Exploring the digital marketing revolution

To create and communicate superior customer value, marketers must now combine traditional advertising with social and digital tools, argues American marketing guru Philip Kotler, in an interview with David Woods-Hale

You’ve written Marketing 4.0? What has changed since Marketing 3.0 was published in 2010?

Marketing is undergoing a digital revolution. We published Marketing 3.0 seven years ago to help companies broaden their view of how computers and the internet impact marketing theory and practice. We stressed the importance of meeting the needs of women, young people, and ‘netizens’ in carrying out company marketing activities. 

Today there is a need to pay attention to the growing role of social and digital media. Social media – such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat – create an increasingly connected world and they stimulate greater communications and sales to a wider world. Digital media is enabling artificial intelligence (AI) and the ‘internet of things’ (I0T) and increasing the rate at which robotisation and automation is penetrating business. Our aim in Marketing 4.0 is to illustrate the growing role and impact of digital marketing. I’ve also described this ‘new marketing’ in my 15th edition of Marketing Management

How can Marketing 4.0 help in bringing marketers up to date with the current skills required – from traditional to digital?

In the past, consumers made purchase decisions largely in retail outlets, whether in an auto dealership or in a large department store. Some consumers also used the telephone or mail order catalogues. Today, a growing number of consumers are making more of their purchases online via online retailers. In-store retailing is facing a major decline: witness, in the US, the news of Macy’s closing many stores, clothing store The Limited going out of business and shopping centres in deep trouble. 

Consumers still go into stores to sample and touch the product and then use their smartphone to see if they can a better deal elsewhere. Many retail shops are evolving into ‘showrooms’, partly charged by the company to its advertising budget. Business-to-business transactions are being increasingly conducted with digital media. Most companies list their product catalogues on the internet. Purchasing agents are happy to compare prices on the internet and are less interested in accepting sales calls. All this points to the need for companies to acquire social and digital skills before they are outclassed by more sophisticated digital competitors.

You describe ‘shifting power dynamics’ in the market. Can you explain this in more detail? 

Power has been shifting from the advertising giants who used 30-second commercials to inform and persuade consumers, to savvy consumers – who rely on their friends and acquaintances, plus online product ratings, to make their brand choices. Power has moved from companies to consumers. Companies must now develop fresh pictures of how consumers journey toward making their final purchases. It’s no longer a journey from a 30-second commercial to a purchase but from a stimulus on the internet, or from a friend, to a search for further information, to a purchase. Marketing 4.0 discusses the key steps in consumer journeys and the various touch points that will have an impact on the final purchase decision.

You explain how the rules of marketing regularly change, but this time the very customers have changed – and this is revolutionary – can you talk a bit more about this?

The basic maxim of marketing hasn’t changed. Decide on the consumer need your company wants to meet and the individuals who strongly have this need. Create a solution that meets this consumer need better than any competitor can meet it. See your job as one of creating superior customer value and communicating this value in a superior way.

What is revolutionary is the need for the company to incorporate social and digital tools to carry out this work. Companies need to collect ‘big data’ about individual consumers who have specific needs and apply sophisticated marketing analytics to arrive at consumer insights that can be converted into compelling consumer value propositions.

How do cyclical trends in the economy affect marketers? More specifically, if demand-led growth is on the decline, what single marketing effort is the most important to avoiding a loyal consumer defecting to a competitor?

Buyer behaviour obviously changes in times of market growth versus market decline. When a recession, or a fear of recession, occurs, consumers will intelligently reduce their expenditure and move towards lower-cost products. Every competitor will have a choice: increase the value of the offer, or cut the price of the offer. Normally it makes sense for the company to retain the price and better document and confirm the offer’s superior customer value. If superior value doesn’t exist, the company either has to add more value (for example, free shipment) or cut its price.

Do you think the original elements of the traditional marketing mix will still be relevant in 10 years’ time? 

The marketer’s main toolkit remains the 4Ps (product, price, place, and promotion) and STP (segmentation, targeting, positioning). Each of these elements undergoes modernisation all the time. Product includes packaging, as well as service products. Place is being redefined into omni-channel marketing but it is still place. Promotion is including digital and social communication alongside print and broadcast media. I would welcome a new marketing framework if it promised to address marketing decision problems in a more decisive way. Until then, most companies will use the traditional framework in preparing their marketing plans.

How will creative and media agencies need to evolve over the next five years to keep up with the pace of technology? 

The agency of the future will develop skills in both traditional and digital advertising. This would be better than hiring separate traditional and digital agencies because companies must connect traditional and digital advertising. A 30-second commercial may need to include a digital address showing where viewers can go for more information. The job of the ‘full-service agency’ is to find synergies between the two types of communication, so that 2 + 2 = 5, not 4.

Do you think that the chief marketing officer (CMO) role will be replaced by a combination of chief tech officer and chief analyst, or is this still a viable career path?

I’d like the CMO position to continue to manage the integration of all the elements that will impact on customer demand. The CMO should spend at least 50% of their time working with the other ‘chiefs’ in the company. The real value of the CMO will be realised when he or she is included in all the strategy planning. It would be unwise to confine marketing to designing tactical moves. The CMO is in the best position to foresee where the particular market is going economically and technologically. The CMO’s staff must include an excellent digital person and technology person. 

Do you think marketing and HR may evolve into one business function, as people leadership and organisational branding become increasingly connected, with shared goals and purposes?

I would prefer the heads of marketing and HR to work very closely together but remain separate functions. The CMO is highly interested in seeing that HR hires very service-minded people. In the hotel business, Marriott says that the first job is to hire the right employees and then the customers will come. The CMO should support the HR person to gain a sufficient budget to hire excellent employees, not just average employees. The evidence is strong that excellent employees have a productivity impact that is several times that of average employees.  

Do you think that zero-based budgeting for marketing, based on the Unilever example, will be widely adopted, to make marketing entirely accountable? How can value be measured throughout all channels since tracking is harder offline? 

Zero-based budgeting for marketing means starting each year with no budget allocated to marketing, until marketers propose specific marketing spend – along with the evidence that results will exceed costs. This is in contrast to normal budget setting where the budgets of the past year are the starting point, raised or lowered slightly. We acknowledge that some past marketing expenditures were not productive, and that from time to time, it is worth reviewing each major budget item to decide whether it should be eliminated, decreased or increased. 

The problem with zero-based budgeting for marketing is two-fold. Many campaigns need continuity and they shouldn’t be cut off before they have achieved their full impact. 

Also, it is increasingly difficult to assess the financial impact of a particular digital tool or a particular marketing channel in an increasingly complex and interactive world. 

Zero-based budgeting is a highly impractical tool for yearly budgeting. However, I grant that it could raise marketing efficiency by being introduced every few years.

Do you believe leaders across all disciplines and functions need to change their mindsets to succeed in a volatile world? 

Today’s world is increasingly characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). Donald Trump’s election as US President has greatly contributed to VUCA. If Hillary Clinton had been elected (she won the popular vote by 3 million votes), we would arguably not be in a VUCA world. Events would have taken their normal course and businesses would carry normal expectations. 

But Trump sends out tweets in the middle of the night, many of which attack companies, journalists, judges, pollsters, or the voters themselves. These attacks are a sign of paranoia. Many business leaders have to think twice about any move for fear that the president will call them. Consumers are worried about their health benefits and they are no longer certain about social security and Medicare. They, and businesses, are spending their money more carefully, which slows down economic growth.

My answer to that? Business leaders must change their mindsets, in light of Trump’s erratic behaviour; he issues executive orders almost daily. His behaviour has been copied by populist leaders abroad with the effect of introducing even more instability into the world economy. 

Are there marketing skills that all MBA students and graduates need to thrive in a VUCA business world?

Most Business programmes are training their students in social and digital skills. They are also making students more aware of the effects of climate change. Professors are increasingly criticising shareholder value as the measure of business success and replacing it with stakeholder value as a more comprehensive measure of business performance. Marketing students graduate with a broader view of the factors that affect corporate image and reputation than previous Business School graduates. 

And finally, do you feel optimistic about business adaptability as the
world becomes more uncertain but also more connected? 

Business literature increasingly emphasises company agility and responsiveness to rapidly changing conditions. Companies need to monitor technological trends, political debates, and economic issues. Companies such as Unilever, Starbucks and Amazon show incredible business adaptability. But many companies are still coasting and need a few more shocks to wake up. My hope is that an increasing number of companies recognise that growing income inequality will hurt, not help them, and that they need to take a more expansive customer benefit and welfare view of what makes an economy strong.

Philip Kotler is the SC Johnson & Son Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

Professor Kotler received his Master’s Degree at the University of Chicago and his PhD Degree at MIT, both in economics, conducting post-doctoral work in mathematics at Harvard University and in behavioural science at the University of Chicago.

He is the author of 57 books and has published more than 150 articles in leading journals. He was the first recipient of the American Marketing Association’s ‘Distinguished Marketing Educator Award’ (1985) and has received a host of other accolades, being inducted into the Management Hall of Fame in 2013. 

Kotler has consulted for such companies as IBM, General Electric, AT&T, Honeywell, Bank of America, and Merck in marketing strategy and planning, marketing organisation and international marketing. He has travelled throughout Europe, Asia and South America advising companies on applying economic and marketing science principles to increase competitiveness, and governments on developing the skill sets and resources of their companies for global competition.

He has been Chairman of the College of Marketing of the Institute of Management Sciences, Director of the American Marketing Association, is a member of the Board of Governors of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and of the Advisory Board of the Drucker Foundation. 

He has received a number of honorary doctoral degrees from several international organisations.  

You may also like...

Translate »