In praise of marketing rebellions


A couple years ago, I noticed a pattern with the many marketing leaders I met.

They all seemed to be stuck.

Everywhere, everyone, and at almost every company I know.

Even the biggest marketing stars at the most famous brands seem to be struggling. Every year, I’m honored to help facilitate an invitation-only meeting of Chief Marketing Officers. It includes some of the biggest names in business who use this private meeting to engage in honest roundtable discussions about the most pressing marketing topics of the day.

At the last meeting, we went around the table and each executive named their biggest challenge. One-by-one they each exclaimed, “We’re falling so far behind … on everything!

I almost laughed out loud. Keep in mind that these are experienced, deeply-respected executives with some of the biggest companies in the world. They have nearly limitless resources, access to the best people, and premier agency partner relationships. And yet, they echoed the same desperate sentiment I hear every day from small businesses, non-profits, universities, and entrepreneurs with little or no budget at all. Things are just not working like they used to.

So I started digging into the reason why. And what I found was amazing.

The third rebellion

There is a rebellion against marketing going on right in front of us. Actually, it has been taking place in one form or another for more than 100 years.

The first rebellion occurred in the 1900s. The advertising business was just beginning, an industry built on extraordinary promises. As competition heated up, these promises became more and more extraordinary until they were outright lies. Eventually journalists began exposing these lies and the consumers revolted, demanding reform. Legislation was passed which demanded truth in advertising.

The first rebellion was over. It was the end of lies.

The second rebellion was enabled by technology. Consumers hated ads and fought against them with TV remote controls in the 1960s, ad-free cable TV in the 1970s, VCR’s in the 1980s, and streaming services today.

But the biggest tech disruption landed in the 1990s. Entire businesses were built on secrets. Buying a car, insurance, a vacation. The great shift came when the internet transferred the power of information from companies to customers, enabling the greatest change in consumer behavior (and power) in history.

The second rebellion, led by technology, was the end of secrets.

My research led me to conclude that we are now in the middle of a third rebellion, and this one is being led by the consumers themselves.

  • Trust in companies, brands, and ads have declined for 10 years. Consumers are not making their decisions based on company communications. They are deciding based on their own networked communications.
  • Research backs this up. Two-thirds of our marketing … is not our marketing. It’s happening through offline and online conversations, user-generated content, reviews, and influencers.
  • We are approaching an end of customer loyalty. Across a wide number of industries, just 17 percent of our customers are loyal. In fact, McKinsey suggests investing in sales funnels and loyalty programs is a waste of time.

For somebody like me who has spent more than 30 years trying to make people loyal, this sort of insight is pretty shocking. In fact, it’s revolutionary.

We’re in the third rebellion. The end of control.

The customers are the marketers.

Marketing rebellions and moving forward

This explains why so many of my marketing friends are stuck, why numbers are slipping, why things just don’t seem to work like they used to.

We’re obsessed with technology and finding a marketing easy button. We’re locked into organizations and agency relationships that reward us for making incremental changes when we need bold ones. We’re ignoring the signals because every marketing book, podcast, and university course tells us to chase loyalty.

The rebellion is right under our noses and most companies aren’t seeing it.

When I wrote about these epic changes on a LinkedIn post, one senior executive violently disagreed with me, and responded “Marketing is marketing. As long as we have ads and we can control the message, we’re going to be OK.”

You see, many marketing professionals are asleep, and they don’t even know they’re asleep … like this guy. Some people will overlook this rebellion and remain in denial or keep their head down until retirement.

Rebellions are hard.

Rebellions are inconvenient when your career has been going so splendidly.

Rebellions don’t fit into the current social media dashboard.

The great question is, what do we do?

And that is the question I answer in my book Marketing Rebellion.

Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak at your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram.

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