The End of Marketing

This is going to be political but you won’t be able to tell which side I’m on (if you choose to read on). You might ask, why on Earth would I get involved even tangentially in politics right now? The simple answer is that it impacts CRM and I have a viewpoint — but as I say, I’m not picking or revealing a side.

I’ve been doing research in business agility lately — a fascinating area that I believe will have a definite impact on CRM soon — and that brought me here. Business agility is the opposite of what we’ve been practicing for my adult lifetime and even before.

Pre-Data Paradigm

The old paradigm consists of the belief that you establish an unassailable position in the market and then dominate by defining all of the world’s problems as your nail, for which only your hammer will suffice. It’s admittedly crude and a holdover from analog days when we couldn’t hope to collect and analyze enough data to support better decision-making.

Although the idea is older than the song, it’s well expressed in the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction:

“When I’m watchin’ my TVAnd a man comes on to tell meHow white my shirts can beWell he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smokeThe same cigarettes as me”

I love the line “Well he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke/The same cigarettes as me.” Sure, the logic is tortured by a non sequitur, but that’s part of the song’s charm. It reflects the pre-digital disruption times in which it was written.

It’s also a case in point for the argument that we’re at the end of the paradigm of establishing an unassailable market position and all the rest.

Constantly Shifting

In an agile world, we acknowledge that there are a lot of competent products and vendors out there, and that the most we can hope for is to gain temporary advantage. When the advantage evaporates or the market moves on to the next bright, shiny object, an agile company shifts too.

Just as there no longer are sustainable advantages, there no longer will be subject matter experts who know and understand every nuance of a version, for instance. Instead, we’ll field platoons of knowledgeable problem solvers adept at synthesizing knowledge of business problems and vendor capabilities. In this way, we’ll arrive at solutions rather than one-size-fits-all products.

The move in this direction has been ongoing for some time. I deem the rise of the subscription economy as the starting point for the transition. With subscriptions, of course, you deliver a continuing service, not a static product. You constantly take the temperature of your customer base, identifying situations in which evidence suggests customers are confused/unhappy/broke or in need of something that doesn’t exist yet.

Most of this is less than good, and if a subscription vendor can insert itself into these situations just in time, there’s always a chance of saving a client and selling more, even if it means that all the client will buy is more seats.

Looking Back vs. Looking Ahead

So what’s the political connection? Very gingerly, I say this: One side is marketing a problem that only it can fix, while the other is marketing raw competency in an agile framework.

I won’t argue about either side’s negatives or anything else, but I will say that to me one side is looking in the rear view mirror and adding a non sequitur, while the other is looking through the windshield at the changing tableau ahead.

In this formulation, I think of one as embodying the aspects of an agile business, while the other is trying for a sustainable advantage that might no longer be available.

I won’t venture a guess about how the election will turn out, but in a funny way I think life is imitating business right now — or at least marketing — and agility could be about to make a star turn.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at [email protected].

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