The fundamentals of marketing never change. All that changes is the context within which we apply the fundamentals.
We marketers love new things. The latest ideas, technologies, fads, innovations, ads, you name it. It’s built into our DNA that new is better and newest is best. It’s understandable, though. We follow the marketplace so we must stay current on all things new. We get traction for our brands with flashy claims of new and improved. We power through long days and late hours with a passion for new breakthroughs. We reward and honor ourselves and our colleagues for the best of the new. ‘New’ is what we like most.
Yet, what is new about marketing is the context within which we do things not the fundamentals of what we do. But steeped as we are in all things new, we often lose sight of this. As a result, we keep rediscovering the fundamentals.
Take consumer-centricity. During the Mad Men era of the ’50s and ’60s, David Ogilvy admonished his peers that “[t]he consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.” In other words, don’t dismiss the consumer—put them in the center. Before Ogilvy, Peter Drucker emphasized consumer-first. Harvard marketing guru Ted Levitt did so again in the 1970s and 1980s. Don Peppers and Martha Rogers added the spin of one-to-one personalization in the 1990s. Emory University marketing legend Jag Sheth added an organizational spin in the 2000s. Then came digital and the fear of losing the consumer in the haystack of Big Data, which led to another mid-2010s revival of the idea. Now in the 2020s, it is recirculating again under the banner of human-centricity.
What we see exemplified in this continual rearticulation of the same old idea of customer-centricity is perhaps best described as the defining irony of marketing, to wit, to keep the fundamentals front and center we have to keep rearticulating them to ourselves in new ways. But that’s not to be dismissive of this irony. The context is always changing, which means we must tailor the fundamentals in fresh ways for the situation at hand. But we shouldn’t confuse adapting the fundamentals to the context with new or different or newly discovered fundamentals. As, unfortunately, we are often apt to do. The fundamentals are forever. The only thing that is ever new in marketing is the context in which we apply them.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider By: Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer, Brand & Marketing at Kantar
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