is. And I’m sure you would all say that this company is Sears. I don’t know if you know this, but Sears was founded by Richard Sears. He was working in a train station in Minnesota. He had a lot of time on his hands so he was able to trade in lumber and coal with some of the local farmers.

By mistake one day, a jewelry store shipped him watches. He ended up buying the watches and selling it to other people like him in train stations for a great profit, and he realized that he might have something. He took advantage of some new distribution capabilities; 65% of America at the time lived in rural areas.

He took advantage of rural free delivery and parcel post. And the scale of Sears was amazing by the time we got into the ‘20s and ‘30s. For those of you who are old enough, you may recall when you got the Sears catalogue. The Sears catalogue in the ‘60s and ‘70s was the Worldwide Web. It was 600 pages of glorious choices of things we could buy right from our house.

In the ‘60s, Sam Walton took a page out of Sears’ book and took advantage of distribution and technology and started putting Sears out of business, and today Amazon is doing the same thing and beginning to put Walmart out of business.

The lesson here is sometimes history repeats itself; sometimes history doesn’t repeat itself, but history always rhymes. And so if we’re going to talk about the future of marketing, we’ve got to understand the rhymes that always exist in marketing, and then what’s different about today and how we can leverage the differences today to do great work at the things that have always rhymed in marketing.

Let me give you an example.

This is a magazine that’s over 118 years old, and it’s kind of the agrarian version of Rolling Stone. It peaked at 4 million subscribers in 1912, but even today it’s got over a million and a half subscribers in 40 countries. When you listen to the art director, Tom Sizemore, who has been there for 37 years, he talks about the fact that the magazine’s focus on the farmers themselves, rather than on John Deere’s equipment, is what makes it popular. This is of course a great example of content marketing.

 If you look at soap operas, I don’t know if you all know this, but Proctor & Gamble had a full-fledged production operation; a TV production studio. They moved from radio with the rise of television in the ‘50s and ‘60s, producing most of the soap operas that were on; that’s why they’re called soap operas. The last produced show, “As the World Turns,” left in the year 2010. Of course, we see this today as a great example of targeting and segmentation. This was a company that understood their target market, understood a new channel that was available to them to communicate their product through.

Kiwanis is 100 years old, founded for businesspeople to exchange ideas of how they could do business with each other. It became an organization focused on doing great work around the world. But Kiwanis is an early version of social recommendations and social media.

And then finally, I know we all love these; the little pieces of paper that fly out of your magazines. They’re called blow-ins. People think maybe the first one came in 1948 in Life Magazine. It’s amazing; the second biggest driver of subscriptions for magazines are these blow-ins that fall out of the magazines. And there are enough of them to circle the world one-and-a-half times every year. These, of course, are great examples of organic database development.

So marketing rhymes throughout history, and we repeat themes. To take advantage of that in today’s business, what we really have to understand is that speed kills. In terms of marketing today and tomorrow, speed is either going to kill them or you. Here’s a great example many of you know about speed killing them.

This is a situation where the lights went out in the Super Bowl, and Ad Age reported that the graphic released during the blackout was designed, captioned, and approved within just a couple of minutes because they had a war room together. They got more feedback and impressions from this tweet than from the money that they spent on the Super Bowl ad.

And here’s an example of speed killing you.

During the recent inauguration, there was a cover story on the Washington Post free daily edition about the women’s march on Washington, called “The Modest Start of a Massive March.” The newspaper happened to have a male editor and they had a graphic of the wrong gender symbol. They had to quickly recover from that and explain their error. So speed can kill you, speed can kill them. How do people take advantage of speed?

It’s really in three areas that we see. The first is speed of creative development, the second is speed of creative review, and finally the speed of creative distribution.

In terms of creative development, there are really two things that we see people need to be able to operate at speed. The first is the input process itself. All creative work begins with an ask. So you’ve really got to be able to make sure that you’ve got a single place to enter a request, assess the request, a common format, a right way to provide context; but it’s really how you handle the ask.

The second thing that we see is that people are transitioning to agile development; figuring out ways to organize their work in easy-to-digest chunks, figuring out who’s available, handing out the right work to the right people, coming together in sprints and looking at the work. But handling and managing the speed of creative development is the first thing that you’ve got to do.

The second is the speed of creative review. How do you make sure that you’re seeing all the comments, all the corrections if there are different versions? How is it part of the job’s history itself, the work’s history? How can you have one place that the entire team can always see? They can always see if all the changes are made, know what the right versions are, compare versions side by side. 

And then finally, speed of distribution. The most important thing here is, how do you make sure your digital assets are in one location? All of us want to make sure that our brands are protected, that our ideas are protected, and that our brands are being accurately represented in the marketplace. And so getting the capability in place to make sure that the teams have the latest, approved, corrected brand information is the best way to make sure that you can have fast distribution.

For the future of marketing, we can always look at the rhymes across the history of marketing to predict the future of marketing. Great content will always matter. Targeting and segmentation will always be critical to our strategies. The ability to create the right databases is going to absolutely matter to us. And to make that happen, you’ve got to speed well. And to speed well, you’ve got to be able to have fast, creative operations, you’ve got to have fast review, and you’ve got to have fast distribution of content.

To watch the entire "Future of Marketing" webinar on demand, featuring Ann Handley, Ian Cleary, and other thought leaders, click here.

To see Part Two in our recap of the "Future of Marketing" webinar, featuring Ann Handley and Ian Cleary, check out our March 6 post or subscribe to receive our newsletter. 

About the Author

Marcus Varner

Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.

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