Why Marketing Is Different Now

July 12, 2018

Author Articles, marketing

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Charles F. Hofacker takes a look at the digital revolution and the changing face of marketing.

Business in general, and marketing in particular, has been shaken by a series of technological changes ranging from the ubiquitous use of mobile devices to the increased use of AI in firm–customer interactions. Despite these changes, some have concluded that the marketing curriculum does not need to change very much and that we might be able to get by with changing a lecture here and there. After all is branding really so different now? Do marketers no longer need to position their offerings, differentiating them from the competition? How about marketing outcomes like share, profit, attitude, intention? Surely these are not so different in 2018 as compared to 1918.

We have witnessed entire sectors of the economy disappear

Others, and here I count myself among this group, have concluded that the changes are more fundamental. We have witnessed entire sectors of the economy dissapear. Music, radio, film, newspapers and retailing have been radically reshaped. The ranks of real estate and travel agents are a fraction of what they once were. Digital games are now bigger than music and perhaps are even bigger than film. Many of the 10 biggest firms in the world are digital or digitally focused: Apple, Alibaba, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Tencent.

Here are eight trends that I would suggest need to be included in the marketing curriculum even if you believe marketing is fundamentally unchanged. These trends are symptomatic of the way that the economy, and marketing, is changing.

1. Platforms over products – Today marketers need to understand platforms as well as we understand products. Platforms, sometimes referred to as ecosystems, are more complicated than products. Even if your own offerings do not fall into the category of a platform, chances are that as a marketing manager you will need to adapt to platform thinking, which includes the computer science idea of “scale” (the goal is to increase the number of users by a factor of 10) and the economic idea of “externalities” (the more consumers there are, the more value there is for other consumers).

2. The rise of relationships – Not so long ago very few firms had direct relationships with their customers. In particular frequently purchased consumer product managers stayed at arm’s length from the end consumers and instead dealt solely with channel partners like retailers. No more. All firms can now have direct and interactive connections with their consumers through platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

3. Data centricity – Gone are the days when the HIPPO – “HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion” – would prevail. Today’s marketing is very empirical and analytical. The job of marketer has become like that of a poet who knows math.

4. Company boundaries – Our customers have become our employees! We count on them to provide technical assistance on help and advice platforms and to give us good word-of-mouth on review platforms. We need them to engage with us in public on Facebook, to comment on our content and to produce their own content.

5. Pull has prevailed over push – Not so long ago marketing communication consisted entirely of using one-way push channels like TV to shovel mass market messages to an audience that did not really want to receive those messages. Now we need to pull the consumer in to our pages or accounts on voluntary communication and engagement platforms like Snapchat or Twitter. The communication process has become more of an exchange among equals.

6. Consumer empowerment – Service failure is no longer an option in a world in which the average Facebook user has several hundred friends. A few quick words on a keyboard and all the good marketing work you have done could be in jeopardy. And heaven help you if a negative post about your firm goes viral.

7. Ethical imperatives – So many firms have failed ethical tests in the past decade or more! Now more than ever firms need to be aware of their responsibilities to all stakeholders. When failure comes in 2018, social media ensure that it happens both spectacularly and publicly. Marketers must take the lead in steering companies along the ethical path. Screen absorbed millennials in particular expect their brands to be socially responsible.

8. Information in all things – So much more of the value proposition of both goods and services is being carried by digital information. Cars have hundreds of millions of lines of code. Household objects like refrigerators keep getting smarter. Marketers need to understand how marketing changes when the value proposition is not exactly a service and not exactly a tangible good, but is in fact carried by digital information.


Charles F. Hofacker is Carl DeSantis Professor of Business Administration at the College of Business, Florida State University, US

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His new book Digital Marketing: Communicating, Selling and Connecting is out now.

Instructors can access an exam copy here

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