Experiences: The Seventh Era of Marketing

Avid travelers have a unique lifestyle. They're curious. They're adventurous. And most of all, they value the experience of travel. Marriott rents hotel rooms. Or does it?

Marriott is one of a few companies that has transformed how it engages, entertains, and informs audiences before it looks to sell anything. In 2014, the brand launched an original content studio to establish Marriott as the destination for travel lifestyle content.

This is one example of how companies are shifting into an era in which marketers use content to build audiences by delivering value through experiences. In Marriott's case, it has formalized processes for the team to be able to create, manage, organize, and measure a portfolio of content experiences rather than just creating ad hoc, independent pieces.

Most marketing textbooks agree that the development of marketing, as a process, took place over five eras that covered roughly 125 years-the trade era, the production era, the sales era, the marketing department era, and the marketing company era. A sixth era of marketing-the relationship era-started with one-to-one marketing in the mid-1990s and moved into personalization in the early 2000s. For the last 7 years or so, marketing has been squarely focused on engagement across social media channels.

Still, it's getting harder and harder for brands to differentiate their products from those in the rest of the marketplace.

"The Ultimate Marketing Machine," in the Harvard Business Review, outlined the responses of a study called "Marketing2020." In it, the authors put forth the notion that marketing's role needs to evolve in order to create an organizational structure that delivers a "total experience" for customers: "Companies are increasingly enhancing the value of their products by creating customer experiences. Some deepen the customer relationship by leveraging what they know about [customers] to personalize offerings. Others focus on the breadth of the relationship by adding touchpoints. Our research shows that high-performing brands do both-providing what we call ‘total experience.' In fact, we believe that the most important marketing metric will soon change from ‘share of wallet' or ‘share of voice' to ‘share of experience.'"

If any function within an organization holds the talent and potential to drive a total customer experience, it's marketing. As we look to the future of marketing, its role will be much more than just creating a customer. Instead, marketing needs to evolve a customer using differentiating, content-driven experiences across the entire lifecycle.

David Edelman and Jason Heller of McKinsey point this out in their article, "Marketing Disruption: Five Blind Spots on the Road to Marketing's Potential": "Continuously evolving customer expectations are a major disruptive force, but marketing is still limited in its ability to shape the entire experiences. ... This lack of responsibility-and accountability-for the entire customer journey will continue to inhibit marketers' efforts to develop seamless and consistent experiences across all touchpoints."

So what does this mean for marketers? Instead of just describing the value of the products and services that a company sells, marketing must now create differentiated experiential value that's separate and distinct from a product or service.

As we move into a new era of marketing, many elements of previous ones persist-for example, the value of the sales team and building relationships. In fact, some of the best elements of the previous eras will likely play important roles as we move into the seventh. Brands are beginning to realize that it's not the product or service that keeps customers loyal-it's the experience.

For brands, it's time to understand that reach, frequency, and campaign-oriented approaches are over. The goal-as we move into this next era-is to make content creation a core function of the business and the foundation from which all experiences, across the company, are created.  

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