It's the time of year we make lists about the past and proclamations about the future. We assemble important influencers into celebrated collections (usually round numbers) to provide the context about where we are, and then predict where we will be.
Niels Bohr, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, famously said that "prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future." And what we're really asking when we look to the question, "What's the future?" is not really the future state. It is, rather, what's our place within all the possible futures? When was the last time you heard someone who was asked for a prediction about the future of marketing say, "Well, whatever it is, it doesn't include me"?
So what's next? I am not sure. What I do know is that marketing is lost in a chaotic and anachronistic chase of classic models. Businesses have spent the last 15 years constructing layer upon layer of small marketing-maintaining product, place, price, and promotion for every content channel that comes along and happily spending ever smaller amounts of money for ever smaller results, while never solving the big, disruptive challenges that face the business as a whole.
Sixty years ago, Peter Drucker said the "purpose of a business is to create a customer. The business enterprise has two-and only two-basic functions: marketing and innovation." In its time, it was true. During the 1960s, the idea of a brand manager was the equivalent of what we look at today as a chief marketing technologist: an extraordinarily innovative professional who was considered to be (as marketing textbooks claimed) the "backbone of true marketing." A mere 30 years later, the idea of the "brand manager" would be called ill-suited for today's environment. As to the overall role of marketing, the textbooks would proclaim that it "cannot dominate, but rather must share power with other functions to ensure competitive advantage."
The last 15 years have seen consumer behavior change fundamentally. The way customers become aware, browse, investigate, purchase, use, complain, and/or become loyal has changed. However, the business processes to inspire this journey have not. Marketing departments today serve a mostly subservient, on-demand function-producing more sales sheets, PDFs, brochures, and copy for a hungry business that views it as the department that "makes things pretty."
Creating a customer is simply table stakes for today's marketing organizations. The new objective for marketing will be to evolve customers from unaware all the way to brand-subscribing customer advocates. And I believe that content-driven experiences will be the natural selection process that inspires those customers to evolve.
Whether it's due to the digital disruption and ease with which we now use technology to publish and distribute content to aggregate our own audiences, or it's just the natural evolution of marketing itself doesn't matter as much as the ultimate outcome. I've seen evidence of this in all the research I've conducted, advisory clients I've served, and Content Marketing Institute's (CMI) own Executive Forum. Content can be the natural evolution of marketing from a department that serves only to describe the value already theoretically created in the product or service-into the department that creates differentiated experiential value that is separate and distinct from that product or service.
I know you're thinking, "He did it too. He predicted the future and put himself in it." Damn right. I'm not only sure that I'm going to put myself in it-I'm going to reboot this sucker to make sure I'm in it. As Drucker also said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it."
How do we do that? Well, that's an even bigger question, but to start, we make what we do real in the business. Valuable content-driven experiences will never be achieved by begging, borrowing, and stealing resources that can "do content" whenever it's convenient. We must first change the notion that content is everyone and no one's job. Content-and the experience it creates-should be a strategic asset that is resourced, receives investment, and is held to account for the value it does or does not create. So the job now is change. We should be the revolutionaries, not the politicians. We can change, and marketing will change with us. But right now, instead of trying to figure out exactly what we should change into, we should first perhaps just start at the word "change."