Over the past century the world fell in love with the automobile as a predominant form of transportation. American consumers accumulated over $1.1 trillion in auto debt. Yet amidst this banner growth a new trend emerged: The number of people who get a driver’s license has steadily declined from 1983 to 2014. This shift in the car buying environment led to alternative transportation solutions such as Uber, Lyft, Waymo and Didi Chuxing. Now, the ripple effects of auto industry disruption can be felt across insurance, parts suppliers, fuel companies and any industry adjacent to transportation.
Know where trends are heading and have a plan to navigate this wilderness
In the 2018 Gartner Digital Marketing Conference in San Diego opening keynote, Chris Ross, research director, described how marketers increasingly find themselves competing in the wilderness of disruptive market dynamics where trends shift quickly and political winds push brands into areas of discomfort. In order to compete, marketers need to understand the new environment, know where trends are heading and have a plan to navigate this wilderness.
Understand the trends that shape your environment
Political, economic and cultural polarization have a profound effect on marketers’ ability to be successful. Marketers must understand these dynamics to compete effectively. Consumers are more divided today compared to a generation ago and the polarization effect is not confined to politics. There is a widening economic gap between the top and bottom earners in the U.S. In the current environment, a brand story extends beyond the carefully crafted messages shaped by an organization. HR policies, product sourcing, employee practices and anything that is knowable about a brand is now part of your brand story.
Read more: Gartner Top 5 Marketing Predictions for 2018
Harness the power of lightning strike events
Lightning strike events are climactic moments of the brand story told by others. It’s essential that marketing leaders understand the necessity to harness these moments effectively for the brand.
When clothing retailer Patagonia responded to the closing of Bear’s Ears National Monument with an advertisement that stated “You’ve been lied to,” loyal customers cheered and drove a 7% bump in sales. Conversely, when Papa John’s Pizza CEO, John Schnatter, expressed displeasure with how the National Football League handled on-field protests, he was forced to resign and Papa John’s lost official sponsor status driving a decline in sales.
Like a lightning strike in the wild, each of these circumstances is a unique event that offers a unique opportunity for the brand. “Responding to lighting strikes is complicated and not easy,” said Ross. “Being apolitical is increasingly difficult and what you don’t say can be just as important as what you do say.”
A shift in trust and values
According to Gartner Iconoculture data, consumer trust and values are undergoing a fundamental shift. 93% of consumers trust locally owned businesses while only 41% trust corporate America. Trust is now intimate, small and local. Meanwhile, serenity is the fastest rising value for consumers polled by Iconoculture, and this is followed by security and inclusion. Marketers who understand these shifting values and beliefs will be better positioned to compete in 2018 and beyond.
Trust is now intimate, small and local
Peak around corners
In his keynote segment on looking into the future, Andrew Frank, Gartner VP and distinguished analyst, said it’s tempting to blame technology, or even companies for the disruption and “state of the wilderness” but such attribution is misplaced. “Maybe technology didn’t start the fire but it is the accelerant,” he said. The evolution of technology now gives marketers the power to create platforms and systems that maximize predictability of an optimized response, for better or worse. It’s for better when marketers use their data and platforms to add a human touch to otherwise machine-driven processes and outcomes. It’s for worse when those machine driven processes bake bias into the outputs.
Think about voice search as a way to learn more about your customers
Marketers are poised to use emerging technologies to learn more about what customers want, what customers value, what customers do with their time and most importantly, how brands can best meet those needs. Frank explored four technologies to exploit:
- Natural language processing (NLP). The NLP technology behind voice interfaces and voice-based inquiry, reveals new intentions otherwise hidden in keystrokes and keyboards. Consumers execute over a billion searches per month on voice interfaces and when they express themselves vocally, their colloquial phrasing may reveal true intentions vs. search bar queries. “Think about voice search as a way to learn more about your customers,” said Frank.
- Bots. Automated bots armed with prescriptive analytics provide marketers with the ability to analyze data and make predictions and recommendations. Bargain hunting bots and price tracking bots recommend an optimal price to buy or sell. Sellers who use algorithmic pricing based on bots tend to win the coveted “Buy Box” on Amazon despite selling at a higher price. In the not-so-distant future there will be frequent cases of bots buying and selling to other bots. While nerve wracking to some, these bots will help marketers better learn consumer values by observing their bots.
- Platform data. Data breaches undermine consumer trust in the entire market ecosystem and platforms such as Facebook, Apple and Google respond by raising the walls of their “walled gardens” even higher. Marketing power comes from the permission to use personal data and brands can’t afford to depend on the high-walled gardens to mediate the relationship with their customers nor can they sit idly by while trust is eroded in front of their eyes. “Cultivate your own ecosystems based on consolidated, ethical data because consent is the new currency,” noted Frank.
- Smart things. Smart things are a combination of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, and generative design which enable the creation of products that are more durable, more sustainable, more efficient and more lightweight than anything created in the past. It’s time for marketers to open their own black boxes of data and algorithms to unleash the power of science, creativity and artificial intelligence (AI). This diversity will provide the antidote to bias in machine learning.
How to lead in the wilderness
The technological, cultural, political and economic changes outlined by Ross and Frank will be uncomfortable and even a bit scary for marketing leaders. Research director Elizabeth Shaw encouraged marketing leaders to lean in to the discomfort of this new environment, possibly finding a bit of joy along the way. “If you want to change you have to be a little uncomfortable, maybe even a bit scared but when it gets uncomfortable it gets fun,” said Shaw. Focus on three areas when navigating the changing market dynamics and fast paced technological change.
- Scan market trends – Observe and listen to political, economic, sociocultural, technological and behavioral trends that matter to your markets and the adjacent markets
- Budget for innovation – Budget for and protect spend for innovation year over year
- Change the culture – Give employees the permission and tools they need to be innovative and active participants in the process