“Memo to the audience: The future of marketing is not an extrapolation of the past.” Actually, memo to anyone and everyone looking for insight on how to succeed in today’s crazy, connected, constantly moving, consumer-driven market. What’s happening now in our business is absolutely not merely a simple iteration of what was happening even five years ago. This was one of the many first-rate pieces of advice passed along to the audience at the recent induction ceremony of the New York Chapter of the American Marketing Association’s Marketing Hall of Fame.
Those of us in the audience had the privilege of hearing from three renowned practitioners responsible for outstanding contributions to the field of marketing: Philip Kotler, the S.C. Johnson & Son professor of international marketing at Kellogg School of Management; Joseph Tripodi, executive vice president, chief marketing and commercial officer, for the Coca-Cola Company; and Beth Comstock, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of GE (full disclosure: Landor has worked with GE on a project-by-project basis over the years). While each came to the podium from different venues, took different pathways to success, and had different perspectives, there was a common theme reinforced by one and then another in their acceptance speeches: Marketing has become an all-encompassing phenomenon. It’s no longer a command and control operation. It is no longer a business of silos and vertical thinking, but rather an open network with all the hubs and nodes and spokes—and the uncertainties—that this implies.
It was perhaps Tripodi, the source of the opening quote above, who helped me envision just what a networked marketing business model really looks like: “Liquid and linked” is how Coca-Cola looks at marketing today. A liquid market is continuously moving, it’s fluid and dynamic. This means that marketers have to be nimble, flexible, and ready to react quickly. They have to be able to course-correct at a moment’s notice. “Linked” means that not only must resources be integrated to give consumers the most consistent brand experience possible, it should be an experience that is relevant to the interests of business and consumers alike.
While Tripodi gave me a visual cue as to where marketing is going, each inductee, from his or her own angle, added support and color to this notion. Kotler, the first inductee to take the stage, brought the audience through a much-abbreviated overview of his esteemed career, while also setting the stage (pun intended) for just how much has changed in the field. Moving quickly from the 1950s age of “rational marketing” through the ages of emotional and aspirational marketing, Kotler emphasized that in today’s connected, integrated, globalized world “marketing doesn’t just go on in the commercial marketplace, it goes on everywhere. It’s a mind state. Things are rapidly changing,” he said. “You used to be able to test and refine, test and refine. There is no time for this anymore.”
Comstock, in her remarks, built on the notion that marketing is no longer a linear path, but a fast, interconnected and kinetic environment. “When you’re in an environment such as this,” she said, “it’s not always crystal clear what you should do. As marketers, you need to be OK with the blurry edge, to jump in and take a chance. People who crave certainty won’t succeed.” She went on to emphasize the fact that not moving quickly, not being able to jump in and improvise, means that you not only have a huge chance of missing out, but a huge chance that your brand will be eclipsed by companies that have the ability to react in real time and are not afraid to take risks.
It was Tripodi’s real time examples of Coca-Cola’s liquid and linked philosophy that fully illuminated what this new marketing world order—or disorder, as it were—means. For instance, to kick off one of the world’s greatest sporting events, the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Coca-Coca invited fans from across the globe to be a part of the largest flag photomosaic ever created. The invitation asked people to submit selfies, which will be incorporated into a massive flag to be unveiled at the opening match of the games on June 12. “Over 230,000 people have sent us pictures of themselves,” Tripodi told the audience. “230,000 people who can all feel part of the experience without even being at the games. The 2014 World Cup isn’t about one country. Our inspiration was that it’s actually the World’s Cup. One world. One flag.”
Tripodi went on to explain that in a liquid and linked marketplace, the goal for companies is to create experiences that are sharable, that provoke conversations and engagement. “We need to rethink the corporate structure,” he said. “We need to reimagine ourselves as a social business system, a great network through which ideas can travel quickly. Forget silos. Powerful ideas that spread around the world, that are adaptive and agile and inclusive, build brands and build business.”
In a liquid and linked marketplace you can’t react, but must be ready to go. You have to have the skill set—and the mindset—to launch a program in real time and be willing and able to fix it on the fly.
From my perspective, and in summing up the thoughts and experiences of these new Hall of Famers, I offer up three tips as a sort of GPS for this liquid and linked world:
Yes, you still need to know where you want to go. There is and always will be a business objective. Just know that you may not, and maybe shouldn’t think about getting there in a straight line. You have to have a company culture that is primed to get ahead of the market, not react to it.
You need to be able to act in real time. By the time you study the market, it will have changed. Think of marketing today as a live TV show, not taped. Expect the unpredictable and be ready to adapt.
You need to remember it’s not about you. It’s about the networks—your internal network, your external partner network, and your customer network—and how they work together.
While you may not necessarily end up in the Hall of Fame, understanding the market and being able to feel comfortable with where it’s going, why and how, is critical to success. Or, as Professor Kotler said in his closing remarks, “This time like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”