If your reading habits are anything like mine, you have seen more than a few articles on how CEOs will be firing their CMOs, how marketing has become the new make-or-break department in a company, or how the CMO and the CTO need to be joined at the hip.

Given today’s retail environment and with all the new capabilities that consumers have at their disposal, it’s clear that marketers need to further evolve their thinking beyond channel strategies. Marketers should embrace that the consumer is in charge, and that there are three new influences on the ways the brand should think and act:

  1. It’s all about data.
  2. The big idea usually comes from the consumer.
  3. Every path to purchase starts with a smartphone, but where it ends is up to you.

It’s All About Data
In the new retail world, data has a much more expansive definition than it ever has. Data today is both a fuel and a byproduct; it both drives consumer engagement initiatives and serves as the evidence left behind of whether those initiatives were successful.

Expanding the definition of data makes it more useful to the organization. Often times data is content cleverly disguised. Individual data points are inert but when combined with others – especially those from outside sources like retailers or media outlets – data becomes a very powerful catalyst for action. Like changes in product design, or new messaging approaches, or a significant pivot away from one direction.

Marketing leadership needs to not just recognize this but force action to make data the new fuel of the company’s marketing efforts.

Today The Big Idea Usually Comes From The Consumer
For some, perhaps, this is the hardest reality to accept. The CMO historically is the driver of “the big idea” off of which the entire year’s campaigns and other promotional efforts hang. The framework that supported “the big idea” served as the pathway the consumer was expected to take to make purchase decisions.

Mobile completely shifted this balance of control. By providing immediate access to pretty much the entire world, consumers are able to find their own ways to satisfy their needs, in so doing completely ignoring any framework or pathway that doesn’t suit them.

Today’s successful marketing leader understands that shoppers finding their own new, preferred ways of doing things presents new opportunities for serving and engaging with consumers. Instead of hunkering down with the agency to find the big idea, marketing must drive building direct connections with consumers to see and hear how they engage with the brand.

Being in on the interactions between consumers and the brand – as well as between consumers and each other about the brand – is where the big ideas are born today.

Every Path To Purchase Starts With A Smartphone, But Where It Ends Is Up To You
Forcing behavioral change is hard. Better to ride the momentum of naturally occurring behavior and then offer inputs that make for a more fulfilling brand experience. For consumers in Tier 1, 2 and 3 markets there is no more powerful behavior than the near-constant use of the smartphone.

The departure from the past for marketers today is found in how brands used to communicate. The channels that brands crowded into to reach consumers were valued according to the limitations of time and place: NBC Thursday nights, Vogue September issue, morning drive time radio. Even during the pre-mobile days of the Internet, e-commerce was an activity that was tethered to a specific place (seated in front of a screen) which therefore had specific time limitations as people tended to do their day’s surfing at one time or between specific times.

Pervasive internet connectivity and the multi-function power of a smartphone has killed the notion of containing consumers in a specific time or place to receive a call to action. Thus, identifying the exact moment when a path to purchase is initiated is impossible to predict, but it always starts with the smartphone: an SMS to a spouse to pick up milk on the way home; a Facebook post about water moccasins for kids; a Google search for “Starbucks near my location”; a friend’s Instagram post about a vacation that triggers a visit to “delta.com”. If anyone on the marketing team simply mines his or her own quotidian experience, the examples would run for pages.

How this manifests itself for a brand depends on the brand and its offer. In a retail and commercial environment where simply buying media is not a solution, marketing needs to provide an opportunity and a reason for a consumer to make the brand part of his/her normal behavior. Getting this right is the media buy of the decade: right place, right audience, right time, every time.

The Consumer Has Evolved
The new attention focused on the CMO — and the marketing team in general — seems to be driven by one thing: consumer behavior is continually evolving and at a pace far faster than ever and the typical organization realizes it’s not keeping up.

The successful marketer rallies the team around the three new influences of data being at the center, of the big idea coming from outside, and the path to purchase starting with the smartphone.

Traditional marketers decry the lack of loyalty brought on by mobile connectivity, but smart marketing leaders see consumer promiscuity as an opportunity to reconsider traditional approaches, and perhaps not swing for the fences every time: Sometimes the big idea is really a series of small ideas — from both outside and within the organization — that can be rolled up into a single new, breakthrough experience.

For a brand to survive in this commerce environment, it must be understood that while the marketing team reports results to the CEO and the board, the brand itself exists at the pleasure of the consumer. Marketers need to adjust their collective focus accordingly.

For additional reading on this please check out these posts/PDFs/articles: