Marketing: From Traditional to Transformed

YPO member Dave Sutton explains how traditional ways of marketing do not work for today’s customers who expect information to be just what they want, when they want it.

On average, today’s consumers are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages every day. How can you get your company’s story to cut through the noise? You may have to “go a little crazy,” advises YPO member Dave Sutton, author of “Marketing, Interrupted” and President and CEO at TopRight LLC, a transformational marketing firm.

Sutton recently spoke with YPO about how marketing is changing and what businesses need to do to stay ahead of the curve.

What is the difference between interruptive marketing and transformational marketing?

Traditional marketing is designed to interrupt us — to snatch our attention and make us take action (preferably, buy something). I believe that kind of marketing no longer works. People have grown numb to it, which makes it an expensive and ineffective waste.

Today’s customers seek authentic and relevant content, on their own terms. They will seek out information when they want it. Any information your company delivers to them had better be relevant and timely and respectful of their time, needs and wants. Marketers must give customers reasons to care, listen, engage and buy. If we do this right, they will stay. But the classic approach, what I call “field of dreams” marketing — “If we build it, they will come,” will not work anymore.

How must marketing professionals change themselves to deploy transformational marketing?

We have to use different ways of thinking about how to solve the problem. Traditional marketing thinks in terms of the four Ps: product, promotion, place and price. It is focused on the brand, the product, the business. But transformational marketing turns that thinking around and focuses on the customer instead. How does the customer experience our messages? Remember, it is no longer marketers pushing messages to customers; it is customers pulling the messages they find authentic and relevant. It calls for a different mindset on marketers’ part.

How would you describe that new mindset?

Instead of thinking about the four Ps, we should think about the three Ss: story, strategy and systems. The story is the why, what and how. Most people buy on the why (for example, they buy a car because they fell in love with it), then they justify it to themselves and others via the what (what they paid) and the how (how easy the process was). Stories that have a clear and simple why, with an emotional appeal, will stand out.

But the story is not enough. It has to be aligned with the strategy. A story without a strategy is not marketing; it is entertainment or art. It may be enjoyable or beautiful to experience, but it is not focused on getting the customer to buy something.

Also, the systems have to be in place to deliver in a ruthlessly consistent and scalable way. “Systems,” by the way, does not refer solely to technology; it also includes people and processes. They have to deliver on the story’s promise. And all this needs to be done through the lens the customer is holding.

What makes a story effective? What mistakes do companies make in telling their story?

The story must be simple and easily understood, which takes a lot of time and discipline to achieve. An example of a simple story that has proven extraordinarily effective is Dollar Shave Club. They had a very popular and amusing viral video, which is what many people think sparked their success, but that is not correct. Their success is a result of their ridiculously simple story with an effective why: Buying razors is not fun; getting them from us will make your life easier.

It seems easy, but companies botch it all the time. Many try to tell too much. This is common among technology companies, who generally want to talk about every bell and whistle built into the hardware or software. Meanwhile, customers just want to know how it will solve their problem.

Another mistake is making the brand the hero of the story, instead of the customer. Tom’s Shoes does this right. They do not focus their stories on the shoes, but on the fact that, for every pair the customer buys, a pair will be given to a child in Africa. This makes customers the heroes; they feel good about themselves. And, because they feel good about themselves, they tell others about it. Suddenly Tom’s Shoes has a team of marketers out there, spreading the word.

What is the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in transformational marketing?

I think, in the next five years, a significant portion of what we call marketing (marketing- and sales-related processes) will be replaced by AI.

Buying media is a good example. People simply cannot evaluate the massive amounts of data and make the number of split-second decisions that machines can relative to where to place what ads. Machines with good algorithms can watch how people behave, make predictions on what they will do next, then place ads based on that, in real time. The machines are going to win this one.

What should business leaders do to begin embracing transformational marketing?

Begin thinking differently inside the organization. Consider bringing the voice of the customer into the company — literally. Hire a couple of good, long-time customers to spend a day speaking with various staff teams about what customers do and do not want.

Old business models will probably not continue to work as they once did. There will be disruption, often through technology or competitors, but sometimes through customers as well. That is why it is so important to focus on customers. Customers are a source of insight, but they can also pose a threat. Either way, they are not silent partners anymore.

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